UCS Blog - The Equation, Clean Vehicles

40% growth? The Latest Electric Vehicle Sales Numbers Look Good

US electric vehicle (EV) sales are up 45% for the twelve-month period from July 2016 through June 2017, compared to the prior twelve-month period. What does that mean for the future?

As I’ve noted previously, the US EV market saw 32% annual growth over 2012-2016. This rate would, if continued, result in EVs being 10% of all new car sales in 2025.

For perspective on this target: according to UCS analysis, California’s Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program would result in about 8% of California’s vehicles being zero-emissions (mostly electric) by 2025. California leads the nation in EV market penetration by quite a bit. According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, nearly 4% of California’s light-duty vehicle sales in 2016 were EVs, compared to less than 1% for the country as a whole. And this was without major automakers Honda and Toyota offering a plug-in vehicle in that year. Sixteen cities in the state already see EVs exceeding 10% of vehicle sales.

California has achieved this through a mixture of policy, infrastructure, consumer awareness and interest (although the Northeast is not far behind on that count), and automaker efforts. Seen in that light, the entire country reaching 10% EV sales in 2025 would be pretty good.

But what if the market were actually hitting a “tipping point” such that this recent growth could continue? If a 40% growth rate could be sustained for the next six years, then we would see EVs reach 10% of US vehicle sales in 2023, and possibly near 20% by 2025. Cost reductions from technology improvements and economies of scale would help sustain the growth rates, as well as expanded charging infrastructure.

What are people buying?

The Tesla Model S was the top seller both in June and year-to-date. This is an all-electric vehicle with a range of 249-335 miles, depending on the configuration (the 60 kWh versions, with ranges of 210-218 miles, were recently discontinued).

Figure 1: Tesla Model S. Source: tesla.com.

Plug-in hybrids are proving quite popular, as the #2 vehicle year-to-date is the Chevy Volt, and the #3 is the Prius Prime.

Figure 2: Chevy Volt. Source: chevrolet.com.

The Volt, with a 53-mile all-electric range in the 2017 model, is a well-established mainstay by the standards of this young market. It has been a consistent top seller since its introduction in December 2010.

Figure 3: Toyota Prius Prime. Source: toyota.com.

The Prius Prime is a new market entrant that was the May sales champion. It has a 25-mile electric-only range, so it could likely do most daily driving in all-electric mode if workplace charging were available (even a standard wall outlet would replenish the battery in 8 hours). Plug-in hybrids have a gasoline engine if needed for longer drives, but I’ve heard that drivers of these vehicles tend to keep their batteries topped off to do as much driving in electric mode as possible. If you don’t yet drive an EV, you might not realize the extent of the existing charging infrastructure, but it’s out there; Plugshare is a great resource.

Tesla’s Model X crossover SUV is the #4 vehicle year-to-date, while Chevy’s new all-electric Bolt, with its 238-mile range, rounds out the top 5 (the Nissan LEAF is just behind the Bolt). The top five models make up just over half the market, with a long list of other products also selling in the United States.

What’s missing?

Given the market strength of the newcomer Prius Prime, what other new vehicles might take a turn at the top of the sales charts in the months ahead?

Well, there are a number of other new models from Kia, Chrysler, Cadillac, Volkswagen, and others. Certainly, the Tesla Model 3, with its first vehicles shipped in July, looks to be a contender. There are over 400,000 reservations for the vehicles worldwide, so it could easily become the sales champion if Tesla can ramp up production quickly enough. But in years to come, we might see something very different.

There is one category notably lacking among US EVs sales: the pickup truck. The best-selling light-duty vehicle in the US has for 35 years been the Ford F-series, with 820,799 units sold in 2016 (this is more than double the sales of the top-selling car in 2016, the Toyota Camry).

Figure 4: Ford F-150. Source: ford.com.

Some companies perform aftermarket conversions to turn trucks into plug-in hybrids, and others have announced plans to build brand-new electric pickup trucks (such as Tesla, Via, Havelaar, and Workhorse). Trucks have a wide range of needs and duty cycles, and not all applications would be suited to electrification at present. There are definitely engineering challenges to resolve.

Still, a plug-in version of the F-150 could serve the needs of many owners, and could propel Ford to the top of the EV sales charts. This is not in Ford’s plans at the moment (although a basic hybrid F-150 is), but what if the company experiences positive results from its other electric and plug-in products? Might we see an electric F-150? Or would the Chevy Silverado or Dodge Ram (the #2 and #3 selling vehicles in 2016) have plug-in versions first?

The pickup truck market is too big to ignore. As battery technology continues to improve, it should become easier to make electrification work for at least part of this segment.

What’s next?

Typically, the second half of the year sees higher sales volume, with December being the biggest month. It should be particularly interesting to watch the growth of Tesla’s Model 3 production over the next six months. News items such as the new study from Bloomberg, Volkswagen’s investments in charging infrastructure, and other developments may heighten public interest in EVs generally.

The most effective means of raising consumer awareness of and interest in EVs are ride-and-drive events. If you haven’t tried one out yet, look for an event near you during Drive Electric Week!

How the Oregon Rebate for Electric Cars Works

If you’re an Oregonian and thinking about an electric car, you may want to wait a bit as a bill is about to be signed into law that will establish a rebate of up to $2,500 for electric vehicles sold in the state. This rebate can be had in addition to the $7,500 federal tax credit for EVs, which means Oregonians can get up to $10,000 off an electric vehicle!

The bill also establishes an additional rebate of up to $2,500 for low to moderate income Oregon residents, who can then collectively save up to $12,500 on a qualifying electric vehicle. The rebate program will go into effect in early October 2017.

Which electric vehicles qualify for the rebate

A qualifying vehicle for the new Oregon rebate must:

  • Have a base manufacturer’s suggested retail price of less than $50,000
  • Be covered by a manufacturer’s express warranty on the vehicle drive train, including the battery pack, for at least 24 months from the date of purchase
  • Be either a battery electric vehicle OR a plug-in hybrid vehicle that has at least 10 miles of EPA-rated all-electric range and warranty of at least 15 years and 150,000 miles on emission control components.
    1. $2,500 goes to vehicles with battery capacities above 10 kWh.
    2. $1,500 goes to vehicles with a battery capacity of 10 kWh or less.
  • Be a new vehicle, or used only as a dealership floor model or test-drive vehicle
  • The rebate will apply to new electric vehicles that are purchased or leased, with a minimum 24-month lease term.

How the electric vehicle rebate will be given

  • Send in your rebate application within 6 months of buying the vehicle or starting the vehicle lease.
  • You may need to send it to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, or a third party non-profit. The application details have not yet been released.
  • The rebate will “attempt” to be issued within 60 days of receiving the application (the bill says attempt).

Additional rebates for low-income Oregonians (aka charge ahead rebate)

Ideally, EV rebate programs should provide additional financial assistance to low-income drivers. Low-income households typically spend more on transportation than higher earners, and transportation can comprise up to 30 percent of low-income household budgets. So, being able to save on transportation fuel and vehicle maintenance by choosing an electric vehicle can mean even more to low-income households in Oregon and beyond.

Fueling an electric vehicle in Oregon is like paying the equivalent of $0.97 for a gallon of gasoline. In addition, battery electric vehicles have fewer moving parts and don’t require oil changes, so electric vehicle maintenance costs have been estimated to be 35 percent lower than comparable gasoline vehicles.  The eGallon price is calculated using the most recently available state by state residential electricity prices. The state gasoline price above is either the statewide average retail price or a multi-state regional average price reported by EIA. The latest gasoline pricing data is available on EIA’s webpage. Find out more at www.energy.gov/eGallon.

How the Oregon charge ahead rebate works
  • Have a household income less than or equal to 80 percent of the area median income (low income) or between 80 and 120 percent of area median income (moderate income).
    1. Area median income is defined by the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department and is tied to the closest metropolitan area in Oregon.
  • Live in an area of Oregon that has elevated concentrations of air contaminants commonly attributed to motor vehicle emissions.
  • Retire or scrap a gas-powered vehicle that has an engine that is at least 20 years old AND replace that vehicle with an electric vehicle.
  • The electric vehicle can be used or new.
  • Send in an application to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality or third party non-profit. Details are still be worked out.
  • Get up to an additional $2,500 in rebate off the electric vehicle.
How the Oregon electric vehicle rebate is funded

These rebates are being established as part of a broader transportation package, so the funding mechanisms in the bill are being levied not only for electric vehicles but also for maintaining Oregon’s roads, bridges, and tunnels and other transportation projects.

Beginning in 2020, electric vehicles will be subject to greater titles and registration fees in Oregon, expected to be about $110.

Oregon will also pay for road work with a 4 percent gas tax, increasing incrementally up to 10 cents by 2024. The bill also enforces a $16 vehicle registration fee, a 0.1 percent payroll tax, and 0.5 percent sales tax on new vehicles.

The bill additionally allows Oregon to introduce rush-hour congestion roadway tolls. Cyclists aren’t off the hook, either. Adult bicycles (defined as bikes with wheels at least 26 inches in diameter) over $200 will be subject to a $15 excise tax. These funds will go toward grants for bicycle and pedestrian transportation projects.

Overall, the electric vehicle rebate fund will be at least $12 million annually, though other monies, like donations, can be deposited into the fund too. $12 million is enough cash for 4,800 full $2,500 rebates each year.

Oregon residents bought 1,969 new pure EVs and 1,506 new PHEVs in 2016, so there’s still a good amount of room for this rebate to help grow the Oregon electric vehicle market. Overall, this is a wonderful program that will both help increase electric vehicle sales in Oregon and help expand the benefits of driving on electricity to those who need it the most.

