UCS Blog - The Equation, Clean Vehicles

How to Ensure Self-Driving Vehicles Don’t Ruin Everything

Zipcar’s former CEO has cast the self-driving future as a “heaven or hell” scenario, and she has a point. Self-driving cars could save lives, smooth traffic congestion, expand access to jobs or schools—especially for people who can’t drive themselves today—and reduce the number of vehicles on our roads. On the other hand, they could worsen smog and local air quality pollution, disrupt the US economy by putting millions of people out of work, justify cuts in public transit funding and services, and force urban planners to focus more on providing space for vehicles instead of for parks, bicyclists, or pedestrians.

To maximize the potential benefits of self-driving vehicles and minimize their potential consequences, UCS developed this set of principles that we will be pushing policymakers, businesses, and other stakeholders to follow. Doing so will ensure that self-driving vehicles reduce oil consumption and global warming emissions, protect public health, and enhance mobility for everyone.

Science-based policy will be key for shaping the introduction of self-driving technology

Many are rallying against any regulation of self-driving technology beyond ensuring it’s safe to use. I’ve even heard the claim that over regulating this technology will literally kill people by slowing the speed at which self-driving cars are introduced, thus delaying their potential safety benefits.

To be fair, this argument has merit. Self-driving vehicles are forecast to reduce the tens of thousands roadway fatalities that occur each year in the US by as much as 90 percent, and can offset the rise of distracted driving that may have caused the biggest spike in traffic deaths in 50 years (though reaching these improved safety levels will take further advances in the technology and widespread deployment).

But, self-driving technology won’t just impact transportation safety. Researchers are forecasting how it will affect traffic congestion, vehicle-related emissions, land-use decisions, public transit systems, data security, and the economy. Unfortunately, the emphasis that many, including the US Department of Transportation, have placed on the safety benefits can be distracting from the need to consider how policy should address the other equally great potential impacts of self-driving technology.

I’m not saying self-driving technology should be regulated to the scrapheap. The technology is highly likely to improve traffic safety and increase access to transportation—both important outcomes. Yet self-driving vehicles will need to be regulated on issues other than safety, as their full breadth of potential impacts won’t be addressed by safety-focused policy or market forces alone.

For example, studies have found that self-driving vehicles could double transportation emissions (already the largest source of climate change emissions in the US), place millions Americans out of work as automated driving replaces truckers and taxi drivers, and/or exacerbate urban sprawl.

The jackpot for winning the race to produce the best self-driving vehicle can still be won even if these negative affects are suffered, and today’s policy frameworks may be insufficient to effectively curtail these future impacts. Let’s not forget that automakers have historically been against regulation (see: seat belts, fuel economy, air bags) and are encouraging policymakers to clear the way for self-driving vehicles not only because they seek to improve transportation safety, but because they see a potential to make a profit.

So science-based policy covering the broader implications of self-driving cars, including how they affect emissions and our economy, will be needed to ensure the best possible self-driving future and these discussions need to happen today. To kickstart these conversations, UCS released these principles that will create a safe, healthy, and equitable autonomous future. Join the conversation on whether and how self-driving technology should be regulated by checking out our new self-driving vehicle web content and signing up for future action alerts here.

What is Oil Used For? What the Super Bowl Commercial Didn’t Tell You…

A commercial during yesterday’s Super Bowl about oil may have given you pause.

Besides the sports car (about to go off-roading), the commercial was about things you probably don’t associate with oil. Like graffiti; makeup; prosthetics; a heart; and outer space.

Is oil really diversifying? Or is this ad just a marketing ploy?

Looking at data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, it is pretty clear that oil and natural gas are still being used overwhelmingly for what they have always been used for—combustion, whether in vehicles or power plants.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) ran the commercial in question. API is the largest oil trade association in the United States. Member companies include BP, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell. You may have heard of API for their role in a concerted campaign to spread denial about climate change. They merged with America’s Natural Gas Alliance last fall, so it now lobbies for both oil and natural gas interests. This merger came about because major oil companies now have large natural gas assets.

As a chemist, I know that many consumable products like asphalt, paint, and plastics have oil or natural gas as a precursor ingredient. And while these products have many positive impacts in society, they are absolutely tiny fractions of the oil and gas industry and should not be used to justify the bulk of their business. Over 90% of oil and gas is used for combustion, either in power plants or vehicles.

Let’s not discount the many benefits energy provides society

But while coal, oil, and natural gas have been our primary sources of energy for many decades, we will not rely on them in the future. We are moving to a world that gets most of our energy from clean, renewable resources like wind and solar. This is in large part because the cleanest sources of energy are becoming the cheapest. Our cars and trucks can plug into that clean grid for their future fueling needs.

There are many chemists exploring ways to make plastics etc. from non-petroleum resources such as plants. This is great work (and tough chemistry) that will lead to a more sustainable world. But if we are going to stop the worst effects of global warming and clean our air, we must remember the most obvious effects oil and natural gas are having on our communities and our world.

We have solutions

While oil may currently play a role in making paint, plastics, or rocket fuel, it doesn’t “gush art,” “pump life,” or “explore space”–that would be artists, doctors, and scientists. And it is artists painting a picture of environmental justice; doctors treating patients suffering from asthma; and scientists discovering clean energy solutions.

Massachusetts Moves to Limit Pollution from Transportation: 5 Things you Should Know

The state of Massachusetts has been an important leader in the fight to protect our climate from global warming. But there’s one area where Massachusetts continues to struggle: controlling pollution from transportation. New limits on transportation emissions now under consideration by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) could determine whether the Commonwealth can stay track to achieve our climate mandates, or whether transportation emissions will undermine the progress the state has been able to make building a clean energy future.

Clean Vehicles, CV

Transportation and the Global Warming Solution Act

The Bay State has passed one of the strongest climate laws in the country, the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), which requires the state to reduce emissions throughout our economy by at least 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. Massachusetts also leads the nation in energy efficiency, and last year, passed an energy bill that will see the largest ever procurement of offshore wind in the United States.

Massachusetts has been able to make significant progress on these issues because the people of the Commonwealth care a lot about climate, because our state is uniquely threatened by the impacts of sea level rise and other climate change impacts, and because our state boasts a proud bipartisan tradition of leadership on climate and energy.

But transportation has been a challenge for Massachusetts. Pollution from our cars and trucks is the largest source of emissions in the state, and it’s the one area of our economy where emissions have actually grown since 1990, as increased total driving in the state has outpaced gains in fuel efficiency:

Achieving significant reductions in transportation emissions basically boils down to using a lot less oil. The good news is that we know how to do this! More efficient cars, cleaner fuels, electric vehicles, and a transportation system that gets us where we need to go without spending so much time behind the wheel, can all help cut pollution from transportation.

Kain v. Department of Environmental Protection

This week, Massachusetts will take an important step towards tackling the pollution from transportation, as the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) considers new limits on emissions in the sector.

These proposed regulations are in response to last year’s landmark decision in Kain v. Department of Environmental Protection, in which the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordered the state needs to set mandatory and enforceable limits on the total mass of pollution emitted within the state from different sources, including transportation. These proposed regulations represent DEP’s response to the Kain decision. So how did the DEP do? Here’s what you need to know:

#1: DEP is proposing to limit most, but not all, emissions in the transportation sector.

The proposed DEP regulation covers the “surface transportation system” within Massachusetts, which means emissions that come from passenger vehicles, light and heavy duty trucks, and transit systems. The new regulations do not cover aviation or marine transportation. All told, that means that approximately 85 percent of Massachusetts transportation emissions are covered by this regulation.

Leaving aviation and marine travel out of the current regulation may make sense, given that these areas present different administrative challenges. In the long run, however, Massachusetts will need to make progress in these areas as well, and the state should consider additional regulations that will establish limits on boats and airplanes.

#2: The proposed limits are ambitious.

Overall the state is proposing to cut emissions in the transportation sector by approximately 1.87 percent per year for each of the three years covered by this regulation (2018, 2019 and 2020). That’s pretty challenging! Massachusetts has not been able to achieve a 1.87 percent reduction in transportation emissions for three consecutive years since 1990-1993, 25 years ago.

But, while ambitious, a 1.87 percent linear decline isn’t quite enough to achieve our long-term climate goals. Overall, the DEP proposal would put the state on track to achieve a 35% reduction by 2030 and a 57% reduction by 2050. So while these regulations represent an ambitious effort to begin to get transportation emissions under control, we’ll need to accelerate progress over the coming years to achieve our climate mandates.

#3: Achieving these limits will require additional policies.

The two biggest challenges with this regulation are: it isn’t clear how we are going to achieve these limits, and it’s not clear what happens if we fail to achieve them.

Right now, Massachusetts is relying heavily on federal and regional policies to reduce emissions in transportation. In fact, 93 percent of the projected emission reductions in the state’s most recent Clean Energy and Climate Protection plan come from National Greenhouse Gas and Fuel Economy Standards that, if fully implemented, will approximately double the fuel efficiency of new vehicles by 2025. These standards are now very much under threat from a combination of automaker intransigence and the current administration in Washington.

The new federal administration means that Massachusetts and other states are probably on our own when it comes to achieving our climate limits.  Massachusetts needs to think big about new policies that will help our residents and businesses drive less or purchase cleaner vehicles. Aside from reducing emissions in state fleets, the DEP is not yet proposing new policies to achieve the limits that they lay out in this regulation. But they are going to have to if they want to be successful.

#4: It’s not clear how these regulations will be enforced.

What happens if we go over our limit? The regulations are not clear on this very important point.

The most straightforward way to make the limits on transportation emissions enforceable is through a requirement that polluters purchase allowances from a limited pool (or cap). This market-based approach would build on the successful model of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which has been really effective in reducing emissions while promoting economic growth in the electricity sector. RGGI is also an important source of funding for Massachusetts’ clean energy and efficiency programs. A market-based approach to ensuring emission reductions is explicitly authorized by Section 7 of the GWSA.

Without some kind of mechanism to ensure that the state actually achieves the reductions, this regulation will not be the kind of mandatory and enforceable limits required by the Supreme Judicial Court.

#5: Achieving long-term reductions in the transportation sector will require regulations that extend past 2020.