Tesla Model 3 vs. Chevy Bolt? What You Need to Know Before Buying an Electric Car

It’s 90 degrees here in our nation’s capital but it might feel like the winter holiday season to those who reserved a Tesla Model 3. Expected to have a 215-mile range and sticker price of $35,000 (or $27,500 after the federal tax credit), the Model 3 will compete with the similar spec’d Chevy Bolt for the prize of cornering the early majority of electric vehicle owners.

No other automaker has a relatively affordable, 200 mile-plus range electric vehicle on the market, yet (the nextgen Nissan Leaf will compete too), and one or both of these vehicles may be a pivotal point in the modern shift to electrics.Assuming you’re already sold on the benefits of driving on electricity, here are a couple tips for you to consider if you’re prepping for an electric vehicle.

#1 Prepare your home charging

There are two main options for charging an electric vehicle at home: (1) 120V charging from an ordinary home outlet and (2) 240V charging from either an upgraded home circuit or existing circuit for a heavy electric appliance like a drying machine.

There is also DC fast charging, but that is only applicable to charging on-the-go and described in more detail below. Before deciding on how to charge, talk with a couple licensed electricians to better understand your home’s electrical capacity. Mr. Electric appears to win the Google SEO for “electrician for electric vehicle,” so maybe head there for a start.

Electric Vehicle Charging Level 1 (120 volts) – about 4-6 miles of range per hour of charge

  • Uses an ordinary wall outlet just like a toaster.
  • Typically won’t require modifications to electric panels or home wiring.
  • Confirm that your home’s electrical circuits are at least 15 or 20-amp, single pole by consulting with a licensed electrician.
  • Slow, but can get the job done if you don’t drive that much on a daily basis. If you only need 20 miles of range, for example, only getting 20 miles of charge each night is not a problem. For road trips, most EVs are equipped to handle the faster charging options that can make charging pit stops on road trips pretty quick.

Electric Vehicle ChargingLevel 2 (240 volts) – about 10-25 miles of range per hour of charge

  • Installation costs vary, but here’s a 30-amp charger from Amazon that is highly rated and costs around $900, including installation, and here’s one that includes an algorithm to minimize charging emissions and costs.
  • Will likely require a new dedicated circuit from the electric panel to a wall location near the EV parking spot.
  • Consult with a licensed electrician to verify that your home has a two-pole 30 to 50-amp electrical circuit breaker panel.

Electric Vehicle Charging Level 3 (aka DC fast charging) (400 volts) – Not for home use, but can charge battery up to 80 percent in about 30 minutes

  • The fastest charging method available, but prohibitively expensive for home use.
  • Some vehicles can get an 80 percent full charge in as little as 30 minutes, depending on the electric vehicle type.
#2 File your tax credit(s)

Purchasing an electric vehicle should qualify you for a federal tax credit of up to $7,500. Here is all the information and form to fill out when you file taxes. You better file quick because the federal tax credit is capped at 200,000 credits per manufacturer. Some manufacturers, including Nissan and Chevrolet, are forecast to hit the 200,000 cap as early as 2018. If Tesla delivers on its 400,000 Model 3 pre-orders, not every Model 3 owner will be able to take advantage of the full $7,500 savings, so act fast!

Also check this map to see what additional state incentives you may qualify for.

#3 Locate public charging stations

Tesla has a network of fast charging stations exclusively for Tesla owners, but there are thousands of public charging stations that any electric vehicle driver can use on the go too. You may be surprised to find chargers near your workplace, school, or other frequent destination. Check out this Department of Energy station locator, or this map from PlugShare. The Department of Transportation has also designated several charging corridors that should be getting even more EV chargers.

#4 Contact your utility

Give your utility a heads up that you are getting an electric vehicle, and inquire about any promotional plans for vehicle charging. Some utilities have flexible “time-of-use” rates, meaning that they will charge you less when you plug a vehicle in during off-peak times (typically overnight). Your utility might also have its own electric vehicle incentives, like a rebate on installation or charger costs, or even a pilot project on smart charging where you can get paid to plug in your vehicle.

#5 Say goodbye to internal combustion engines, forever!

Driving on electricity is not only cheaper and cleaner than driving on gasoline, it’s also a total blast. Prepare to never want to go back to gasoline-powered vehicles as you cruise on the smooth, silent power of electricity.

An Important Step to Clean Air and More Equitable Communities in Los Angeles

By Joel Espino and Jimmy O’Dea

Tomorrow, LA Metro, the second largest transit fleet in the United States, will decide what types of buses to purchase through 2030. The decision will impact Los Angeles’ efforts to clean the air, fight climate change, and expand economic opportunity. We applaud the proposal put forward by Metro staff last week to transition the entire fleet to zero-emission vehicles.

LA Metro can be a leader

Today, Metro’s 2,200 buses operate entirely on natural gas. While natural gas was a better option than diesel when Metro began switching fuels more than 20 years ago, it no longer deserves the “clean” branding seen on Metro’s buses. Advances in technology have made electric buses an even cleaner and viable option. It’s time for Metro to continue its leadership in fighting pollution and transition to the cleanest technology available today: electric buses powered by renewable energy.

Earlier this year, a coalition of bus riders, labor groups, and public health groups launched a campaign urging Metro to be a leader and transition to an all-electric bus fleet powered by renewable energy. A central part of this campaign is that communities most affected by poverty and pollution should be first to reap the benefits of bus electrification, such as improved air quality and more high-quality, skilled jobs. Mayor Garcetti recently urged Metro to make this transition by 2030 and just yesterday, the Los Angeles Times expressed its support for Metro’s path to zero-emission buses.

Despite years of work and improvement, Los Angeles’ air still ranks among the worst in the country. Heavy-duty vehicles like buses are a major source of air pollution.  Today, residents of communities like Wilmington or Bell Gardens, who live near highly trafficked roads and freight corridors, suffer the consequences of air pollution like increased risks of lung and heart disease and premature death.

Last fall we found that electric buses result in far lower air pollution and global warming emissions than natural gas buses. Electric buses have zero tailpipe emissions, cut global warming pollution, and create new jobs. They are better for bus riders, bus drivers, and communities with heavy traffic and severe air pollution.

Our analysis found the potential for good jobs in manufacturing of electric buses, construction of charging infrastructure, and maintenance. With the right training and hiring practices, this industry could bring an economic boost to communities most in need.

Electric buses are the cleanest

There are two types of electric buses Metro could purchase; both have significant benefits. Battery electric buses have 70 percent lower global warming emissions than natural gas buses. Fuel cell electric buses have 50 percent lower global warming emissions than natural gas buses. That includes the emissions from producing electricity and hydrogen. Both types also cut smog-forming emissions in half compared to today’s natural gas buses. As we generate more of our electricity with clean sources like solar and wind, electric buses will be even cleaner.

Electric buses also have lower life cycle emissions than the newest “low-NOx” natural gas buses fueled with biomethane from waste sites such as landfills. Capturing fugitive methane emissions from sources of waste is an important strategy in reducing California’s global warming emissions and can help displace natural gas use in vehicles, yet the limited amount of biomethane available from sources of waste could meet just 3 percent of California’s natural gas demand.  This resource should be used prudently across California’s economy.

The technology is here and ready

Electric buses fueled with hydrogen have had ranges over 200 miles for many years and battery electric buses recently passed this mark. With fewer moving parts and durable electric motors, maintenance costs are lower for electric buses. Electric buses can also accelerate and climb hills as well or better than diesel or natural gas buses.

Metro’s bus investment would boost the regional economy, including at least eight electric bus and truck manufacturers in the LA region, and spur job training in underserved communities, creating a workforce capable of accelerating electrification in other areas of transportation.

Metro can’t switch to electric buses overnight, but as it retires natural gas buses it should replace each with a clean, quiet electric bus. Nearly 20 transit agencies across the state have stepped up to the plate and begun incorporating electric buses into their fleets, many with significant, if not full, commitments to zero-emission buses. California and its poorest and most polluted communities depend on it.

This blog post originally appeared as a joint op-ed at https://laopinion.com/2017/06/20/tipo-de-buses-que-comprara-la-metro-afectara-los-angeles-por-anos/.

Joel Espino is Legal Counsel for Environmental Equity at The Greenlining Institute. Jimmy O’Dea is a Vehicles Analyst in the Clean Vehicles Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Wind Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Young by global standards, Boston is still one of the oldest cities in the United States. It has a fascinating and well-preserved history, with monuments, museums, and plaques everywhere you look. At the same time, it is a center of research and innovation, investigating the technologies that will shape our future. (Okay, I’m biased – I do love this city.) That dichotomy, respecting the past while looking towards the future, is also the story of wind power.

For Father’s Day, I went out to the Boston Harbor Islands with my family. We had a picnic on Spectacle Island, with a great view of Boston.  The weather was perfect.

As it happens, the Tall Ships were in town. While aboard the ferry, we could see a number of the sailing ships docked along the waterfront, and more of them going in and out of the harbor.

Tall Ships. Source: www.sailboston.com.

This brought to mind a paper I had written on energy transitions in the United States. One of my observations was that the United States in 2010 used six times as much wind power per capita than it did in the Golden Age of Sail. That was a few years ago, so the numbers have changed since then. Let’s take another look.

Wind in the Golden Age of Sail

Through the late 19th century, wind was a significant energy resource for the United States. Sailing ships conveyed goods and people up and down the coast and across the Atlantic Ocean. Sailing vessels took fishermen out to sea and back home again. Mechanical windmills pumped water and ground grain. Massachusetts was a hub of the shipbuilding industry, constructing naval vessels like the frigate U.S.S. Constitution and clipper ships from Donald McKay’s shipyards, as well as the fishing boats that set out from Gloucester, New Bedford, and Cape Cod.