One major challenge facing DEP throughout this whole process is that the GWSA regulations that they are in charge of implementing sunset by statute in 2021. Achieving short-term reductions is challenging in the transportation sector, as vehicles, community development patterns, and transportation infrastructure investments all change slowly.

A more sensible approach would be for the state to establish limits through 2030. Several proposals in the Massachusetts legislature would eliminate the 2020 sunset and allow DEP to consider limits on a longer time horizon.

Working together, both parties and all three branches of government in Massachusetts have made significant progress reducing emissions from electricity generation and increasing the efficiency of our homes. Massachusetts’ policies to promote solar energy, for example, have allowed the technology to explode into the mainstream, providing thousands of Massachusetts residents with affordable zero-emission energy. With the growth of new technologies such as electric vehicles, new transportation systems such as car sharing, and ever-increasing use of public transportation and cycling in the Bay State, we have more options then ever before to promote clean transportation. It is time for policy leaders in Massachusetts to bring the same urgency and focus that has lead to so much success in the electric sector to the task of reducing pollution from transportation.

 

What’s Congress Doing to our Methane Waste Regulations?

Yesterday I spoke at a forum in the Capitol on the Bureau of Land Management’s Methane Waste Rule, an event organized by Democratic members of the House Natural Resources Committee. I offered testimony on a panel of experts including a former BLM official involved in developing the rule, a nurse speaking about the public health benefits of the rule, a scientist from Clean Air Task Force who discussed the Colorado rules on which parts of the BLM rule were modeled, and a pastor who talked about the moral imperative to use natural resources responsibly, and limit the harms caused by climate change.

I joined a panel of experts testifying on the BLM methane waste rule (I am wearing a red tie).

Four democratic Representatives asked questions and made statements. These included Congressman Grijalva from Arizona, who is the ranking member on the Committee for Natural Resources, along with Congressman Huffman (CA), Congressman Lowenthal (CA), and Congressman McEachin (VA).

Representatives (from left to right) Lowenthal, Huffman, Grijalva, and McEachin

Republicans are threatening to eliminate the BLM Methane regulation using an obscure, radical, and rarely used congressional trick called the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

The CRA allows Congress, with a simple majority, to completely revoke any rules made in the last 6 months of the Obama administration. It is a blunt tool that would revoke regulations that went through extensive stakeholder review, used evidence-based science, had public notice and comment, and took a few years on average to be finalized.

In addition, it stipulates that any rule that is similar to the rule can NEVER be done again, unless Congress gives explicit permission–thus salting the earth.

The BLM methane regulation updates rules issued in the Carter administration governing how oil and gas are produced on Federal and tribal land. The new rules will reduce leaks, venting, and flaring of natural gas, which not only wastes a resource that belongs to the American people, but also turns it into a health and climate hazard.

Apparently, the oil industry likes the 1979 vintage rules better, and the new Congress is rushing to do their bidding, quickly moving to revoke a rule that was three years in the making. But rolling back the regulatory clock to 1979 would be as dumb as removing requirements for airbags and anti-lock brakes from modern cars.

A lot has changed in the last 38 years, including the rise of fracking and the associated methane pollution from tight oil production. Rapidly reducing methane pollution–the leading non-CO2 pollutant responsible for climate change–is more urgent than ever before.

The last decades have also seen new technologies to measure, manage and utilize natural resources responsibly. An up-to-date regulatory framework for the oil and gas industry is essential to holding a massively polluting industry accountable.

The CRA is touted as a tool to exert control over unauthorized, unnecessary, or unreasonable agency regulation, but the methane and waste prevention rule is clearly authorized, necessary and reasonable.

Former Counselor to the Director of the Bureau of Land Management Alexandra Teitz explains in her testimony that BLM is required by law to prevent waste and ensure that resource extraction on public lands is conducted in a safe and responsible manner. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimated that State and Federal taxpayers are losing as much as $23 million per year in royalty revenue due to this waste, and GAO found that the BLM needed to update its rules to address this waste.

The BLM worked on these rules for three years, holding numerous hearings around the country. They received more than 300,000 public comments and made changes to the final regulation based on this feedback. As Dr. David McCabe, Senior Scientist at the Clean Air Task Force explained in his testimony, the waste rule was modeled on policies already implemented in Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota.

As these states’ experience shows, sensible up-to-date standards work to cut pollution and waste, and their requirements are easily implemented. These rules are not going to stop the oil industry from drilling for oil and gas; they just set reasonable standards of performance that reflect the current best practices modeled in states.

Responsible industries recognize that an up-to-date regulatory framework is necessary to protect the public and ensure that irresponsible actions by a few bad actors do not tarnish the whole industry. Cars, trucks and even appliances are subject to numerous standards that ensure that as technology changes, so do requirements for safety, pollution and efficiency.

The history of oil and gas extraction is filled with egregious examples illustrating the need for strong regulations to protect the public, and it is especially obvious that oil companies operating on public lands, who are extracting resources that belong to the American people, should be held to reasonable standards to avoid waste and unnecessary pollution.

The same day I was speaking to House Democrats, Former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson was being narrowly confirmed as Secretary of State and Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute was speaking at a hearing on regulations in the Senate.

Under cover of the maelstrom that is DC this last couple weeks, Mr. Gerard invented some alternative facts and head-spinning doublespeak about the CRA. API’s press release on Mr. Gerard’s testimony was titled “smart, science-based regulation needed to advance America’s energy renaissance and jobs.” Apparently even API knows that is what people expect and demand.  But what Mr. Gerard actually said was:

This week, we support the efforts of Congress as it takes the first step to pull back a number of these ill- considered and hasty regulations under the CRA. These include Section 1504 of Dodd-Frank, which places U.S.-based energy companies at a competitive disadvantage in the world marketplace, and BLM’s methane regulations, which are technically flawed and redundant to state regulation. Furthermore, we look forward to the anticipated CRA resolution on EPA’s redundant and unnecessary Risk Management Program rulemaking.

Despite Mr. Gerard’s doublespeak, the CRA has the opposite effect – killing smart, science-based regulations and blocking agencies from issuing any similar updates in the future, unless Congress passes new legislation specifically authorizing it.

The CRA is the opposite of a smart science-based regulation; it is a dirty trick that Congress can use to do the oil industry’s bidding.

Ford Backpedals on Promises, Could Harm American Consumers

Last Tuesday, the CEOs of General Motors (Mary Barra), Ford (Mark Fields), and Fiat-Chrysler (Sergio Marchionne) met with President Trump to discuss the auto industry. On Thursday, we finally got some more details about what they discussed, and it’s pretty bad for everyone.

Ford signed on to rules and is now trying to back out of its commitment

Ford CEO Mark Fields recently met with President Trump to weaken federal oversight of the industry, including the vehicle efficiency regulations that have sparked investments in jobs and are already saving consumers millions of dollars in fuel. Photo: Wikimedia

As part of an overall deal on regulation of the industry, Mark Fields is seeking to weaken the federal vehicle efficiency standards finalized in 2012. These standards were supported at the time by all three Detroit manufacturers, as well as nearly all other automakers.

Included in those rules was a mid-term review of the EPA’s regulations. That comprehensive review was completed by the Obama administration two weeks ago, and its results surprised no one—those rules finalized back in 2012 are easier to achieve than anticipated and at reduced costs to automakers…so sayeth not just the EPA but the Department of Transportation and California Air Resources Board; the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine; UCS; and countless others.

Now, Mark Fields is jumping at the opportunity to stick it to the American public and back out of that agreement, despite Ford seeing record profits in 2016. And he wouldn’t just be harming the environment with this decision—he’d be harming American workers and American consumers.

Vehicle standards are good for American workers

Ford invested $1.1 billion in the Kansas City assembly plant for its F-150. With the all-aluminum truck continuing to maintain its position as top-selling vehicle in the United States, it’s clear that investments in fuel economy are good for American workers and American consumers.

Since bottoming out in the recession, the US auto industry has added nearly more than 300,000 jobs in manufacturing and assembly. It’s difficult to estimate exactly how many of those jobs are related to efficiency standards, but a recent report from the Department of Energy noted that nearly half of all auto manufacturing and assembly jobs are in technology that improves the fuel economy of the vehicle.

Ford themselves know quite well how these investments pay off—their best-selling vehicle is the F-150, and they just invested $1.1 billion dollars to its Kansas City Assembly plant to manufacture the new aluminum-bodied F-150, adding 900 workers in the process. Alcoa, just one of many suppliers to the F-150, added 200 jobs to provide the aluminum for the new truck. And this is just one of many examples—suppliers around the country are creating jobs as automakers invest in new technologies at unprecedented rates.

Instead of pointing out just how good these standards have been for jobs, providing certainty for the industry and sparking a series of strong investments in the United States, Mark Fields took a cue from the President by providing his own “alternative fact,” repeating a previously debunked claim that these standards could cost 1 million jobs.

(Please see here, here, and here for why this number is fundamentally flawed.) In fact, previous analyses have shown that these standards will lead to more than 50,000 jobs in automotive manufacturing alone.

Beyond the jobs impacts, there is also analysis that these standards help make the industry, and particularly the Detroit automakers, more resilient to shifting market trends. That benefits the workers directly, particularly under the profit-sharing agreements that many UAW workers enjoy. And it also insures the industry against a repeat of the disastrous plummet in sales that led to the bailout of GM and Chrysler and nearly bankrupted Ford when consumers turned away from pricey, inefficient trucks and SUVs and towards more efficient cars.

Should this situation repeat itself (and with gas prices such a volatile commodity, it no doubt could), fuel economy standards would help, leading to profits for the domestic automakers no matter what; if Mark Fields helps scuttle those standards by focusing on the short term, it could cost the Detroit Three about $1 billion annually in the long run.

Vehicle standards are good for American consumers

In addition to protecting workers, these standards protect consumers. More fuel efficient vehicles protect consumers from volatility at the pump. This is especially important for lower income individuals who purchase vehicles on the used car market—their choices are dictated by more affluent individuals who can afford to care less about fuel economy and generally spend more of their money on the vehicle versus the fuel. For low-income households, this is flipped: for this reason, fuel economy standards benefit lower-income individuals disproportionately.

This is one of the many reasons why fuel economy standards are so critical during times of low gas prices.

Moreover, saving money on fuel means more money that can be spent elsewhere in the economy—and that means more jobs for everyone. Taken together, we estimate that the 2012-2025 standards will add $25-30 billion to the economy by 2030, which means about 650,000 total new jobs across the economy.