The first US steamship appeared in 1807, and steam gradually took over a larger share of nautical propulsion. Steamships accomplished this technological transition through diffusion, starting in specific high-value niches (such as river ferries) where their advantages justified their higher cost, then spreading to more applications as their performance improved and cost declined. We see the same pattern for the spread of electric lighting, or of solar power. Elon Musk explicitly invoked this pattern of technological diffusion with Tesla’s original Master Plan, beginning in small but high-value niches and branching out.

However, sailing ships did not disappear overnight; they continued in use for decades. Some of the ships you might see at a Tall Ships event are either replicas of or inspired by “clipper ships,” designed in the 1850s to operate in one of sail’s remaining niches, fast long-distance transport of high-value cargoes such as tea or spices. Prior to the resurgence of wind power in the 1990s, wind power reached its greatest utilization in the US around 1860 (in absolute terms) or 1810 (in per capita terms).

In 1860, the U.S. population was about 31 million. The nation had about 100,000 windmills and a sailing fleet of 4.5 million tons. I calculated that the energy harnessed from wind was around 5.65 petajoules; in the units of the day they might have noted it as 2 billion horsepower-hours.

On a per capita basis, wind power contributed 67 horsepower-hours (equal to 50 kilowatt-hours, although at the time the only use of electricity was in telegraph batteries). Compared to other sources, in 1860, wind power in total was greater than power from watermills; less than that obtained from draft animals; and roughly equal to the power output from human labor or to that of coal-fueled engines (in locomotives, steamships, and factories).

Output of Mechanical Work (Motive Power) by Resource, 1780-1880. Source: O’Connor and Cleveland (2014).

Wind was not the largest source of motive power, but still a significant one that accomplished tasks other energy resources could not.

Wind today

Steam engines continued to move into more applications, until diesel engines came to dominate marine transport in the 20th century. Sailing vessels became limited to small recreational craft. Windmills for water pumping peaked around 1920 or 1930, and declined after that, although small wind turbines for electricity generation appeared in some rural areas.

Wind power, though, has made an astounding comeback in recent years. Increased deployment supported by state and federal policies led to rapidly declining costs and improved performance. Wind turbines and solar panels together provided 0.07% of US electricity in March 1997, nearly 1% in March 2007, and over 10% of US electricity in March 2017, most of that from wind.

Wind turbines on a farm. Source: www.awea.com.

In 2016, wind power generated 226,872 million kilowatt-hours of electricity. The Census Bureau estimates that the population of the US on July 4, 2016 was 323,148,587. Therefore, wind power in 2016 provided about 700 kilowatt-hours per capita. Some wind energy is still harnessed directly—like by the Tall Ships and water-pumping windmills—but most of the wind energy we use today comes from wind turbines. The per-capita wind power contribution is now about 14 times what it was in 1860.

Wind Energy Inputs to U.S. Economy, 1790-2016. Source: Author’s calculations.

I find that pretty remarkable.

Wind tomorrow

What does the future hold for wind power? Well, it won’t grow its share tenfold in the next ten years, but its continued expansion seems likely.

Many regions have successfully integrated wind power into their electricity systems at relatively low cost, utilizing a combination of forecasting, turbine controls, geographic distribution, and grid flexibility. What were once considered difficult levels of wind to incorporate are now seen as simple. Taller turbines may enable wind power to spread in the Southeast.

Offshore wind, widely used in Europe, is now (finally) on the move in this country, too.  Although some construction costs are higher, the environment allows for installation of much larger turbines that would be difficult to transport to sites on land. Larger turbines can access winds that are both stronger and more constant at higher altitude. New Bedford, a hub of the old wind industry of sailing ships, might become a hub of the new wind industry, with potential jobs in offshore wind turbine construction  (subscription required).

A strong base, smart policies, technological advances, and a skilled workforce: wind will continue to provide clean energy, jobs, rural economic development—and power for sailing. Even if some of the new sails don’t quite fit in a Tall Ships event.

The “Skysail” system can offer annual fuel savings of 10-15% for freighters. Source: www.skysails.info.

 

How Many Rides Do Lyft and Uber Give Per Day? New Data Help Cities Plan for the Future

In the span of about 7 years, app-based ride-hailing (i.e. Lyft and Uber) has gone from non-existent to ubiquitous in major metro areas. But how are these services affecting important aspects of our transportation system like congestion, public transit, and vehicle emissions?

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) made a big first step last week towards answering these questions. The agency released data showing when, where, and how many rides start and end within San Francisco.

These statistics are important because passenger vehicles are the largest source of climate emissions in California, a major source of air pollution, and play a central role in our transportation system, which greatly affects social equity. If ride-hailing continues to grow, it has the potential to positively or negatively impact many aspects of transportation, including the reliability of public transit; costs of travel; extent of air pollution and climate change; safety of pedestrian and vehicular travel; and accessibility, type, and quality of jobs.

Lyft’s recent commitment to provide 1 billion miles of travel in autonomous electric vehicles powered by 100 percent renewable energy by 2025 is an encouraging step towards a positive future of app-based travel.

Some of the report’s findings are what you’d expect

Not surprisingly, the number of rides within San Francisco peaks in the heart of downtown on Friday and Saturday nights. During the week, ride-requests are at their highest during the morning and evening commutes. More rides are requested after work than before work. Interestingly, more rides are also requested as the work week progresses, #fatigue?

SFCTA developed a website to visualize when and where rides are starting and ending in San Francisco. It’s pretty cool, especially if you’re familiar with the city.

Switching from pick-up to drop-off location (see gifs), gives a rough sense of where people are traveling to and from, i.e. commuting to downtown in the morning and out of downtown in the evening. SFCTA’s data doesn’t correlate the pick-up and drop-off locations of individual rides, but the aggregate data still suggests these trends.

Other findings are less expected

The most surprising numbers from SFCTA’s report are the sheer volume of rides being given by Uber and Lyft: more than 150,000 intra-San Francisco trips per day, which is roughly 15 percent of all vehicle trips taken within the city and more than ten times the number of taxi trips.

The SFCTA study only considered trips originating and ending within San Francisco. So, there are actually many more Uber and Lyft trips being taken to or from the city.

Another interesting finding: approximately 20 percent of the miles traveled by Uber and Lyft drivers in San Francisco are without a passenger. These out-of-service miles (also known as “deadheading”) are actually lower for Uber and Lyft than taxis, which drive 40 percent of their miles without a customer. More Ubers and Lyfts on the road compared to taxis mean less distance is traveled between drop-offs and pickups.

What’s the big deal?

If you asked, “Don’t Uber and Lyft already have this data?” You’d be right. They do. So does the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which oversees transportation network companies (TNCs) – the policy term given to Uber and Lyft.

But the TNCs and PUC denied requests for data, so SFCTA partnered with Northeastern University to indirectly measure it themselves. Uber and Lyft oppose sharing data that could reveal aspects of their market share, such as where they dispatch drivers and pickup riders. Because there are only two main ride-hailing companies, either company could just subtract out their own numbers from aggregate data sets to get a sense of what the other company is doing.

The companies have a competitive history, but the need for this type of data will only increase as they provide larger fractions of vehicle trips, especially if projections materialize for ride-hailing with self-driving cars. Without data, it will be difficult to justify the potential safety, mobility, and emissions benefits (or consequences) of self-driving vehicles.

It’s fair to ask whether Uber and Lyft should share data not necessarily required by other fleets. A notable exception is the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, which approved standards earlier this year requiring TNCs to report trip information taxis were already required to share.

Even simple metrics such as the types of vehicles in a fleet (electric, hybrid, conventional), as reported by taxis in San Francisco, are important pieces of information for local governments to address the climate and air quality aspects of transportation. As the saying goes, you can’t improve something that you don’t measure.

What’s next?

SFCTA’s findings raise many questions about what types of trips TNCs are replacing. Are they getting people out of personal cars or turning pedestrians into ride-hailers? Are they eroding public transportation or making it easier for people to get to the bus, MUNI, or BART? Are people taking solo rides or sharing trips via uberPOOL or Lyft Line?

Previous studies and those underway are attempting to answer these questions. But ultimately, data like those from SFCTA are critical for transportation planners and researchers to understand the impact of ride-hailing services today and how they can be used to improve, and not hinder, how we get around in the future. Decisions like expanding roads vs. setting aside land for public spaces or how to better serve a community with public transportation all depend on knowing when, where, and how many trips we’re taking, whether by foot, bike, car, bus, or train.

New Numbers Are In and EVs Are Cleaner Than Ever

One of the most common questions I’m asked about electric cars is, “how clean are they?”

Five years ago, UCS answered this question, publishing its first look at the global warming emissions from electric vehicles (EVs) in our ‘State of Charge’ report.  In early 2017, the US EPA updated their data on emissions from electricity generation, now capturing power plant emissions through the end of 2014. How does this new data change our assessment of EVs?

For over 70 percent of Americans, driving an EV results in fewer emissions than even a 50 MPG gasoline vehicle.

We now find the overall global warming emissions from using an EV is significantly lower for most of the US. Several regions of the country showed significant decreases in emissions, as compared to our first EV emissions assessment.

When compared to our initial report on EV global warming emissions, the changes are impressive. That report used 2009 power plant data (the most current available in 2012) and placed only 9 of 26 regions in the ‘best’ category. Now 19 regions are in the best category with only 2 in ‘good’ regions. For example, the Northern Midwest region that includes Minnesota and Iowa improved from 39 MPG equivalent to 54 MPG and Eastern Wisconsin also jumped from ‘good’ at 40 MPG to our ‘best’ rating with emissions equal to 52 MPG gasoline cars.

Global warming emissions from electricity generation have fallen in since 2009 in many parts of the US, making EVs even cleaner. Check out the changes by region in the slider above. 

Based on where EVs have been bought to-date, the average EV in the US now produces emissions equivalent to a hypothetical gasoline car achieving 73 MPG.