Regulations aren’t “out of control”—they’re protecting Americans and holding companies accountable

On the same day as the Trump-Detroit Three meeting, Volkswagen approved a settlement with dealers over its Clean Air Act-violating diesel cars. One week before that, Fiat-Chrysler was served notice that some of their vehicles are in violation of the Clean Air Act, too. A month before that, General Motors appealed to the Supreme Court to try to wriggle out of some of the responsibility for an ignition switch defect that led to 124 fatalities.

Over the past few years, Ford, Hyundai, Kia, BMW, and Mercedes have all been forced to adjust their fuel economy labels because they were misleading to consumers. And obviously there is the disastrous Takata airbag scandal enveloping Honda, Toyota, Ford, and basically the entire industry, which has resulted in at least 11 dead.

All of this is to say that it’s pretty darn clear why the auto industry is regulated. And, frankly, it’s appalling that the CEO of Ford is trying to use a new administration to undermine government watchdogging of an industry with quite the history of skirting and combatting regulation.

Maybe Mark Fields would be better served using this as an opportunity to engage more constructively, as it appears his counterpart Mary Barra at GM may be:

“We had a very constructive and wide-ranging discussion about how we can work together on policies that support a strong and competitive economy and auto industry, one that supports the environment and safety. The U.S. is our home market and we are eager to come together to reinvigorate U.S. manufacturing. We all want a vibrant U.S. manufacturing base that is competitive globally and that grows jobs. It’s good for our employees, our dealers, our suppliers and our customers.”

Let’s hope GM is true to their word and Ford changes their tune. Our health, safety, and economy may very well depend on it.

Photo: Wikimedia

Why Immigrants Are Vital to Science in the U.S.

Immigrants are central to advancing science in the United States. An estimated 4.6 million college-educated, foreign-born scientists and engineers comprised over a quarter (27 percent) of the entire science and engineering workforce in the U.S. in 2013.

These millions of scientists and engineers are helping create a healthier, safer society – especially in the area of cancer research. According to a 2013 survey, 42 percent of the researchers at the top seven cancer research centers were found to be foreign-born and the influence of foreign-born researchers at some of the leading U.S. cancer institutions was found to be even higher. At the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, for example, 62 percent of the cancer researchers were foreign-born and at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, 56 percent of the researchers were considered immigrants.

Immigrant scientists and engineers tend to be exceptional

Aside from cancer research, the scientists and engineers making the largest impacts in their fields frequently come from immigrants. A study published in Science found that the individuals making exceptional contributions to science and engineering in the U.S. are “disproportionately drawn from the foreign-born.” Moreover, all six of the 2016 Nobel Prize winners affiliated with American universities were foreign-born. Speaking in reference to Brexit, an editor for the London-based Times Higher Education thought the 2016 Nobel Prize class should “serve as a serious warning to those politicians, most notably in the U.K., but also of course in the U.S. and elsewhere, who would seek to place major restrictions on the free movement of international talent.”

And Nobel Laureates

Analysis by George Mason University found that 42 percent of all Nobel Prizes awarded between 1901 and 2015 went to individuals working in the U.S., and that 31 percent of all U.S. Nobel laureates were born outside the U.S. — a figure that’s more than double the highest proportion of immigrants in the general population during those years. Absent immigrant scientists and engineers, the U.S. would have missed out on Nobel Prizes for: (1) figuring out the ribosome (Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, born in India), (2) discovering femtochemistry (Ahmed Zewail, born in Egypt), (3) linking chlorofluorocarbon gases (CFCs) to the depletion of the Earth ozone layer (Mario J. Molina, born in Mexico), and many others.

Immigrant scientists and engineers come for the education and stay for the career

Data suggests that over half of the foreign-born recipients of doctorate degrees in the U.S. remain in the U.S. workforce to pursue their careers, becoming part of the multicultural milieu that has made, and will continue to make, America great.  Let’s not forget the contributions that immigrants have made in advancing science, or the potential contributions to come.

As my colleague Michael noted, many scientists are taking the fight out of the lab and onto the streets. They are organizing marches, preparing to run for office, and joining watchdog teams to monitor and respond to activity. If you’re a scientist and you haven’t signed our letter outlining expectations for the Trump administration, including the promotion of diversity, do so here.

Will Electric Cars Thrive, Survive, or Die Under President Trump?

President Trump just dropped his “America First” energy plan and, not surprisingly, it doesn’t include renewable energy or electric vehicles. It does, however, mention the importance of protecting clean air and clean water though it also encourages the very energy sources that pollute both of these public goods. Weird.

President Trump’s beachhead teams are swiftly infiltrating the federal agencies meaning that the policies that helped electric vehicles during the Obama years could soon get scaled back or dismantled altogether. The electric car has already been killed once, will it be killed again?

(TL:DR – probably not, given the demand for clean transportation outside of the U.S. and the declining cost of electric vehicle batteries).

Federal support for EVs has been important

Electric vehicles (EVs) have needed federal support to compete in a market that has been dominated by the gasoline engine and a reluctance from automakers to invest in new technologies like seat belts or fuel efficiency. Aside from the federal tax credit of up to $7,500 for buying an EV, the Obama Administration enacted a series of initiatives that helped EVs to gain a finger hold in the national vehicle market. The Department of Energy provided low cost capital to Tesla, Ford, and other automakers seeking to develop EV manufacturing plants, the Department of Transportation began to make on-the-go charging easier by identifying highway corridors ripe for EV chargers, signage, and investment, and our national laboratories helped cut battery costs from over $1,000 per kilowatt hour to around $200 per kWh.

Battery costs have continued to fall, helping meet the increased demand for electric vehicles. Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

State support has been critical too

State-based policy has also been instrumental in helping EVs succeed. The California Zero Emission Vehicle Program, for example, requires automakers to sell EVs in California or obtain credits from other automakers that sold EVs in the Golden State (see: Tesla’s business model). In 2018 this program will require automakers to sell EVs in 9 other states that have adopted the California program, and which collectively make up about a quarter of the national vehicle market. Other states have EV policies too, and mayors, governors, and other elected officials across the country have pledged to continue state and local support for EVs.

Thanks in part to federal and state policy, consumers are now able to access many more electric vehicle options compared to 2011. More EV offerings from more automakers are planned in the next couple years, which will help the EV market continue to grow. Note that all BMW i3s were considered BEV, though some were the range-extender models that are PHEVs. Source: ucsusa.org

How President Trump can affect the electric vehicle market

Maybe President Trump will try to undo all of this policy support, maybe he won’t. I can’t find any mention of his possible stance on EVs, though I’m encouraged that he met with Tesla CEO Elon Musk and other automaker CEOs in his first week in office. I’m also discouraged by recent comments from Ford’s CEO on his hope that the President will ease fuel economy standards.

In theory, President Trump and Congress could not only dismantle federal EV support – through repealing the federal EV tax credit and halting federal EV programs – they could also attempt to repeal the sections of the Clean Air Act that both grant California the unique authority to set its own pollution limits and allow other states to follow California’s lead. There’s been no indication that the President or Congress will take this route, but lawmakers have taken swipes at the Clean Air Act in the past and it’s important to recognize the power of the federal government to impede state authority to combat climate change.

Don’t get too worried, though. The UCS #geeksquad is keeping a close eye on Congress and the new Administration and are always ready to help you join the fight against efforts to stop the progress our country has made toward reducing oil use and climate change pollution. Interested in finding out how you can get alerts for future engagement opportunities? Head on over here.

EV sales continue to rise even as gasoline prices decline. Sources: InsideEVs.com and U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The electric vehicle market can survive even without U.S. policy support

Join me on Hypothetical Avenue for a moment, won’t you? Assuming that U.S. policy support for EVs is put on hold, there are several indications that the global EV market will continue to grow.

First and foremost, EVs are simply a great product. The Nissan LEAF, Chevy Volt, and Tesla Model S are among the highest rated vehicles on Consumer Reports, and GM’s Chevy Bolt has already been anointed as Motor Trends’ 2017 Car of the Year. I’ve driven many different EV models and am certain that once you get into an EV and press your foot on the accelerator, you’ll be hooked too. They are too much fun to drive to ever want to go back to a gas engine.

Second, driving and owning an EV will save you money. Even though gas is cheap, driving on electricity remains cheaper – by about half. All-electric vehicles, like the Nissan LEAF or Chevy Bolt, also have fewer moving parts and don’t require oil changes or other types of periodic maintenance, meaning that their maintenance costs are forecast to be 35 percent lower than a comparable gasoline car. Overall, owning an EV can save you thousands in fuel costs over the vehicle’s lifetime.

Driving on electricity is still cheaper than gasoline. Source: egallon.gov.

Third, they pollute considerably less than comparable gasoline vehicles and, when charged by energy sources other than coal, can help abate the heavy air quality pollution that plagues many cities around the world. As I type I’m listening to a news report from London where a recent spike in air pollution was the highest level recorded since April 2011. Cities in China, India, and other densely populated areas also experience poor air quality due, in part, to transportation emissions. Since all-electric vehicles don’t produce any tailpipe emissions, many leaders outside the U.S. recognize the great potential for EVs to make air cleaner and safer – especially for children and the elderly in urban areas who are more vulnerable to air quality-related health impacts.

Fourth, car companies – both newcomers like Tesla and Faraday Future, and also incumbents like GM and BMW – have heavily invested in EVs and staked their part of their reputation on EVs succeeding. The U.S. vehicle market accounts for only a fifth of global vehicle sales and other regions with fast-growing vehicle markets, persistent air pollution problems, and a commitment to combat climate change will continue to generate demand for EVs. While U.S. momentum on fuel economy and EVs may well slow under President Trump, any automaker that considers itself a global player won’t be able to – or won’t want to – simply stop work on next-generation vehicles because the global demand for vehicles that are cheaper and cleaner to drive will persist.

Of course, to generate true mass appeal an EV’s sticker price needs to be at least competitive, if not less than, a comparable gasoline-powered vehicle. Today, the upfront cost of an EV in the U.S. is partially offset by the federal tax credit and any additional state tax credits. EVs are generally more expensive that a similar gasoline-powered vehicle because (a) EVs are not made at the same scale as conventional vehicles and (b) lithium-ion batteries remain somewhat costly to produce. So, as the global vehicle market demands more EVs and they are made at bigger scales, costs will come down to some extent.