Nearly half of the EVs sold to date have gone to California, where the average EV produces global warming emissions equal to a 95 MPG gasoline car. The next 5 states for EV sales (Georgia, Washington, New York, Florida, and Texas) account for 20 percent of US EV sales and are regions that have emissions ratings of 50 MPG or better.

Manufacturing emissions are important, but much less of a factor than fuel emissions.

The emissions estimates presented above compare the use of an EV compared to using a gasoline vehicle. However, there are also emissions associated with the production of these cars, and in general making EVs produces more emissions than a comparable gasoline car. We studied this issue in our “Cleaner Cars From Cradle to Grave” report in 2015 and found that the extra emissions from making an 80-mile range EV (compared to a similar gasoline car) are about 15% higher. However, this extra emissions ‘debt’ is quickly recovered by the savings that accrue while using the electric vehicle.

How quickly the emissions are recovered depends on where the car is charged, but for an EV the size of the Nissan LEAF, we found that break-even point occurs after 6 to 13 months of use (depending on electric grid region), well shorter than the likely lifespan of the car.

Choosing an electric car over an inefficient gasoline model is one of the most influential decisions a household can make to reduce emissions

For the average American, transportation makes up about a third of all household global warming emissions. And compared to some other sources of emissions, we have a great deal of control over how efficient a vehicle we choose. The average new gasoline vehicle in the US is rated at 25 MPG. On average, driving an EV (at 73 MPG equivalent emissions) would produce global warming emissions at less than half of the rate of the average new vehicle.

If you’re curious about how clean specific EVs would be where you live, check out our EV tool here. It’s recently been updated with our newest estimates of EV emissions, and we’ve also added many new EV models. If you are interested in the most efficient (and lowest emission) EV models, check out the Hyundai Ioniq BEV, Chevy Bolt, and BMW i3 BEV models.

Changes since our last report include generation, fuel production, and transmission efficiency.

Our initial assessment comparing gasoline vehicle emissions to those from electric vehicles were detailed in our 2012 State of Charge report. That report relied on the best data available at the time. This included estimates of power plant emissions and transmission losses from 2009 and also included the most recent estimates of ‘upstream’ emissions (such as coal mining and oil refining).

While we used the same analysis method as both the State of Charge and Cleaner Cars From Cradle to Grave  reports to generate these new emission estimates, the input data has changed.

The EPA estimates of power plant emissions in their eGRID database have been updated from 2009 data to 2014 data. In many cases, the emissions from power plants decreased, often due to reductions in coal-fired power and increases in renewable generation. However, some regions did show an increase. For example, in the Pacific Northwest, hydroelectric power output was reduced and fossil fuel plants supplied additional power.

The eGRID data also includes an updated method for calculating the losses attributed to the transmission and distribution of electric power from generators to the end user. This loss estimate is significantly lower than previous estimates, and therefore lowers the emissions attributed to EVs.

Finally, we also updated the estimates of emissions from ‘upstream’ sources like fuel extraction and refining. We used the most recent version of the GREET model from Argonne National Laboratory to estimate these emissions.
 

Most regions showed a decrease in emissions from electricity generation and distribution from 2009 to 2014. Red triangles indicate the total change in global warming emissions due to changes in generation sources, upstream emissions from fuel production, and losses in transmission and distribution of electricity from power plants to the end user.

 

Automakers Seek to Shirk Environmental Responsibilities, and Senators Oblige

Today, automakers yearning to weaken environmental regulations found an ear on Capitol Hill—Senator Blunt (R-MO) introduced a bill with support of a few auto-state senators which would undermine the federal fuel economy regulations in three ways:  1) it extends the life for credits, some of which have already expired, creating so-called “zombie credits”; 2) it awards windfall credits for vehicles already sold by pulling forward a flexibility which regulators explicitly said they were not granting when setting the stringency of the program; and 3) it allows for manufacturers to focus all their efforts on just one segment of their fleet, undermining the promise to consumers that all types of vehicles—cars, trucks, and SUVs—would become more efficient over time.

Taken in total, the impact of this legislation would result in 350 million barrels of additional oil consumption, which means $34 billion taken from consumers in new fuel costs and handed over to oil companies (corporate handouts aren’t just for the automakers with this bill!).

It also puts the industry on a course for dismal technology investment, as they continue to pay lobbyists to weaken regulations instead of engineers to deploy the very technologies which have shown such promise in their labs—this, of course, is just another attempt to undermine the mid-term evaluation of the standards and further the industry’s “Yes We Can’t” agenda at the expense of consumers.

Zombie credits—a windfall for exceeding a 30-year-old standard

Back in 2010, fuel economy regulations for cars were still stuck at the same value they’d been set at back in 1985.  The industry as a whole well exceeded these meager fuel economy targets, which were no longer serving their purpose to reduce oil consumption.

Even though the CAFE fuel economy regulations have been significantly improved, moving to a size-based standard and finally resulting in nearly doubling the efficiency of vehicles out to 2025, credits earned under the original, long stagnant CAFE program were still available to manufacturers.

These credits were given a five-year lifetime—this helps give manufacturers some flexibility as they introduce improvements to models or invest in new vehicles, since a typical product cycle is about five years.  However, the legislation proposed today gives these credits (most of which have already expired) new life by extending their use out to 2021.  In doing so, it assures manufacturers that rather than having to invest in new technology improvements, they can rest on their laurels thanks to exceeding standards first set THIRTY years ago.

This provision is designed to stifle investment, while manufacturers like Toyota sit back and withdraw from a huge bank of hundreds of millions of early credits.

Retroactive off-cycle credits—the everlasting gobstopper of handouts

When the 2012-2016 fuel economy regulations were set, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was quite clear—they did not believe they could give credit to technologies which did not have a measurable improvement on the test cycle and therefore must exclude such improvements from consideration.  Had they been able to include them, they further noted, the standards would have been set more stringently.

The legislation undercuts the standards by awarding credits for these technologies anyway, ignoring the agency’s carefully-crafted justification for its standards.  EPA did later include the credits in their program, however, and we are seeing that these credits aren’t being given to incentivize technology development—they’re being given as a windfall credit for vehicles that have already been sold!  And worse still, manufacturers have come back on multiple occasions to continue to ask for additional credits for those old vehicles—it’s a never-ending source of give-me credits!

With the zombie credit provision acting to extend the lifetime of credits, this provision acts to multiply its impacts by creating even more bogus credits.

Lifting the transfer credit cap—stifling consumer choice just got a whole lot easier

The size-based vehicle efficiency standards are designed to ensure that consumers have more efficient vehicle choices available year after year, whether they’re looking at cars, trucks, or SUVs.

When first directing NHTSA to move to an attribute-based standard, Congress also set a limit on how relatively inefficient a car or truck fleet could be: While manufacturers could use a small amount of credits by making one fleet more efficient than the standard to offset a shortfall in the other fleet, Congress set a limit to that number to ensure that a manufacturer couldn’t focus all their resources on improving just one segment.

The reasons for the transfer cap are clear—if manufacturers can focus development all in one segment, consumers looking at the other vehicle segment are going to get short shrift and not see continued improvement in fuel economy.  However, this legislation effectively says “bye-bye” to the transfer cap by instating a level so ridiculously high that, for example, a manufacturer could flatline improvements to their truck fleet for the length of the program:  i.e., the average truck in 2022 could be the same efficiency as the average truck in 2016.

Because of the exorbitant credits created under the first two provisions of the legislation, it is actually conceivable for a manufacturer to do just that, hurting consumers in the process.

This isn’t “harmonization”—it’s a credit bonanza

Manufacturers have claimed that these provisions are necessary in order to “harmonize” the EPA and NHTSA standards, but it is quite clear that this bill goes well beyond any such thing.  In fact, the mountain of credits earned in 2010 and 2011 before the National Program put forth by EPA and NHTSA went into effect are completely unnecessary to meet EPA’s standards, but that hasn’t stopped the Senators sponsoring this bill from giving away the store anyway.

The projection of CAFE credits for cars and trucks under the proposed legislation shows how manufacturers will be able to use credits given away under this bill to shirk their responsibilities out through 2021, continuing to fall well below the standards (hence, negative credits).  In fact, this bill is so egregious in its handouts that manufacturers don’t even need a huge chunk of the credits to comply (indicated as hashed bars).

Giving these credits away, however, allows automakers to continue to pit the unique aspects of each agency’s authority against each other as they winnow away at the overall program under the false guise of “harmonization”.  And of course, Congress is not the only venue for this action—they’ve also petitioned EPA and NHTSA for actions which would continue to weaken the standards, including the zombie credits and transfer cap provisions in this bill.

By continuing to eat away at the standard in every venue, automakers are showing that they have no interest in meeting their obligations to their consumers or to the environment—it’s critical that we don’t let our elected representatives give them a way out.

New Study on Smart Charging Connects EVs & The Grid

We know that electric vehicles (EVs) tend to be more environmentally friendly than gasoline cars. We also know that a future dominated by EVs poses a problem—what happens if everyone charges their cars at the same time (e.g., when they get home from work)?

Fortunately, there’s an answer: smart charging. That’s the topic of a report I co-authored, released today.

As a flexible load, EVs could help utilities balance supply and demand, enabling the grid to accommodate a larger fraction of variable renewable energy such as wind and solar. As well, the charging systems can help utilities and grid operators identify and fix a range of problems. The vehicles can be something new, not simply an electricity demand that “just happens,” but an integral component of grid modernization.

Where the timing and power of the EV charging automatically adjust to meet drivers’ needs and grid needs, adding EVs can reduce total energy system costs and pollution.

This idea has been around since the mid-1990s, with pilots going back at least to 2001. It has been the focus of many recent papers, including notable work from the Smart Electric Power Alliance, the Rocky Mountain Institute, the International Council on Clean Transportation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Synapse Energy Economics, and many more.

Over the past two years, I’ve read hundreds of papers, talked to dozens of experts, and convened a pair of conferences on electric vehicles and the grid. I am pleased to release a report of my findings at www.ucsusa.org/smartcharging.

Conclusions, but not the end

This is a wide-ranging and fast-moving field of research with new developments constantly. As well, many well-regarded experts have divergent views on certain topics. Still, a few common themes emerged.

  • Smart charging is viable today. However, not all of the use cases have high market value in all regions. Demand response, for example, is valuable in regions with rapid load growth, but is less valuable in regions where electricity demand has plateaued.
  • The needs of transportation users take priority. Automakers, utilities, charging providers, and regulators all stress the overriding importance of respecting the needs of transportation users. No stakeholder wants to inconvenience drivers by having their vehicles uncharged when needed.
  • Time-of-use pricing is a near-term option for integrating electric vehicles with the grid. Using price signals to align charging with grid needs on an hourly basis—a straightforward implementation of smart charging—can offer significant benefits to renewable energy utilization.
  • Utilities need a plan to use the data. The sophisticated electronics built into an EV or a charger can measure power quality and demand on the electric grid. But without the capabilities to gather and analyze this data, utilities cannot use it to improve their operations.

The report also outlines a number of near-term recommendations, such as encouraging workplace charging, rethinking demand charges, and asking the right questions in pilot projects.

Defining “smart”

One important recommendation is that “smart” charging algorithms should consider pollution impacts. This emerged from the analytical modeling that UCS conducted in this research.

Basic applications of “smart charging” lower electric system costs by reducing peak demand and shifting the charging to off-peak periods, reducing need for new power plants and reducing consumer costs.  But, in some regions that have lagged in the transition to cleaner electricity supplies, “baseload” power can be dirtier than peak power. Our model of managed charging shifted power demand by the hour, without regard to lowering emissions or the full range of services that smart charging performs today (like demand response or frequency regulation), let alone adding energy back with two-way vehicle-to-grid operation.

The model illustrated that encouraging off-peak charging without attention to emissions might, at a national scale, slightly increase pollution compared to unmanaged charging. Both charging strategies would reduce pollution compared to relying on internal-combustion vehicles, and the managed case would have lower system costs.

This is not a prediction, but one possible outcome under certain circumstances—a possibility also noted by NREL and by other research teams. It is a consequence of off-peak power that is cheap but dirty, and of a model that does not yet properly represent the full capabilities of smart charging. Charging when renewables are greatest, or employing policies that assign a cost to pollution, would change this outcome.

Fortunately, even before we have such policies, we have existing systems that can selectively charge when the greenest power is “on the margin.” This technology and other systems are discussed in the report.

The broader context

Smart charging of electric vehicles has a key role to play in the grid modernization initiatives happening around the country. EVs can be a flexible load that communicates with the grid, incorporates energy storage, benefits from time-varying rates, and participates in ancillary services markets, representing many of the innovations that can improve the economic and environmental performance of our electricity system.

Photo: Steve Fecht/General Motors

Oregon’s Clean Fuels Program Off to a Great Start

Oregon’s Clean Fuels Program (CFP) was initially authorized by the legislature in 2009, with subsequent legislation in 2015 allowing the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to fully implement the program in 2016.  The program’s goals are to foster the development of an in-state market for cleaner fuel by requiring that transportation fuels used in Oregon get steadily less-polluting over the next decade. The program requires average life cycle global warming emissions per unit of energy in transportation fuels to decline by 10% by 2025 compared to 2015.

Oregon’s CFP completed a very successful first year, but it remains under attack, so it’s a great time to review how the policy works, the results of its first year, and its prospects for the future.

The Clean Fuels Program creates a steadily growing market for clean fuels

Transportation is the largest source of global warming pollution in Oregon, and the overwhelming majority of transportation emissions come from petroleum-based fuels like gasoline and diesel.

Making a transition to a low carbon transportation system will take several decades, and will require a systemic transformation of transportation systems, vehicles and the fuels used to power them.  The Clean Fuels Program focuses on the fuels, ensuring that the market for clean fuels grows steadily year after year.  This assurance is critical to support investment in new fuels.

Getting clean fuels production and distribution up to commercial scale in the next decade is critical to accelerating the transition to clean transportation, and this early market signal to invest and innovate is even more powerful over the long term than the significant reduction in pollution the policy will deliver over the next few years.

The Clean Fuels Program protects clean fuels producers and all fuel consumers from volatile oil prices

Markets for transportation fuels are highly unstable, with retail gasoline prices in Oregon swinging back and forth in the last decade, from less than $2/gallon to more than $4/gallon.  The instability is a problem for drivers, but it also makes it very difficult for new cleaner fuels to get a foothold, since a clean fuel that is very attractive competing against $4/gallon gasoline may struggle at low prices.

The Clean Fuels Program assures fuel producers that the market for the clean fuels will grow steadily, protected from changes in global oil prices beyond their control, so clean fuel producers can focus on competing against other clean fuel producers.

How does the Clean Fuels Program work?

The Clean Fuel Program requires that large companies importing and distributing transportation fuel in Oregon, mostly gasoline and diesel, act to reduce the emissions from the fuels they sell by 10% per unit of energy.

Unlike Federal biofuels policy, the CFP does not set specific targets for ethanol, biodiesel, natural gas, or any other alternative fuel.  Instead the CFP requires that the average carbon intensity of fuels meets a gradually declining target.  Fuels that are cleaner than the target generates credits, while more polluting fuels generate deficits.

At the end of the year, fuel providers need to settle with the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), turning in enough credits to cover their deficits.  The CFP also has several flexibility mechanisms built in, including allowing credit trading between parties selling clean fuels and parties selling more polluting fuels, and allowing fuel sellers to generate extra credits early and save them for later (called banking).

What is Carbon Intensity?

The CFP regulates the “carbon intensity” of fuels, which is a measurement of global warming emissions per unit of energy in the fuel. This allows all fuels—whether gasoline, diesel, ethanol, biodiesel, natural gas, or electricity—to be compared accurately.

In measuring the carbon intensity of fuels, the CFP measures each fuel’s life cycle emissions, which accounts for not only the emissions generated by a vehicle when using a given fuel, but also the emissions that come from producing and transporting the fuel. For example, about a quarter of global warming emissions associated with using gasoline come from extracting and refining the oil to make the gasoline.

Emissions associated with biofuels depend greatly on whether they are made from corn, soybean oil, used cooking oil or biomethane collected at landfills, as well as how the fuel is produced. Electric vehicles produce no tailpipe emissions, so the life cycle emissions of electricity depend primarily on how the electricity is generated (whether from fossil fuels or renewable sources such as wind and solar). See my recent report, Fueling a Clean Transportation Future, for much more information about the future of fuels, especially gasoline, ethanol, and electricity.

The Clean Fuels Program is off to a good start

2016 was the first year of the CFP, and so far, the program is off to a good start. Fuel producers have been registering, and establishing the Carbon Intensity of their fuels, and for the first three quarters, credit generation (from selling fuels cleaner than the target) significantly exceeded deficit generation.  This means that regulated parties are entering the next year with a buffer of banked credits they can use later if necessary.

In the first few quarters, most of the credits were generated from ethanol and biodiesel.  These fuels are already part of the Oregon Fuels mix, blended into gasoline and diesel to satisfy state and federal requirements, but the CFP provides an incentive for fuel blenders to use more of these cleaner fuels and to seek out the least polluting sources of these biofuels, which provide more credits per gallon.

In subsequent years, other fuels, including biomethane and electricity, will play a growing role, but the procedures to credit some of these fuels are still being finalized and it will also take time for fuel buyers to react to the market signals from the CFP.

Clean Fuels Program credit data from Oregon DEQ

Lessons learned from California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard

California got started with clean fuels policy a little earlier than Oregon, with a closely related policy called the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) which went into effect in 2010 and requires a 10% reduction in average carbon intensity by 2020.

Data from the first five years of the LCFS provides a hint of what Oregon can expect as the Clean Fuel Program progresses.  Like Oregon, early years relied mostly on alternative fuels that were already well established in the marketplace, ethanol and natural gas.  But the growth in alternative fuel use encouraged by the LCFS came from other fuels, especially biodiesel, renewable diesel and biomethane.

The LCFS also provided more credits for cleaner fuels, especially those made from wastes such as biodiesel and renewable diesel made from used cooking oil and animal fat, and biomethane captured at landfills.  The larger benefits of these fuels is reflected in the fact that their share of credit generation is larger than their share of alternative fuel volume.

 

Credit data from California Air Resources Board Data Dashboard

Electricity and the Clean Fuels Program

The truly clean transportation system we need will have fewer internal combustion engines running on petroleum, and more electric vehicles running on non-polluting renewable sources of electricity.  The CFP can accelerate this transition by ensuring that the low carbon benefits of  electricity lowers the cost of operating electric vehicles.

When California’s LCFS got started in 2010 there were almost no electric vehicles, but by 2015 EVs were generating 6% of the credits.  Transit agencies running electric buses generated some of these credits, which they sold to oil companies and others who needed them to offset pollution for gasoline and diesel.

The value of these credits makes it easier for transit agencies to go electric, which also has important health benefits for communities in which these buses operate.  Households with electric cars also benefit as utilities have set up rebate programs funded by LCFS credits – PG&E is has a $500 clean fuel rebate program – which makes owning an EV even more attractive.

Managing the Clean Fuels Program

In 2017, DEQ is undertaking rulemaking  to implement a few important policy improvements. These include establishing procedures for crediting for the use of electricity as a transportation fuel, and implementing a cost containment mechanism to clarify what steps will be taken in the unlikely event of a shortage of clean fuels.  To assist them in this process, DEQ convened an advisory committee of stakeholders representing oil companies, clean fuel producers, environmental groups, the AAA, truckers, and others who are meeting seven times between November 2016 and June 2017.