But the larger potential cost reduction comes from reducing battery costs, which have fallen 70 percent in the last 18 months and which the National Academies of Science forecast to be cut in half by 2020. In addition, there could be more breakthroughs in battery chemistry research (also applicable to cell phone batteries and other electronics, which are driving investment in battery R&D too) that could make EV batteries even cheaper. These two factors have led some auto industry analysts to forecast that EVs will be cheaper to own than conventional cars by 2022.

But the electric vehicle market will thrive if the U.S. continues to lead the way

Given the rising global demand for vehicles that cut tailpipe emissions and the potential for battery costs to come down to the point at which an EV is either the same price or even cheaper than a similar gas vehicle, EVs will likely remain on a path to success under President Trump – even if he does his best to dismantle those pesky government regulations that protect our health and environment.

However, the optimist in me thinks the President can recognize the potential for the U.S. to seize the opportunity to be the leader in the emerging clean transportation economy and continue producing clean vehicles (and jobs) here at home.

There’s a strong case to be made for why EVs can and should be an American export. Tesla – an American company – may become a global leader in EV sales and will soon begin producing lithium-ion batteries from its “gigafactory” in Nevada. The Nissan LEAF, one of the most popular EVs for sale, is made in Smyrna, Tennessee along with its batteries. And General Motors has not been shy about investing in EVs, with its plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt and all-electric Chevy Bolt both coming from assembly lines in Michigan.

But foreign automakers are just as keen to win the race to electrify the global vehicle market. BMW, the VW conglomerate, and Chinese automaker BYD, for example, have all poured billions into EVs and would gladly become the primary supplier of EVs for households across the U.S.

Tesla’s are being made in Fremont, California, and their battery production is set to ramp up from the Tesla “gigafactory” in Nevada. Source Wikicommons.

Ultimately, the automaker that becomes the dominant EV supplier will likely be the one that operates in a supportive and stable policy environment. Under President Obama, domestic automakers were not only bailed out, but they were given great incentives to make the U.S. the global leader in clean transportation technology. Now it’s up to President Trump to decide whether to continue the hard won progress some U.S. auto companies (notably GM and Tesla) have made toward becoming the dominant EV exporter and leader, or become just another customer.

New Report Shows Electric Vehicle Technology Advancing Faster Than Anticipated

California’s influential Air Resources Board has just released a comprehensive assessment of the status of the state’s “Advanced Clean Car” regulations. While the report is not only about electric vehicles, the state’s Zero Emission Vehicle program is evaluated in detail. Overall, the findings are very positive on how California’s leadership on clean vehicle policy has spurred much of the auto industry to make new technologies available for consumers.

Electric vehicle technologies quickly moving forward

The 662-page report will take some time to digest, but the top line findings are clear: Electric vehicle technology is moving faster than was anticipated just 5 years ago. California leads the nation with over 250,000 EVs sold to date, and the number of plug-in vehicles is now approaching 30 models. The report cites many of factors that are accelerating the EV market, including dramatic improvements in battery performance and costs and the rapidly expanding charging infrastructure in California and the other states that have adopted the Zero Emission Vehicle regulation.

Stage is set to go further with clean car policies

The current pace of deployment also puts us on the road to increasing levels of EV adoption, displacing a growing amount of oil use and harmful emissions. One of the key recommendations in the report is that the Air Resources Board should move to adopt new ZEV standards to extend the current provisions which currently are set to plateau in 2025. The regulation will need to be strengthened to ensure that the state is on a trajectory to meeting both 2030 and later climate targets and the air quality standards in the state’s Central Valley and Los Angeles regions.

Strong signals needed to keep momentum

There are many positive signs for EVs. December 2016 set an all-time high for EV sales in the US, almost double the rate from a year ago. The introduction of the Chevy Bolt, the first long-range battery electric at a mass-market price has generated significant interest, as did Tesla’s announcement of its lower-cost Model 3.

However, not all automakers are shifting to clean technologies with the same effort. Some have zoomed ahead, like General Motors with plug-in cars making up over 5% of their new cars sold in California. On the other hand, several major car companies, like Honda and Fiat Chrysler, have done the bare minimum to comply with California regulations and almost nothing outside of the state. Therefore, the current Zero Emission Vehicle regulation needs to not only continue, but be strengthened. The report lays out the technical evidence for these conclusions.

#dieselgate, pt. II: Sergio’s Revenge

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that Fiat-Chrysler (FCA) violated the Clean Air Act with sales of Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles powered by diesel engines.  This falls on the heels of the Volkswagen (VW) diesel scandal.  The engine at question is FCA’s 3.0-liter “EcoDiesel”—which could turn out to be anything but.

What the allegations say

Since this is an ongoing investigation, there are still a number of unanswered questions.  Here is what EPA has alleged:

  • Fiat-Chrysler did not disclose to EPA that certain software affects the operation of the emissions controls devices found in the Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee.
  • The software in question shuts off operation of the emissions control device. While this is allowed in extreme cases to protect the reliability and durability of the controls, EPA found numerous operating conditions that would fall into the category of “normal operation and use” and would therefore not be an allowable exception.
  • Taken together, these have the effect of a defeat device—this means that FCA could be liable for cheating federal emissions regulations and emitting smog-forming pollution well above the legal limit.

For his part, Sergio Marchionne, CEO of FCA, says that “there was zero intent on our side” to cheat on emissions regulations, calling such an idea “unadulterated hogwash” and noting that there’s “nothing in common between the VW reality and what we are describing here.”

According to the EPA, Ram 1500 pickups and Jeep Grand Cherokees powered by the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel engine contain software that may behave as a defeat device, releasing tons of excess smog-forming pollution that impacts public health. (Images courtesy of Motor Trend)

According to the EPA, Ram 1500 pickups and Jeep Grand Cherokees powered by the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel engine contain software that may behave as a defeat device, releasing tons of excess smog-forming pollution that negatively impacts public health. (Images courtesy of Motor Trend: Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500)

How does the sequel compare to the original?

FCA is correct to note that this is not quite the same thing as what VW did—in the case of VW, the software was explicitly tuned to alter operations dependent solely upon whether or not the vehicle was undergoing a test procedure.  The software at question in the Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee is more subtle—the emissions control devices remain fully operational during lab tests and are turned off during some typical on-road driving situations, but at question is whether or not these situations are narrow enough to fall within the exceptions allowed to protect the durability and reliability of the engine and its emissions control systems.  Because the types of situations are so broadly typical of routine driving behavior, these undisclosed shutdown modes were enough to raise a few eyebrows, particularly when considered in tandem.

How do the emissions controls work in the 2014-2016 EcoDiesel Jeep/Ram trucks?

The emissions control system in the Jeep/Ram trucks relies upon two separate systems working together to reduce formation of nitrogen oxides (NOx), one of the key ingredients in the formation of smog: exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), which recirculates exhaust gas back into the engine to reduce the formation of NOx; and selective catalytic reduction (SCR), which activates a fluid which reacts to chemically reduce NOx after its formed.

When one of those systems is turned off, the other can often compensate for a short amount of time.  For reasons related to durability of the engine and/or the controls system, there are narrow operating conditions where such shut-off is allowed.  However, such operation must be disclosed to EPA (which EPA alleges FCA did not do), and it must fall within a narrow band of operating conditions.  Key here is that there were a number of situations identified by EPA where both systems would be simultaneously either turned off or reduced in effectiveness—this means that the emissions system would be compromised, regularly emitting excess NOx emissions during normal vehicle operation and use.  Such conditions would not be generated when the vehicle was tested for emissions, which is another part of the reason this would have the effect of a “defeat device”.

In addition to the EPA allegations, a lawsuit was filed against FCA in December for the same vehicles by consumers who bought these vehicles in part because of the “Eco” and “clean diesel” marketing around them.  Accompanying that lawsuit was data from on-road emissions tests which showed average emissions of around 4-5 times the legal limit measured during real-world driving of a Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, with spikes in NOx as high as 40 times the certified level.

What are the potential health and emissions impacts?

Because of the shortage of details, it is impossible to know the full impact this scandal will have on emissions and public health.  Still, there are a few reasons why the problem here is likely not as severe as the VW scandal.

The affected vehicles by this allegation have only been available since model year (MY) 2014, which means regulators can address this problem much more quickly than the VW scandal, minimizing the impact they have on the environment.  The average vehicle identified here is likely to have traveled just half the mileage of those affected in the VW scandal, on average.  Perhaps most importantly, it also appears that the levels of excess emissions generated by the vehicles in question are likely significantly less than many of those included in the VW scandal—the data provided in the lawsuit shows that excess emissions from these vehicles could be around one-third that of the VW diesel cars, at the tailpipe.  And in total, the MY2014-2016 EcoDiesel Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee amount to about one-fifth the sales of the VW diesels covered under “dieselgate”.  Taken all together, the impact from this could thus be roughly a few percent that of the Volkswagen scandal.

While that may not sound like a lot, these software cheats could have helped contribute to at least a handful of premature deaths and increased hospitalizations from air pollution-related cardiovascular distress.  Aside from the significant damage to public health and the environment, cleaning up this mess will also likely require tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars in remediation—hopefully payable by FCA and not the taxpayer.

Is there any good news on the horizon?

Another scandal like this is obviously terrible for the American people, especially those near congested roadways.  It is also not great for automakers looking to more efficient diesel engines to meet vehicle efficiency regulations set out to 2025.

Like the VW problem, this scandal will not be easy to fix.  While FCA believes it can address the issue solely via software updates and has offered to do so, VW said the same thing about its 3.0L diesel engines, and we are still waiting for an approved fix for those vehicles.

EPA is rightly utilizing more real-world emissions testing to complement its lab tests, and similarly subtle emissions violations by other automakers could yet be uncovered.  Given how complex and nuanced this investigation’s outcomes, it is possible there could be additional inquiries into other manufacturers—Mercedes, for example, has already been under investigation for similar software.

With the next administration getting ready to take office, it will be important that EPA continue to protect the public health and well-being of the American public by remaining vigilant against automakers, maintaining a level playing field where all are held equally accountable for their actions.

EPA (Correctly) Affirms Vehicle Standards, Despite Automaker Misinformation

EPA finalized its determination today that the current light-duty vehicle global warming emissions standards for 2022-2025 are appropriate. This adjudication affirms what we have said all along—manufacturers are currently ahead of schedule on the first round of standards (2012-2016) and continue to show the many pathways to cost-effectively meeting future standards.

This is a big affirmation for both consumers and the country as a whole:

To date, our analysis shows that the standards have saved consumers more than $34 billion in fuel. By 2030, this number will grow to $450 billion, even after taking into account costs for the technology used to drive those fuel economy improvements.

At the same time, we’ve avoided over 130 million metric tons of global warming emissions. The standards are working for consumers and the environment—there’s no reason to tap the brakes on that progress.

And for all their whining about wanting to weaken the standards, the automakers themselves have provided data that shows exactly why we shouldn’t.

Automaker data shows 2012-2016 compliance was easier, cheaper than expected

As I wrote about when the proposal was released, this decision is more than four years in the making and is backed up by a tremendous amount of benchmarking, modeling, and analysis. The large body of evidence gathered continues to point to new and innovative pathways that would allow manufacturers to not just meet but exceed the standards on the books—and each new data point confirms that fact.

In fact, the automakers themselves submitted data showing just how little technology they are actually applying to their vehicles in order to meet today’s standards, with much lower penetrations of complex/expensive technologies than originally anticipated.

 Comments by the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers)

The 2012-2016 Final Rule (FR) on which automakers initially signed off envisioned a much higher penetration of more costly technologies would be needed (dashed red lines). However, manufacturers have shown innovative new ways to improve upon cheaper technologies as they overachieve on those standards (orange bars), leaving plenty of cost-effective technologies available for deployment out to 2025. (Source: Comments by the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers, Attachment 2, pp. 40-43)

Outpacing expectations, they have been able to continue to exceed the standards with even lower cost technologies thanks to investments resulting from the need to meet strong standards. This innovation has generated numerous new technology pathways such as high-compression engines like Mazda’s SkyActiv and 48V mild hybridization—though those technologies are not yet deployed at large scale. This leaves ample room to continue reducing emissions beyond the current 2025 standards with gasoline-powered engines.

As a colleague of mine likes to say, “While automakers continue to pull the lowest hanging fruit, innovation means that the tree is constantly growing new low-hanging fruit.” This is why historically industry has continued to overstate the costs of regulation.

Automaker data shows that 2025 standards can be met through gasoline-powered vehicles

Additionally, while the auto companies claim on one hand that more electrification and other pricier technologies will be needed to comply in the future, their own analysis shows that they can comply through the broad deployment of advanced gasoline-powered vehicles.

 Comments by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers

Analysis submitted by the automakers shows that vehicles in 2025 can meet the standards through the deployment of turbocharged (TC), spark-ignited (SI) gasoline engines, complemented by advanced transmissions (HRST) and stop-start (SS). Note the very low penetrations of electrification required. Source: Comments by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Attachment 1, p. 74)

These gasoline-powered vehicles will be substantially more efficient than today, incorporating advancements such as 48V mild hybridization, which allows for efficient electric boosting of smaller engines and improved efficiency of accessories; high-compression engines running on thermodynamic cycles that are more efficient; dynamic cylinder deactivation that can downsize the engine in real-time to provide the right amount of power at the right time; more efficient transmissions that keep the engine operating at its most efficient point more frequently; and reductions in road load such as improved aerodynamics and low-rolling resistance tires to help reduce the amount of energy needed to drive the vehicle in the first place.

Investments in those technologies are buoyed by the certainty of the strong standards which EPA today affirmed, as noted by automakers: “By extending the standards for many years into the future, the agencies provide manufacturers with substantial lead-time, which is of great value in compliance planning.”

Meeting 2025 standards is no problem for automakers, which is why EPA held firm

All of this is to state the obvious: the automakers themselves show that the 2025 standards are achievable, which is part of why EPA has affirmed the standards set in 2012. So in the inevitable onslaught of automaker whining that will surely follow this announcement, remember this:

  • Automakers signed on to these standards with much hullabaloo when they were finalized;
  • Automakers are currently ahead of the game, deploying efficient technologies at reduced costs compared to original estimates of compliance;
  • Automaker data submitted in the four years hence continues to show that those 2025 standards are achievable with conventional gasoline-powered vehicles (thanks to the continued investment in and deployment of fuel consumption reduction technologies); and
  • Consumers and the environment stand to benefit tremendously by leaving these cost-effective standards in place.

EPA’s decision today confirms that the data is in and crystal clear: the 2022-2025 standards put on the books in 2012 remain feasible for manufacturers and will provide significant benefits for the country and the environment.

What Electric Vehicle Sales in 2016 Mean for the Future of Transportation

I’m a fan of electric vehicles. As I’ve noted, they can be a smart and flexible option to help the grid accommodate variable energy resources like wind and solar. And EVs are the option likely to have the most success at decarbonizing transportation.

I’ve noted that the claim “The only way to do X is Y” is probably incorrect. I expect EVs to become the best way to get transportation CO2 emissions to zero for most applications, but not the only way. Hydrogen fuel cells, cellulosic biofuels, and liquid fuels produced by renewable electricity also exist. Maybe we will use some of these technologies for specific applications. But it is my estimate that EVs will achieve the greatest reductions in transportation carbon emissions.

UCS has shown under the current electricity system, EVs reduce emissions compared to the average gasoline car in all parts of the country, even when considering manufacturing impacts. In most of the country they beat the best gasoline cars. That analysis uses the 2015 version of EPA’s eGRID database, which actually only includes data through 2012. The grid has gotten considerably cleaner even in the past few years.

The grid impact

So, theoretically, what would happen if all light-duty vehicles were EVs?

As a back-of-the-envelope calculation, that would be about a 25% increase in electricity demand. Light-duty vehicles account for about 3 trillion vehicle-miles per year in the United States. EVs get roughly 3 miles per kilowatt-hour. We would need an additional 1 trillion kWh of electricity. The U.S. currently uses about 4 trillion kilowatt-hours per year; an additional 1 trillion kWh represents a 25% increase.

US cars and light trucks produced just over one billion metric tons of CO2 in 2014, or about 20% of all U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions. In 2015, US power plants produced 1,925 million metric tons of CO2 while producing 3,931 billion kWh, for an emissions rate of about 0.5 tons per thousand kWh. The additional trillion kWh for the EVs would result in 500 million tons of emissions, or about half of what light-duty vehicles emit today, for a 10% reduction in energy-related CO2 emissions. That estimate applies if EVs are charged by the grid of today. It does not account for the fact that the grid is getting cleaner through existing market forces and policy actions, nor the ways that EVs can specifically help the grid accommodate greater use of variable renewables, nor actions such as buying green power or using a “green charging” algorithm.

Scenarios of EV market growth

It will be a while before EVs represent even 10% of vehicles, let alone 100%. EV sales were about 0.9% of new car sales in the US in 2016, up from about 0.7% in 2015. With somewhat over half a million sold during the period 2012-2016, EVs are currently about 0.3% of cars on the road.

Sounds small?  Well, compound growth is an amazing thing.  Continuing the 2012-2016 growth rate of 32% per year would put EVs at 10% of all new car sales by 2025, and about 40% by 2030.

Now, that might be a stretch.  It’s too short a time to extrapolate from, and technology diffusion tends to follow an S-shaped “logistic function” rather than a constant growth rate. Still, even with lower growth rates, existing targets are achievable.

The eight states that have signed the Zero Emission Vehicle Memorandum have a combined goal of 3.3 million vehicles on the road by 2025 (and all new vehicles being zero-emission by 2050). I expect that most of these will be EVs, although some may be other technologies. These states represent about a quarter of the US population. If the ZEV states meet their goal, and the other states with three times as many people deploy only half as many EVs, that would be 5 million EVs by 2025.  This would represent roughly 2% of all vehicles on the road in the US, and possibly 5% of new car sales in that year.

US EV sales would need to grow at a rate of 25% per year over 2016-2025 to hit 5 million cumulative sales in 2025 (sales in that year would be 1 million). As shown below, 2016 represented a 37% increase in EV sales over 2015 (the 2012-2016 period saw 32% annual growth).

ev-2016

EV sales in 2016 were up 37% over 2015. Source: Inside EVs.

Two paths

Assuming we hit 2025’s targets, what would happen next? One of two things.

Maybe the market keeps growing. In UCS’s “Half the Oil” report, we present a scenario in which California meets its Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) requirements, with 16% of new vehicles being ZEV by 2025. With further growth beyond that, ZEVs would reach 28-36% of light-duty vehicles in California in 2030. This Hawaii-specific study similarly forecasts a “high” case of about 33% of new car sales being EVs by 2030. Other studies feature even faster diffusion.

Or, vehicle sales might fall dramatically. If shared autonomous vehicles become the norm, far fewer vehicles would be needed. At any one time, no more than about 13% of cars are on the road. You might think you still need one car per person for rush hour, but 1) our number of commuters is less than half our number of vehicles; and, 2) these commutes are spread around a fairly broad time and are typically under half an hour. So one vehicle can support several commutes, even before you consider ridesharing. EVs could be grabbing a larger share of a shrinking market – at least in the countries that currently feature widespread car ownership.

Which way will the future take us? Photos from Mercedes-Benz and Wikimedia.

Which way will the future take us? Photos from Mercedes-Benz and Wikimedia.

Considering the progress from Google, Tesla, Apple, and others, full autonomy may be technologically possible by 2020. Regulations would take another few years to catch up. Granted, autonomous vehicles could be privately owned; the degree to which people choose to switch from owning vehicles to buying “transportation as a service” is uncertain. Still, the prospect of shared autonomous vehicles is why I think projections beyond 2030 are especially difficult.

Our transportation system might look much, much different.

Self-Driving Cars in 2017: Navigating the Promises and Pitfalls

I’ve been thinking a lot about self-driving cars lately—and I’m not the only one. Predictions abound about when the technology will be fully ready, but these vehicles are already out there being tested on public roads. In fact, I’m lucky if a week goes by and I don’t see a car with a spinning roof top sensor—even my first-grader is pretty good at spotting them. I live in San Francisco and have already seen a couple of Uber’s self-driving Volvos plying the streets over the past week. I’ve been seeing Chevy Bolts too—presumably being tested by Cruise Automotive. The race for self-driving cars amongst the tech and auto industry is clearly game on and is likely to heat up in 2017.