I have been representing the Union of Concerned Scientists on this committee.  This process gives all parties the opportunities to share their concerns, and weigh in on proposed solutions so that DEQ can put together a well-considered set of program enhancements to take to the Environmental Quality Commission later this year.

The transportation system has many moving parts, and will require a suite of policies

Transportation is not just the largest source of Oregon’s climate emissions, it is also deeply integrated into people’s lives and commerce.

Ensuring the system serves Oregon well will require ongoing investment in roads, bridges, transit, facilities for bikes and pedestrians.  Finding sustainable, equitable means to fund these many priorities is critically important, and should not be considered as an alternative to supporting a transition to cleaner fuels.

Over time clean fuels, especially renewable electricity, will get steadily less expensive, and moving to these in-state sources of transportation fuel will protect drivers from the unpredictable price volatility of gasoline and diesel, which are influenced primarily by global oil prices over which Oregon has very little control. Getting started on this transition away from oil will have some costs, but with appropriate measures to manage these costs, this is a very smart investment in Oregon’s future.

Changing the law is not necessary or helpful at this time

Despite the ample evidence that the Clean Fuels Program is off to a great start, some critics of the policy in the Oregon legislature have been proposing legislation that would dramatically change the rules of the program, and if history is a guide, they may try to undermine the policy in negotiations over funding much needed transportation infrastructure investments.  This is not a smart way to move forward on either clean fuels or transportation funding.  Oregon needs to cut emissions, and it needs to make smart investments in physical infrastructure; bills pitting these goals against each other are short-sighted and counterproductive.

Clean Fuels Policies and Carbon Pricing work together

The Clean Fuels Program is focused on cleaning up transportation fuels, but while transportation fuels are important, other climate policies are also necessary to meet climate goals.  Putting an economy-wide price on global warming emissions, either through a cap-and-trade program or a carbon tax, helps integrate the costs of climate change into the cost of doing business.

In the transportation sector, carbon pricing helps ensure that the costs of pollution from fossil fuels—and the value of low carbon technologies—are better reflected in decisions fuel providers make about what fuels to produce, as well as the decisions consumers make about what cars to buy.  However, a carbon price alone is not enough to decarbonize our transportation system over the next few decades.

Typical carbon prices —which translate to pennies per gallon in increased fuel cost—cannot adequately motivate investments in innovative cleaner fuels. That’s why it is important to have policies in place to limit heat-trapping emissions from fuels directly. The Clean Fuels Program facilitates research, development, and deployment of transformational low-carbon technologies.  For more information, see our fact sheet on how California’s carbon pricing and LCFS complement one another.

State leadership on climate is more important than ever

States have always been important laboratories for democracy, but with the current administration in Washington D.C. actively undermining climate progress, states are an essential bulwark against backsliding.  Policies like the Clean Fuels Program ensure that the market for innovative clean fuels needed to address climate change continue to grow, even in the absence of reliable federal support.

By working together with neighboring states and provinces in the Pacific Coast Collaborative, Oregon can maintain momentum on emerging clean technologies for transportation and other climate goals.  Moreover, by investing in the future, Oregon can keep its transportation system moving forward, even if Washington D.C. is trying to slam the brakes on clean energy and go back to the fossil fuels of the last century.

Oregon Legislature Can Boost Electric Car Sales

The Oregon legislature has the opportunity to boost electric vehicle sales in the state and deliver benefits to all Oregonians by passing pending legislation for electric vehicle incentives in House Bill 2704.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are a critical solution to cutting oil use, improving air quality, and reducing global warming pollution. EVs are also a better choice for many Oregon drivers, offering fuel savings and often a better driving experience compared to a gasoline car.

Driving on electricity is cheaper than driving on gasoline for most people, even with today’s lower gasoline prices. Based on Northwest gasoline prices in 2016, we found that driving the average new gasoline car (29 mpg) for a year (11,350 miles) cost $949 in Oregon. Driving that same distance on electricity cost an average of $363 in the state.*

Given the volatility of gasoline prices, using electricity as a fuel also means more stable and predictable refueling costs for the years ahead. And since Oregon lacks oil production and refining, switching away from petroleum can keep more money in the local economy.

EVs in Oregon also have environmental benefits. The average EV on Oregon’s electric power mix produces fewer global warming emissions than any gasoline-powered vehicles on the road—equivalent to a 75 mpg gasoline car, according to UCS analysis in 2015. As Oregon continues to transition to cleaner sources of electricity (thanks to last year’s coal to clean bill) the climate advantages of EVs will only increase.

Despite these advantages, EVs still face barriers to their adoption, so policies are needed to make EVs available and affordable for more average Oregonians. A consumer incentive for zero-emission and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, as proposed by HB 2704, will help motivate prospective car buyers to investigate electric drive options and is also an important signal from the state in support of needed technologies.

States with EV incentives lead the nation in EV sales. For example, in California, more than 90 percent of surveyed EV rebate recipients said that the state’s rebate was important to their decision to buy an EV.

Now is an important time for Oregon to make a commitment to building a mainstream market for EVs. As the Oregon Global Warming Commission report to the legislature showed, Oregon is falling behind on its commitments to cut GHG emissions in large part because of increasing transportation sector emissions.

Thanks to Oregon’s Zero Emission Vehicle program, manufacturers are required to sell EVs in Oregon.  This policy that helps ensure EVs are available should be matched with policies that help induce demand. A consumer incentive is the single biggest act Oregon can take to enable more drivers to choose an electric car, so passing HB 2704 is an important step forward for EVs in the state.

*We calculated prices using the following electricity and gasoline price data from the US Energy Information Agency: 2016 average residential electricity price $0.107/kWh, 2016 average gasoline price $2.40/gallon. Costs assume 11,350 annual miles driven, 28.6 MPG gasoline efficiency, 0.30 kWh/mile EV efficiency.

Click here to find more information on How Oregon Can Benefit From Electric Vehicles (2015).  

 

What Will It Take for Automakers to Meet California’s EV Requirements? Not as Much as You Might Think.

California’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) regulation has been instrumental in catalyzing the EV market, and has also long been a source of complaint for automakers.

When the ZEV rule covering the 2018 through 2025 time period was initially adopted in 2012, California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) estimated it would require over 15 percent of new cars in 2025 to be electric drive vehicles – a figure still cited in media stories about the rules. However, that number is no longer accurate.

The ZEV program will require less than 8 percent EV sales by 2025 and recent sales figures show that several automakers are already well on their way to meeting this target in California.

Last month, the ZEV regulation, along with the rest of California’s Advanced Clean Cars program was reevaluated to check whether this standard was still achievable through 2025. As part of the Advanced Clean Cars review, the CARB updated its estimate of the ZEV sales required to meet the regulation. The state now estimates that the ZEV standards would require new EV sales in 2025 to be less than 8 percent, roughly half of the previous estimate of 15 percent.

The reduction in the estimated effect of the standard is primarily due to two factors: the range of EVs has increased far faster than anticipated (increasing the ZEV credits earned per vehicle), and the current stockpile of ZEV credits from early compliance with the regulation which can be used in place of future ZEV sales.

The unanimous decision of the board was to continue the current regulations through 2025, due to the progress that automakers have already made in selling EVs and also the dramatic improvements in EV technologies that have occurred over the last five years. For example, General Motors last year’s EV sales in California reached 7 percent, well in excess of the current ZEV rules requirements and has increased the range of its battery electric car from 82 miles to well over 200 miles.

The updated estimates of the ZEV regulation’s requirements in California are much lower than initially thought. Several automakers are selling significantly more EVs in California than the rule requires. Note: not all BMW EV models are certified as ZEV-compliant vehicles.

EV leaders hit new highs in 2016

EV sales in California increased 18 percent from 2015 and 3.5 percent of all new cars in the state were plug-in electric, up from 3.1 percent last year.

But the story is more impressive when you consider several major automakers were absent from the market in 2016.  If we exclude the 2 major automakers without a plug-in EV in 2016 (Honda and Toyota), EV sales would have exceeded 5 percent of new car sales in California.

 

Several automakers were well above 5% EV sales in California in 2016. Tesla not shown, as 100% of its sales are electric. Data source: California New Car Dealers Association, IHS Markit

BMW remained the leader in California (excluding Tesla), nearing 9 percent of all cars having the ability to be plugged in. General Motors (GM) was clearly ahead out of the Big Three domestic automakers at 7 percent EV sales. However, that includes brands such as GMC, Buick, and Cadillac that have no EV models available (excluding the discontinued Cadillac ELR).

If you look only at GM’s main Chevrolet brand, almost 1 in 10 new Chevys sold in California were EVs. With the addition of the long-range Bolt EV for 2017 as well as a new Cadillac plug-in hybrid, GM is poised to continue to be an EV leader in California.

 

Leading EV brands in California. Data source: California New Car Dealers Association, IHS Markit

Some of the laggards starting to turn around (though not all)

Some of the companies that we identified as laggards in our last evaluation of the EV market are starting to show signs of making more effort in the building and selling EVs.

Hyundai/Kia moved to over 1 percent EV sales in 2016 and is adding new plug-in models to its line up in 2017. Toyota sold low volumes of the Mirai fuel cell electric in 2016 in part due to delays in hydrogen refueling station deployment. However, Toyota now has one of the top selling plug-in hybrids with the Prius Prime.

Fiat Chrysler has long been a critic of electric vehicles, but soon will sell the first plug-in minivan, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid.  Honda remains in last place, selling 6 fuel cell electrics in 2016 while delivering 287,526 gasoline cars in the state. They are planning on bringing battery electric and plug-in hybrid versions of their Clarity sedan to market in 2017, though Honda’s new battery electric is expected to have only 80-mile range, which could limit its competitiveness given the number of similar vehicles with higher range already on the market.