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2017) is the first week in January in Las Vegas and will set the stage for 2017. Once again it appears that self-driving tech is going to be a hot topic with both major and upstart automakers as well as technology providers looking to reveal new products. Fiat Chrysler of America—a laggard in recent EV market analysis—is expected to announce a full electric vehicle at CES, building on the recent release of the plug-in hybrid Pacific minivan.  They’ve also partnered with Google’s self-driving business Waymo and are reportedly delivering 100 Pacificas for autonomous vehicle testing. Nissan CEO Carlo Ghosn is giving a keynote, Hyundai is expected to give rides in a self-driving Ioniq, and Faraday Future has been building anticipation around its CES announcement with numerous teasers. I’m taking the trip to Vegas this year to see what all the hype is about.

image002And no doubt there is a lot of hype. Personally, I’m hopeful about the potential for self-driving technology. I’m lucky enough to do a lot of my daily trips by bicycle with my kids in tow. And I’ve seen enough close calls to always expect the unexpected—but we all know even extra vigilance can’t guarantee 100 percent safety. So wouldn’t it be great if every car actually used their turn signal, or gave 3 feet when passing bicyclists that the law requires, or eliminated the dangers of distracted driving?

But I’m also leery about how these vehicles might cause confusion and disruption. Will their behavior be predictable in the same way as a driver’s? When I get to a stop sign in a car or on a bike, all it takes is a head nod or a hand wave and everyone can pass smoothly through a four-way stop. What happens when some vehicles don’t have drivers? When I walk across the street, I always tell my kids to make eye contact with the driver before they cross to make sure they see them. Now what? With driverless cars, the rules of the road might not change, but the norms will.  Once these vehicles truly hit the streets it’s going to be important to make sure not only that the vehicles operate safely but that those they interact with—from pedestrians, to cyclists, to other motorists and any other public road users—adapt to this new technology as well. And as Brian Wiedenmeier of the SF bicycle Coalition pointed out after a self-driving Uber twice made an illegal right hand turn across a bike lane, just following the rules of the road at this point seems to be a challenge.

Self-driving car technology may be able to make our roads safer, but building the public’s trust in the technology will be important to its acceptance. Uber’s decision this past week to defy an order to comply with self-driving car registration requirements was disappointing, to say the least. In its statement Uber seemed to argue that California’s registration requirements, which 20 companies have already complied with, are too onerous and would stall innovation. Instead of complying with this public safety law (and paying the $150 application fee) in exchange for allowing the company to use public roadways as a laboratory to test their technology, Uber chose to lawyer up. This doesn’t bode well for building trust. And if Uber does succeed in skirting the law, transparency will also be undermined, as reporting on incidents related to the safe operation of the vehicle would no longer be required.

Cooperation between government and industry in deploying self-driving cars is going to be hugely important to build confidence in the technology both by policy makers and the public. And the technology isn’t just about the safety of our roads—though that would be enough of a reason for cooperation. Other areas where these vehicles could have profound impacts include energy, pollution, impacts on public transit, congestion, and labor and workforce concerns—and whether the impacts are positive or negative is yet to be seen. On climate emissions alone, various studies show a wide range of possible outcomes as a result of deploying self-driving cars, from doubling of emissions to cutting them by 50 percent or more. There’s a lot at stake.

These issues are sure to heat up in 2017, as more vehicles are tested on public roads, new research points to the positive and negative outcomes possible with self-driving cars, and policy makers at the local, state and federal level start to consider the actions they can take to ensure companies advance this technology responsibly and steer outcomes toward societal good. Additional accidents involving self-driving cars are sure to bring more scrutiny to the technology as well as the protocols and protections being in put into place by companies and government agencies. UCS will also be taking a closer look at the implications of wide-spread deployment of AVs and ways to ensure they deliver on the promises and avoid the pitfalls.  So stay tuned.

When will self-driving cars be ready for prime-time? Not sure, but 2017 will no doubt be a year for  increased attention, debate, research—and yes—hype around cars that can drive themselves.

 

‘Little’ errors add up: What an electric vehicles study gets right, and what it gets wrong

A new study by consulting firm Arthur D. Little (ADL) claims that the benefits of electric cars, both environmental and economic, are lower than others, including UCS, have shown. However, the differences are largely due to questionable assumptions about battery replacements and the use of electric vehicles as a gasoline car replacement.

What they get right

EVs on average have lower overall greenhouse gas emissions and lower costs to fuel than gasoline cars now, and these benefits are likely to increase over time. This is the conclusion of our report and also the ADL analysis. In our report, “Cleaner Cars from Cradle to Grave”, we found that the average electric vehicle results in about half the climate changing emissions than a comparable gasoline car, even when the manufacturing emissions are included. The ADL study finds a lower benefit, about 20 percent, due to assumptions discussed below. However, they also note that the emissions savings will likely grow over time as electricity generation becomes cleaner, consistent with our findings.

What they get wrong about emissions

The ADL analysis and the UCS analysis of greenhouse gas emissions is largely the same except for two factors: battery replacement and the need for a replacement gasoline car to accompany the electric car. These two factors account for nearly 40 percent of the ADL estimate of emissions from a battery electric car and therefore are critical to understanding the benefits of electric vehicles.

The ADL study assumes that all EVs will need a replacement battery after seven to ten years of use. The study cites the fact that “this is consistent with the warranty that BEV manufacturers offer on their vehicles’ battery packs” to bolster this claim. However, by analogy, gasoline cars would be expected to need a new engine and/or transmission after the expiration of a five-year powertrain warranty. We don’t know what the true lifetime and failure rate for electric car batteries are, especially for today’s second generation battery systems since they’ve only been on the market for a few years. But assuming a battery replacement at 7-10 years is a 100 percent failure rate for the battery system. Making this assumption would require some proof, and yet there’s no evidence that this is the case for battery lifetime.

The largest factor inflating the ADL estimates of emissions is the assertion that drivers of electric vehicles would require a replacement gasoline car for about a quarter of all miles driven, because electric vehicles are driven fewer miles per year than gasoline cars. This questionable assumption is critical to the lower electric car benefits seen in the ADL report: it increases their emission estimates from an electric vehicle like the Nissan LEAF by 28 tons, while the baseline estimate of  LEAF manufacturing and electricity use only totals 69 tons.

The ADL study chooses an unlikely scenario — that an EV buyer would purchase a vehicle that covers only 75 percent of their trips — to arrive at their emissions estimate, rather than doing a straight up mile for mile comparison. This argument is based primarily on early electric vehicle use data from Idaho National Laboratory that showed Nissan LEAF drivers drove on average 9,700 miles per year, while gasoline cars average around 12,000 miles per year. But since that data was collected, charging infrastructure has improved and electric car drivers are going farther. Per California Air Resources Board data, drivers of 2013 and 2014 Nissan LEAFs are going an average of 11,000 miles per year. But perhaps more important, it looks like at least some of the lower mileage in electric cars is not due to the technology, but instead the lease terms that many electric car buyers choose. Auto companies have offered very attractive low-mileage lease terms for electric vehicles, with 10,000 – 12,000 miles per year included in the lease contract. Nissan LEAF drivers that chose a 12,000 mile or lower lease drove on average 9,000 miles per year, while those on a 15,000 mile lease drove over 12,000 miles per year on average. If the lower annual driving for an electric vehicle is not due to technical limitations, then there is no basis for adding gasoline vehicle use to the emissions analysis of electric cars.

However, even if electric cars were being driven fewer miles, the assumption that additional gasoline miles would be needed is biased. Drivers will choose electric cars with a range and capability that meets their travel needs. Someone who requires the ability to regularly drive long distances without refueling is unlikely to choose a short-range battery electric car as a replacement for a gasoline car. That’s not to say that they couldn’t drive electric; however, they would likely choose a longer-range electric vehicle. The comparison chosen in the ADL study overestimates emissions from assumptions about the behavior of the drivers, not the actual emissions from making or using the vehicles.

What they get wrong about costs

While our report focused on the climate-changing emissions from cars, the ADL study also attempts to estimate the difference in costs between electric and gasoline cars. The same choices (100% battery replacement rate and the need for a rental gasoline car) that inflated the emissions estimates also have a large impact on the economic estimates. For example, the cost of the rental gasoline car to make up for miles driven below the national average adds over $10,000 to the ADL estimate of the lifetime electric car cost and adds over 15 percent to the cost estimate. As noted above, these costs are unlikely to occur because a consumer who needs to rent a car 25 percent of the time is not likely to choose a short range EV to begin with.

The next generation of electric cars will be even better

The next generation of electric cars are already starting to show up on dealership lots. Starting with the Chevy Bolt, there are likely to be several battery electric cars that combine longer range, the ability to quickly recharge, and at a more affordable price. These features will make it cheaper to use an electric car and also allow displacement of even more miles that are currently driven using gasoline. Combined with cleaner sources of power, electric cars will likely show even more benefits in the future compared to gasoline vehicles.

Electric Vehicles in the South: What’s on the Horizon?

posterIn coordination with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) and Commissioner Tim Echols of the Georgia Public Service Commission (GA PSC), UCS convened an electric vehicle (EV) conference on November 9th to the 11th at Château Élan in Braselton, GA.

The agenda was developed in close coordination with these partners and with Southern Company. Key topics included investments in public charging infrastructure, the advancing capabilities of electric buses, and the issues to be considered in workplace charging. Participants discussed innovative technological solutions, policy suggestions, and strategies for communicating with potential EV buyers.

You can view all of the presentations here; my main takeaways are below.

The benefits of electric vehicles

A major benefit of electric vehicles is their reduced contribution to global climate change compared with internal-combustion vehicles (see UCS research on this topic). Dr. Marshall Shepherd of the University of Georgia provided an overview of climate science.

When charged with clean power, EVs can offer even greater benefits. Jeff Pratt of Oglethorpe Power discussed efforts underway in Georgia’s electric membership cooperatives (EMCs) to harness clean power for EVs, such as a system with photovoltaics, stationary storage, and EV charging.

Dr. Marilyn Brown of Georgia Tech, in her keynote address, touched on the intersection of these clean technologies. The Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative noted that, at the consumer level, there is a high degree of co-adoption of electric vehicles and solar power systems.

Electric vehicles can also significantly reduce emissions of other harmful pollutants that contribute to local air pollution and health problems. Reducing these pollutants is a major driver behind the adoption of electric buses. Proterra, BYD, and New Flyer discussed the advances in their technology and some of the applications.

Electric transit buses avoid diesel emissions in densely populated areas, and achieve even better efficiency gains over their petroleum counterparts than light-duty electric vehicles do, due to the stop-and-go nature of transit routes. Jason Hanlin of the Center for Transportation and the Environment discussed “smart deployments,” illustrating the factors that should inform selection of a vehicle and charging strategy for any given route. Don Francis of the University of Georgia spoke about that school’s procurement of an electric bus fleet. From a fleet operator’s point of view, the operations and maintenance savings of an electric bus are extremely valuable, as are the fuel savings. These can provide enough savings to warrant the higher capital cost.

Economic benefits of EVs, highlighted by Commissioner Tim Echols, include the fact that expenditures on electricity largely remain local and stimulate regional economic activity, while expenditures on gasoline do not have this effect.

Finally, electric vehicles may have operational benefits for the electricity grid. By providing a flexible load, they can enable more optimal use of assets by the utility, creating a smoother load profile. Influencing charging patterns in this way will require some sort of incentive or rate design, but there are numerous examples to look to.

Regional projects and initiatives

The South is home to a number of exciting research, development, and deployment projects. One such project that drew considerable attention from participants is The Ray, an initiative aimed at improving the sustainability of the transportation system.

 Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Wireless EV charging research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

In facilities along I-85, The Ray is demonstrating not only EV charging and photovoltaic power systems, but other cutting-edge technologies. These include wireless EV charging (also discussed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists) and solar road tiles powering an intelligent tire safety check system.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is exploring a number of interesting ideas, such as solar-assisted EV charging stations and an EV car-sharing program in Chattanooga. Chattanooga has had a fleet of electric shuttle buses running a downtown route since 1992.

Duke Energy, with operations in several states in the region, conducts extensive research on emerging energy topics including solar power and storage. Stationary energy storage integrated with EV chargers may be able to provide multiple value streams, including reducing the infrastructure needs for supporting high-powered chargers.

Other promising local developments included Atlanta’s many efforts, such as installation of EV chargers at the airport (accelerated by the engagement of Mayor Kasim Reed and Commissioner Echols), and Jacksonville’s recent strides into EV leadership.

These innovative projects often bring together solar, storage, and other “distributed energy resources” (DERs). General Electric provided an overview of how these technologies can work together.

Charging infrastructure

The conference featured several panels on electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Experts considered questions such as the number, type, and location of public chargers, the role of utility investment, and the potential of workplace charging. John Halliwell of EPRI provided an overview of the current state of charging technology.

 Argonne National Laboratory.

This “charging pyramid” suggests relative numbers of the various types of charging stations. Source: Argonne National Laboratory.

While certain stations may be used often enough to recoup their cost from the sale of power, many others do not have such high utilization. These still serve a vital purpose by creating range confidence, assuring EV owners that they can charge at these stations if needed.

Public charging stations can also raise awareness among non-EV owners. Although an EV owner may have an app such as PlugShare showing just how widely available charging stations are, few non-EV owners are aware of this fact. The Federal Highway Administration’s new designation of “signage-ready” alternative fuel corridors promises to help alleviate this issue, broadening awareness of the existing EV charging network.

Utilities have a role to play in EV infrastructure. The specific role is a topic of considerable discussion around the country, especially in California. Independent charging providers and ratepayer advocates have concerns about utilities installing charging systems and recouping the costs through billing all customers, including those who do not own EVs. However, some locations are not currently economical for a third party to serve, such as many low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. Utility investment might then serve a valid purpose.

Other solutions exist; for example, JEA has installed EV chargers with other sources of revenue (such as air quality funds), not billing its customers for these costs, and they work in cooperation with third-party charging providers. Greenlots, ChargePoint, and EVgo all talked about the opportunities they saw to work with utilities as partners. The utility’s knowledge of the distribution system is essential when siting new chargers, in order to avoid excessive costs of system upgrades. And, if there is value in providing grid services (such as demand response or frequency regulation, as several speakers discussed), these services would be sold to the utility in most of the South.

 CAISO.

The “duck curve” caused by an abundance of solar power on the grid. Source: CAISO.

Workplace charging is an excellent option that can provide many benefits. It can raise awareness of EVs, establish range confidence, and mitigate “duck curve” situations with abundant solar power on the grid. This duck curve is not yet significant in the South, but given the cost reductions in solar power it may be wise to anticipate it. KC Boyce provided statistics on workplace charging showing which types of firms were most interested in offering it.

A major issue with workplace charging is managing the vehicles in a condition of saturated charger capacity; ChargePoint noted that its workplace chargers are very busy. A positive aspect of workplace charging is that it often leads to remarkable increases in EV ownership in a fairly short period, as shown by FPL. However, this means that the number of vehicles may soon exceed the number of chargers. The chargers may remain occupied for the entire day, even though the vehicle may be charged after only an hour or two. Consequently, many workplaces have developed customs or strategies for EV owners rotating their vehicles. Another idea suggested is the multiplexed charger, a single charger with four cords that rotates the charge without requiring physical movement of the vehicles or even any unplugging. One barrier to EV owners cooperating (such as by unplugging one vehicle when it is done to plug in another) is the lack of a common “full charge” indicator among the different models.

 UPS.

Electric trucks in the UPS delivery fleet. Source: UPS.

Commercial facilities may have EV charging not just for employees, but for their fleet vehicles. Mike Britt of UPS discussed how his company is using EVs around the world. As other presenters noted, fleets appear to be well suited to providing grid services.

Southern Company was interested in the speed with which higher-powered fast charging would become the standard. With batteries of 60 kilowatt-hours (kWh) or more becoming widespread in the Chevy Bolt and the Tesla Model 3, the typical 50 kW DC fast charger would not be seen as “fast,” taking over an hour to fully charge a battery. There is discussion about 150 kW being the new standard, but EVs with smaller batteries would not be able to handle that sort of power input. It was seen as more likely that some 150 kW DC fast chargers might play a role in intercity travel (like the 120-135 kW Superchargers), but the 50 kW stations will continue to exist.

An important issue to resolve is providing “home” charging for residents of multi-unit dwellings. Where such facilities have parking lots or garages, it is much more cost-effective to lay the infrastructure for EV charging when constructing or renovating those structures, rather than trenching into concrete for the sole purpose of laying conduit.

Challenges

EV chargers are an emerging technology; work in recent years has rapidly reduced costs. Improving reliability is important; in this area, networked chargers have higher capital cost, but allow better monitoring of charger status.

Charging standards and protocols are continuing to develop, especially for “smart charging,” higher-powered DC charging, and induction (wireless) charging. This work often involves industry-wide collaboration.

Demand charges, where a facility pays part of its power bill based on its highest peak usage, are one way of designing rates to reflect the strain placed on the grid by electricity consumption. This method does raise the costs of operating high-powered DC fast chargers, so some alternatives were suggested. Building a stationary battery into the charger is a technical solution that lowers demand charges; this has been done by Tesla, Greenlots, ChargePoint, and others. Redesigning rates to account for the timing of the peak use is a regulatory approach that might also be effective.

There was considerable discussion about how consumers would prefer to charge. Is the right model that of the gas station, where an EV owner charges once a week or so for their total range?  Or is it closer to the smartphone model, where the owner (well, at least this smartphone owner) plugs it in every night and takes other opportunities to top off as available?  These two models were described as “gorging vs grazing.” Wireless charging has certain advantages but is a “grazing” solution only.

Consumer adoption

As noted by Advanced Energy, consumers view utilities as a trusted provider of information on EVs, and so that is a key role for power companies. Conversely, the utilities would also like information from EV owners. While the current chargers are not an overwhelming load on the grid, they can cause local grid impacts. Utilities would like to know when and where EV chargers are installed; there was interest in the example of the Salt River Project (in Arizona), which gave EV owners a $50 Amazon gift card for notifying the utility of this information.

A brochure from the utility might get a consumer thinking about EVs, but some other channels can help seal the deal. Workplace charging greatly increases EV adoption, not only because the prospective buyer now knows they can charge at work, but because they can discuss the technology with colleagues who already have EVs. Ride and drive events let people experience the performance and comfort for themselves. And, car-sharing programs such as in Chattanooga should increase familiarity with the vehicles even more—we look forward to seeing the effects of this program on the local EV market.

Automaker dealerships can be a source of information. Dealerships are not always knowledgeable about EVs, especially if there is only one model that does not have high volume sales; there is limited incentive for the retailer to become an expert on EVs in that case (although exceptional “EV champion” dealerships exist). Having more models of EVs tends to improve dealership familiarity and perceived legitimacy of the technology by consumers. The lower maintenance requirements of an EV do mean that a traditional service of dealerships is less valuable. Some efforts to increase EV deployment do feature incentives for dealerships, to encourage these key partners.

A major barrier to consumer adoption of EVs in Georgia was the loss of the tax credit combined with the introduction of an EV tax. Don Francis of Clean Cities Georgia showed that this tax appears to significantly exceed the foregone gas tax revenue from EVs. When discussing incentives for EVs, it is important to ensure that EV owners are not being unfairly subsidized by non-EV owners. However, the air quality benefits are real and do have economic value; this provides a foundation for utility investment in EV infrastructure (and/or EV rebates) in Kansas City, Jacksonville, and other cities.

Tesla sees EV adoption on a trajectory similar to cell phones. When Tesla started in 2004, the company made a list of barriers to EV adoption (such as range, appeal, performance, and charging infrastructure) and has worked systematically to address each barrier.

Wrap-Up

Participants shared their thoughts on the event and what they saw as the key needs going forward. One priority was finding ways to accommodate higher powered chargers without incurring exorbitant demand charges or unduly straining the grid. Integration of storage into chargers might be a good fit here, especially if the utility can operate the battery to provide other revenue streams and defer other costs.