 

These major automakers sold over 850,000 cars in California last year, but just over 3,000 ZEVs. Data source: California New Car Dealers Association, IHS Markit

Automakers are demonstrating they can meet 2025 ZEV targets

The California Air Resources Board affirmed its ZEV regulations, citing ample evidence that automakers can achieve the 2025 target. The data supports that decision, as automakers that have developed and marketed EVs in California are already selling these cars in volumes in excess of the ZEV current requirements and are well poised to get to 8 percent sales by 2025.  These same automakers have paved the way for their industry counterparts who have been slower to step up their efforts.

In the other states that have the ZEV program, fewer vehicle models have been available to consumers and automaker efforts have lagged, but there is ample time (8 years) to bring more effort to these states. Additionally, they are not starting from scratch.  More than 25 ZEV models are being produced by automakers today, and that number is expected to reach 70 in the next 5 years.  These vehicles need to be brought to states outside of California and marketed to consumers. In addition, incentive programs in East Coast states have been expanding, like the recently announced program in New York state.

If major automakers don’t step-up in the ZEV market, they may end up paying Tesla (or other EV manufacturers) to do it for them.  Tesla isn’t subject to the ZEV program requirements because the rules only apply to large automakers who sell conventionally-powered vehicles. But Tesla can generate credits and sell those to other manufacturers who choose not to sell ZEVs. Tesla’s success puts more ZEV credits on the market – making the 8 sales percent target even easier to meet.

So let’s be clear. There is no 15 percent sales requirement for EVs in California or any other state.  California’s recently reaffirmed Zero Emission Vehicle will require less than 8 percent new EV sales by 2025 – a target that automakers are already demonstrating is within striking distance.

 

Top Clean Cars from the 2017 New York Auto Show

I just got back from checking out the 2017 New York Auto Show and eating a couple dirty water hotdogs in the process. Here are my top picks for the clean cars that were on display and headed to a showroom near you.

Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid

The 2017 Kia Niro. Photo: Kia Motors

The 2017 Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid is a well-proportioned crossover utility vehicle that – like all electric vehicles – can be plugged into any regular grounded electrical outlet to charge its 8.9 kWh battery pack. The Niro’s electric drivetrain is paired with a traditional gasoline-fueled engine that will kick in after the 25 mile electric range is exhausted. Though 25 miles might seem paltry, keep in mind that over a quarter of Americans commute under 5 miles to work and another quarter commute under 15 miles each day. The Niro can help those with longer commutes greatly reduce their gasoline use and emissions too.  Having a relatively small battery pack also means that the Niro will have fast charging times. Level 2 charging (from a 240V outlet like one used for a home washer / dryer) will only take a little over an hour to totally refill the Niro’s batteries. The Niro is expected to hit the U.S. market later this year, and will be upgraded to an all-electric version for European markets in 2018.

Chevy Bolt

The 2017 Chevy Bolt might be a game changer for the EV industry. Photo: Chevy

I’ve covered the Bolt before, but the NY Auto Show gave a lot of attention to this all-electric offering from Chevy, and the Bolt remains an indicator for whether electric vehicles will ultimately succeed in the U.S. Don’t worry, the signs are encouraging given what the Bolt and other electrics have to offer.

The 2017 Bolt is MotorTrend’s Car of the Year, will go 0-60 in just 6.5 seconds, and has an estimated all-electric range of 238 miles. These performance stats should help the Bolt appeal to gearheads and eco-drivers alike. With a price tag of around $30,000 after the federal tax credit, joining the electric transportation revolution won’t be a strain on many new car buyers’ wallets, especially considering that the average new car price in 2016 was up to $33,560.

The Bolt’s battery pack can get 90 miles of charge in just 30 minutes from optional DC fast charging, far less time than it takes me to pit stop with my toddler on my way up north for holidays.  A full charge will take about 9 hours via slower level 2 charging, not a big deal considering that electric vehicle drivers have found that over 80 percent of their charging has been done at home – and mostly overnight. And, perhaps most importantly, the Bolt will save you money on fuel. Driving on electricity costs about half as much as driving on gasoline and can cut your vehicle emissions in half compared to similar gasoline vehicles.

Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid (Plug-In Version)

The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is the first electric minivan in the U.S. Photo: By author

The 2017 Pacifica Hybrid is a plug-in version of Chrysler’s popular minivan lineup with a horribly confusing name. At first glance you might mistake this for a traditional gasoline-hybrid without a plug, but no, it actually has a plug and rechargeable battery pack.

The Pacifica Hybrid will have a 16 kWh battery pack that will give it 33 miles of all-electric range, and a gasoline-powered V6 engine that is good for a combined 32 mpg after the battery is depleted, which is really quite good for a large minivan. Other minivans typically get around 20-22 mpg. Level 2 charging can give the Pacifica a full charge in just 2 hours, while level 1 charging from any normal household outlet will take about 12 hours.  Confused about the difference between fast and regular charging? Check out this primer.

WardsAuto gave the Pacifica Hybrid engine high marks as an outstanding “propulsion system,” and the NY Daily News thinks the Pacifica is the best minivan you can buy. These accolades are both important and warranted, as this Chrysler is the first plug-in minivan sold in the U.S., and a critical step toward giving U.S. consumers electric options to choose from among different types of vehicles.

Cadillac CT6 Plug-In

2017 Cadillac CT6 Plug-In. Photo: Cadillac

I’ve got a soft spot for Cadillac. My grandfather exclusively drove jet black Cadillac’s with cream white interiors until he had to stop driving, and I still remember what it felt like to climb into a passenger seat that felt more like a top-of-the-line barcalounger than car seat.

Cadillac is also a quintessential American luxury brand, and has been idolized in countless movies and hit songs. So, I was glad to see Cadillac present a plug-in version of their flagship sedan at the NY Auto Show. The 2017 CT6 Plug-In is an electric / gasoline hybrid that puts out 335 horsepower and a respectable 31 miles of all-electric range from a 18.4 kWh battery pack that also lets it run up to 78 miles in an extra fuel efficient mode. Overall, this model boasts a 62 mpg combined EPA rating, which is extremely impressive for a heavy luxury sedan. The 2017 Audi A8, by comparison, only gets 22 combined mpg.

Recharging the CT6 will take about 4.5 hours and can also be charged via any regular home outlet. Oh, and don’t forget that this beast will sprint from 0-60 in an estimated 5.2 second, which makes it nearly as quick as the Twin-Turbo version. So, if you’ve got around $75,000 to drop on a dope ride, you might want to consider the CT6 Plug-In as a fashionable and fuel efficient way to cruise.

Volkswagen e-Golf

The 2017 VW e-Golf. Photo: VW

Volkswagen is trying to make amends for its transgressions (see Dieselgate). As part of these efforts, which include investing in electric charging infrastructure, the German automaker is set to update an all-electric version of its popular hatchback.

The 2017 VW e-Golf uses a 35.9 kWh battery pack that gives it an estimated 125 miles of all-electric range on a single charge, plenty for many commutes and enough for weekend warrior road trips with a charge pit stop along the way. Volkswagen also made the previously optional 7.2-kW onboard charger standard, meaning that the recharge time from a 240 volt power source (like what is used for a home washer / dryer) has dropped to less than six hours. A DC fast charger that can replenish the battery to 80 percent of its capacity in about an hour, and VW also upgraded the electric motor, dropping its 0-60 time to 9.6 seconds.

Last year, the e-Golf SE started at $29,815 (before the $7,500 federal tax credit and any state or local incentives). If the 2017 model holds the line on that pricing when it goes on sale early in 2018, it should stay competitive with the Tesla Model 3 and Chevy Bolt among the most affordable all-electric vehicles ready for prime time.

How Clean Are the Newest EVs?

How clean are the newest EV models? As we’ve shown before, an EV is cleaner than the average gasoline car. But, the global warming emissions savings from using an electric vehicle depend in part on where in the U.S. you live.

We have an online tool that lets you compare most of the EVs that have been sold over the last six years, and we’re continually updating our database with the latest models.

Here are just some of the latest additions that you can choose to analyze using the tool:

Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Chrysler is marketing the Pacifica as a ‘hybrid’, even though it’s actually better: it’s a plug-in hybrid. Photo: Dave Reichmuth

Chrysler is marketing the Pacifica as a ‘hybrid’, even though it’s actually better: it’s a plug-in hybrid.The new Chrysler Pacifica minivan is being advertised as available with merely a hybrid drivetrain, but it’s actually a plug-in hybrid.

This seven-passenger van is rated at over 30 miles of electric range and then gets over 30 MPG when the gasoline engine is being used. This combination makes the Pacifica the cleanest minivan option by a long shot, as the best gasoline models only get 22 MPG. Its maker, Fiat Chrysler America, was one of our worst rated companies for commitment to EVs, so hopefully this means that they are starting to get on the right path.

Hyundai Ioniq BEV

The Ioniq is the first vehicle to sold as a conventional hybrid, plug-in electric hybrid, or a battery electric model. Photo: Ki Hoon. CC-BY-SA-4.0 (Wikimedia).

 Hyundai is actually releasing three versions of the Ioniq: an all-electric version, a plug-in hybrid, and a gasoline-only ‘conventional’ hybrid.

The first one to reach the U.S. is the all-electric Ioniq BEV. With a range of 124 miles, this car could meet many driver’s daily needs.  The Ioniq also boasts the highest efficiency of any electric car on the market (0.25 kWh per mile).  That means in places with cleaner electricity, this car produces emissions equal to a gasoline car rated at 100MPG or better.

Prius Prime

The 2017 Prius Prime can be plugged into any regular outlet to charge its 8.8 kwh battery pack. Photo: Toyota News Room.

This is the second version of Prius plug-in hybrid, but it’s vastly different from the previous version. While the first version could only operate in electric-only mode at low speeds, the Prime can go all-electric under most conditions.

The range has also more than doubled to 25 miles. Because it’s based on an efficient hybrid, the Prime also get exceptional gas mileage when running on gasoline at 54 MPG.

Chevy Bolt

The Chevrolet Bolt EV is the most efficient and affordable long-range EV currently available. Photo: Dave Reichmuth

The Chevy Bolt EV (easily confused with Chevy Volt) is a new all-electric hatchback that is the first EV to get over 200 miles range that is not made by Tesla. While not as efficient as the Ioniq, it is the most efficient long-range battery electric vehicle available at 0.28 kWh/mile. Because of its range, it could potentially replace more gasoline-powered trips than other EVs, leading to greater emissions reductions.

Check out these EVs, as well as all the other EV models available using our tool. We’ll continue to add EVs to our emissions tool, including the anticipated new long-range EV models from Tesla and Nissan later this year. We’ll also add the latest electricity emissions estimates, so watch this space for updates.

 

 

 

 

Two for One: A Very Bad Deal for Our Nation

Imagine you are in the market for a new car. You are excited to buy one with a new technology that will warn you of an imminent crash so you have enough time to hit the brakes to save your son’s or daughter’s life and your own. The car salesman tells you he’s got just the car for you, and it comes with his new two-for-one deal. To get that one new feature, you have to give up two others, brakes and seat belts.

You’d never take that deal, but it is exactly the kind of situation the President has created for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and every other agency responsible for protecting American’s health and safety.

This “two-for-one” executive order, signed January 30th, 2017, requires every agency to get rid of at least two regulations for every new one they seek to put in place to help make American’s lives better off. Making matters worse, the health, safety, and other regulations that must be eliminated must at least offset the industry investment required to meet the new regulation–regardless of the benefits of the new or older regulations!

So, take my not-so-hypothetical example above. When I was NHTSA’s Acting Administrator, we put out an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking that would require new cars to come equipped with radios that would allow them to “talk” to one another, sharing basic safety information that would allow a car car to warn the driver of another equipped vehicle on a collision course. This vehicle to vehicle, V2V, communication system is estimated to prevent 425,000–524,500 crashes per year when fully implemented. Saving lives and avoiding injuries would deliver savings of $53 to $71 billion, dwarfing the investments automakers would have to make to equip vehicles with the new technology, therefore delivering positive net benefits within 3-5 years.

But under the “two-for-one” executive order, those benefits just don’t matter, the lives saved and injuries avoided just don’t matter. Instead, other regulations, like those requiring seat belts and brakes, would need to be repealed to offset the investment costs… again, ignoring the lives lost and harmed along the way. And if those two don’t cut the costs to industry enough, even more would need to be eliminated, putting even more lives at risk.

When you consider that in 2015 alone, 35,092 people lost their lives and 2.44 million people were injured in traffic crashes in the United States, it is clear that the “two-for-one” executive order is a very bad deal for our nation.

Making matters worse, this same raw deal applies to fuel economy standards that NHTSA is set to finalize for 2022-2025 to help nearly double fuel economy compared to where we were at the beginning of the decade. So, will NHTSA have to repeal safety standards to make more room to cut the high cost of our oil use? I expect they would never make that trade. I expect it would be the same for the Department of Energy (DOE), where I had the opportunity to help establish efficiency standards for household and commercial appliances. I don’t think the DOE would repeal appliance efficiency standards that are estimated to save consumers more than $2 trillion by 2030 if they had to both offset the industry investment costs of new ones and ignore the benefits of them all.

The “two-for-one” executive order is good for only one thing: grinding to a halt federal efforts to save lives, protect our health, and help us spend less money fueling our cars and heating and cooling our homes.

Appendix: Background on Regulation at NHTSA

What is EPA’s Vehicle Lab, and Why Should I Care How It’s Funded?

More details have been released about the Trump administration’s plans to cut funding to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  In particular, it is nearly zeroing out the budget for the vehicles program, calling for the National Vehicle and Fuels Emission Laboratory (“Vehicle Lab”) in particular to be funded almost entirely by fees on industry “as quickly as possible” (i.e. as soon as never).  This could significantly undermine the enforcement of safeguards which protect American pocket books and public health from industry malfeasance, and it could put in jeopardy technical research that moves technology forward.

The Vehicle Lab plays a critical role in watchdogging industry

Portable emissions measurement system (PEMS) like the one used to uncover the Volkswagen scandal were developed by EPA researchers at the Vehicle Lab.

EPA’s Vehicle Lab, located in Ann Arbor, MI (Go Blue!), is responsible for certifying manufacturer compliance with its emissions standards—before any vehicle can be sold in the United States, it must be approved by the EPA.  EPA does not test every passenger vehicle model—the lab is under-resourced for such an endeavor.  Instead, it randomly selects vehicle models (about 15-20 percent annually) to assess the accuracy of manufacturers’ test results.  It also conducts its own investigations if any anomalous data is brought to its attention, e.g., by consumer groups or other advocacy organizations.

Just in the last couple of years alone, several manufacturers from across the industry have faced fines, or worse, thanks to this oversight:

Fiat-Chrysler—Its Jeep and Ram diesel vehicles are currently being investigated for violating the Clean Air Act.  While the case is ongoing, it represents an effort by EPA to step up its real-world emissions tests to ensure that vehicles are not polluting above what is legally allowed and public health is not being harmed.

Ford—For the 2013 and 2014 model years, 6 different vehicles were required to adjust the fuel economy label information provided by consumers—for one of those (the C-MAX), this was actually the second such adjustment.  This resulted in payouts to consumers of up to $1050.

Hyundai and Kia—The Korean manufacturers were found to have systematically overstated fuel economy results for over 1 million vehicles, largely the result of violating EPA’s prescribed test guidelines for determining vehicle road load.  This led to a $100 million fine and hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation for its customers.

Volkswagen—The reintroduction of diesels to its American fleet were found to come only as the result of a defeat device used to cheat the emissions tests.  Encompassing nearly 600,000 vehicles, it turns out that in the real world these vehicles emitted up to 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxides, a smog-forming pollutant.  Volkswagen is estimated to spend around $20 billion over the next few years in an effort to remove these polluting vehicles from the road, mitigate the excess pollution caused by these vehicles, and compensate the American people for this egregious violation.

The above issues represent a real cost to consumers, the environment, and public health and they required rigorous laboratory and on-road testing to investigate the issue.  If anything, these recent enforcement actions by EPA show the need and value of investing in even more complementary real-world testing, not less. It seems absurd to cut in half the number of staff at the lab responsible for these tests.

The Lab has also been a vital tool for transparent assessment of vehicle regulation

In addition to its important role as industry watchdog, the Lab has played a key role in assessing the technological capability of the automotive industry and providing transparency to the development of fuel economy and emissions standards.

Throughout the regulatory process, the EPA has used the capabilities of the Vehicle Lab to assess the technology landscape, publishing its results and making freely available pages upon pages of detailed technical information.  This data was used not just to test the technologies of today but to actually create, develop, and benchmark a publicly accessible full vehicle simulation model to simulate the technologies of tomorrow.  This is the type of tool previously only available to manufacturers and some well-funded institutions and, until now, well out of the budget of an organization like UCS.

This wealth of information can help inform researchers like myself and others looking to promote improvements and investments in technologies to reduce fuel use, and it provides an unparalleled level of detail and transparency for assessing the validity of regulations based on this information.

In a comprehensive report, the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine noted that “the use of full vehicle simulation modeling in combination with lumped parameter modeling has improved the Agencies’ estimation of fuel economy impacts.  Increased vehicle testing has also provided input and calibration data for these models.  Similarly the use of teardown studies has improved [NHTSA and EPA’s] estimates of costs.”

Every single item lauded by the National Academies was conducted in collaboration with the researchers at the Vehicle Lab the Trump administration is now proposing to gut.

Cutting funding cuts corners, jobs and puts us at risk of a rubber stamp EPA

The current administration plan would immediately cut the number of people working at the Lab in half—that means that rather than increasing the ability for the agency to protect against the types of industry malfeasance documented above, the Lab would be stripped of its capabilities in the near-term.  This reduction in workforce would make it impossible to even maintain the bare minimum of checks and balances on the certification program, even if (big IF!) it were eventually fully funded by fees from manufacturers.

This vehicle test cell is used to measure a vehicle’s emissions in order to assess its operation under cold weather conditions. This is a necessary component to ensure that pollution levels under all driving conditions are below legal limits, and fuel usage under these conditions is part of the test procedure which determines a vehicle’s fuel economy label for consumers.

Furthermore, the fee proposal in the budget is completely inadequate to the task.  While the EPA already collects fees to reimburse the Agency, in part, for its certification activities, it is Congress which determines how the fees are appropriated—to date, Congress has not been appropriating this money to EPA, instead using these funds to offset the federal budget deficit.  There is no reason to suppose that this would change in the future, which means this proposal would effectively gut the certification process by cutting the staff responsible for the program in half.

With such a drastic staff reduction, effective immediately in 2018, the certification process will be gummed up to such a degree it will either delay sales of vehicles tremendously or become a meaningless rubber stamp which will undoubtedly lead to even more automaker malfeasance, further eroding the trust of the American people in its auto industry.

Ensuring a technically sound watchdog is of course in the interest of the auto industry as well.  It ensures everyone is playing by the same rules and that they suffer the consequences if they don’t. While engineers at other auto companies were working hard to develop emission controls for diesel cars, VW was making millions, selling so-called “clean diesels” by the hundreds of thousands.

So I hope the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers call out this farcical budget memo for what it is—a slap in the face of good governance that can only result in adverse health and environmental impacts for the American people and end up a costly mistake for the auto industry as well.

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