Coordination between cities and utilities was seen as important, to reduce costs of infrastructure improvements. Funds from the Volkwagen settlement may provide an opportunity for cities and utilities to engage in long-term planning that would include EV infrastructure. The Atlanta airport installation of EV chargers grew out of collaboration between the city, the utility, and the PSC. This required the intervention of top-level policymakers to move the project forward. While it is great to have such champions, they do have constraints on their time and cannot directly shepherd every project to completion.

Other discussions featured the value of flexible loads, including not only EVs but also pool pumps, water heaters, and air conditioners. Utility representatives reiterated the importance of knowing where on the grid the EV chargers were being installed, including the specific feeder. Engagement with EV owners, as seen in the Salt River Project, could be helpful here.

Finally, there was an overall commitment to maintain the connections and the information exchange from this conference, and to continue to support EVs moving forwards. Bringing together diverse perspectives, replicating successes, dispelling myths, and highlighting innovative developments will drive change in the future.

A Glimmer of Good News for the Climate: EPA Affirms Fuel Efficiency Standards

On Wednesday, the EPA proposed maintaining its global warming emissions standards for passenger vehicles out to 2025. These standards were finalized in 2012 to protect public health, reduce global warming emissions and fossil fuel use, and save consumers money at the pump. The decision is part of a robust mid-term review of the standards and affirms both that these standards are working as intended and that they can be met out to 2025.

Just for the vehicles affected by this determination (model years 2022-2025), the standards will result in reductions in oil use of 1.2 billion barrels, avoiding more than half a billion tonnes of global warming emissions. That means nearly $60 billion dollars in savings back to consumers and the avoidance of more than 300,000 tonnes of harmful smog-forming emissions over the lifetime of these vehicles.

Manufacturers could meet even stronger standards…

This proposed decision is based on years of analytic work. Since the rules were finalized in 2012, the federal agencies have continued to assess the progress of the industry through extensive stakeholder engagement, computer modeling, and vehicle testing. The fruits of this labor were compiled back in August in the Draft Technical Assessment Report, to which they received additional comments on the technical, environmental, and socioeconomic merits of their analysis from industry, NGOs, and the general public. Wednesday’s proposed determination includes responses to those comments and integrates this additional data into its technical findings in a 700-page technical support document.

Taken together, this data confirms what we’ve been saying all along: the standards are working to provide consumers more efficient vehicle choices; automakers are exceeding the standards today; and through continued innovation, automakers could actually meet even stronger standards in 2025 than are on the books today.

…But the decision provides certainty for industry investment

While EPA agreed that automakers could meet even more stringent standards, opening up a rulemaking process to do so would create uncertainty for manufacturers for years to come, uncertainty which could delay investment in the very technologies needed to meet more stringent standards. Given the large body of evidence gathered over the past four years to support continued reductions in fuel use and emissions, the agency is acting now to protect the environment and ensure future consumers the most efficient vehicle choices in 2025.

Typically, product planning in the vehicle sector starts around 5 years in advance of the introduction of a vehicle. This means that many vehicles which fall under the regulations considered under the mid-term review are already entering their planning cycles. With this decision, the EPA is looking to assure automakers and provide the certainty needed to continue to make the investments in technology that can provide consumers with more efficient vehicles in the future.

We’ve already seen a tremendous amount of investment and innovation since the rules were first finalized: moving forward with the rules as they stand helps ensure that investment continues.

So what’s next?

Over the next 30 days, we will be working to provide additional data to the EPA in support of strong standards. We will also push for the administration to finalize this decision to provide the certainty needed to protect investments in efficient technologies for consumers.

While finalizing this decision would be the last required step for the EPA, the mid-term review of the standards will continue under the next administration because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is required to undergo a de novo rulemaking process under its statutory authority. Concurrently, California is reviewing its own vehicle standards, which currently mirror the federal standards. These standards have been adopted by 13 other states in the West and Northeast and will help these regions meet their own emissions goals.

The technical support for EPA’s decision will provide a strong technical basis for NHTSA to finalize equally stringent regulations and for California to reaffirm their standards, moving the industry forward. With oil prices continuing to be a volatile issue, the certainty of these regulations will assure consumers have efficient vehicle choices in 2025 that will save them money while protecting everyone from the impacts of fossil fuel use.

Encouraging Signs for Electric Vehicles at the LA Auto Show

I visited the LA Auto Show last week and was very impressed with the progress on electric vehicles (EVs) from just a year ago. Though there’s uncertainty where electric vehicle policy may head at the federal level, if we look just at progress in clean vehicles, especially those with electric drive, the trend is incredibly positive. Based on what I saw this week electric vehicles are poised to make a leap into the mainstream soon.

The Chevy Bolt is a long-range EV with a surprising amount of interior space.

The Chevy Bolt is a long-range EV with a surprising amount of interior space.

Signposts on the path to electrification

We know where we need to go with personal transportation: to reduce climate-changing emissions and petroleum use, we will need to electrify most personal vehicles in the coming decades. Mass-market EVs began to be available in late 2010, and now six years later, we have two important signposts that show we are on the path moving away from oil to electricity.

First off is the one of the stars of the auto show, the Chevy Bolt EV. The new battery electric car won not only ‘Green Car of the Year’ honors at the show, but also just received Motor Trend magazine’s overall ‘Car of the Year’ award. Why all of the buzz and accolades? One reason is that the car boasts 200+ miles of electric range, which was previously only available in the EVs from Tesla, combined with a sticker price just under $30,000 (after federal incentive). This combination of range and affordable price should open up all-electric driving to a much wider audience. Most drivers will be able use the Bolt for everyday driving with absolutely no concerns about running out of charge. Additionally, while cold weather reduces range, the Bolt should have plenty of range for drivers even in areas with harsh winters. However, given the reviews to-date, there are other reasons the car is generating praise: it’s a surprisingly roomy car with good performance and a quiet ride. The range is the topline feature that will get the most attention, but this car should also be noted for being simply a better car because it’s electric.

The Pacific is being advertised only as a 'hybrid', despite the fact it's actually a plug-in too.

The Pacific is being advertised only as a ‘hybrid’, despite the fact it’s actually a plug-in too.

The Chrysler Pacifica is the US's first plug-in electric minivan.

The Chrysler Pacifica is the US’s first plug-in electric minivan.

The second milestone EV I saw at the show wasn’t a car. It’s the new Chrysler Pacifica minivan. This minivan was being marketed as ‘only’ a hybrid at the show, but it’s actually a plug-in hybrid with about 30 miles of electric range (and >500 miles combined gasoline and electric range). The battery in the Pacifica is small enough to be fully charged overnight using a standard 110V outlet, but is big enough to make a significant dent in gasoline usage. However, the ‘biggest’ feature is its size and cargo space. The plug-in hybrid version has the same capacity as the standard gasoline version of the minivan. So families can now pick a much cleaner option for school carpools and soccer games, without giving up any of the utility of a conventional minivan.

Laggards catching up?

Another theme I saw at the LA Auto Show this year was some of the companies that have been laggards in the EV space starting to catch up. Earlier this year, UCS identified a number of automakers that were behind on EVs, including Fiat Chrysler America, Toyota, Honda and Hyundai/Kia. All of these, with the exception of Honda, had significant emphasis on electric drive at the show.

  • Fiat Chrysler had the aforementioned plug-in Pacifica placed prominently on display, as well as advertised heavily throughout the entrance to the showroom.
  • Hyundai also displayed their newest EV, the Ioniq, at the show which will come in both plug-in and fully-electric versions next year. The Korean automaker also devoted their entire press conference to electric cars, including the debut of a new all-inclusive leasing plan that promises to simplify EV ownership. Starting in California, the Ionic Unlimited plan will also customers to lease an electric car for a fixed monthly price that includes all maintenance and charging costs.
  • Toyota also was showing multiple electric drive cars for the first time in several years. The hydrogen fuel cell Mirai was joined by the Prius Prime, a plug in version of the redesigned Prius. The Prius Prime has much more battery range and electric drive capability than the last generation Plug-in Prius and could help get Toyota out of the EV ‘laggard’ category.
The new Hyundai Ioniq will be available in standard hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and fully electric versions. Will this push Hyundai out of EV laggard status?

The new Hyundai Ioniq will be available in standard hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and fully electric versions. Will this push Hyundai out of EV laggard status?

Altogether, the 2016 LA Auto Show was very promising for the future of EVs in the US. Compared to last year, I saw much more interest in EVs from automakers and also more examples of EVs that were ready to go on sale (as opposed to concept cars and prototypes). Many companies, even ones that previously had lagged behind, are coming out with good cars that also happen to be EVs. These EVs can meet people’s transportation needs, while also overcoming some of the biggest obstacles to EVs, range and affordability. We are farther down the road towards creating a robust EV market, which will bring us closer to cutting oil use, cleaning our air, improving our health, and curbing global warming.

The Bioeconomy in a World Without Carbon Pollution

Reaching the climate targets set in Paris will require dramatic action from all sectors of the economy over a period of several decades.  While energy and transportation are the largest sources of U.S. emissions, the future climate also depends in great measure on the biological carbon cycle.  Carbon dioxide is absorbed from the atmosphere by photosynthesis and stored for months, decades, or even millennia in plants, trees and soils, and later returned to the atmosphere when the plants die and break down and carbon stored in soils is oxidized.  This cycle keeps a great deal of carbon out of the atmosphere, which is described as a carbon sink.  Biofuels, bioenergy and other biobased products sit at the intersection of energy and transportation fuel emissions and the biological carbon cycle, so we must consider both to understand their role in a world free of carbon pollution.

To slow and ultimately stabilize global temperatures, climate science finds that we will need to bring net emissions of heat trapping gasses to zero, with ongoing emissions balanced by increased sequestration of carbon in forests, soils or geological storage.  Last year in Paris, the nations of the world committed themselves to achieving this net zero target in the second half of the century.  This post is based on a talk I gave last month at a conference on the Bioeconomy at Rutgers University. I explore the role of the bioeconomy within a net zero world, especially the competition between using bioproducts to produce low carbon goods, and using land for carbon sequestration services.  My conclusion is that with smart land use strategies, the bioeconomy need not be a zero-sum game.

Getting to net zero requires low carbon products and carbon removal services

Advocates of what I will call the bioeconomy (shorthand for biofuels, bioenergy and bioproducts) argue that in a low carbon world we will need a lot of low carbon replacements for products currently made from fossil fuels.  One key rational for biofuels and bioenergy has been their potential to have lower lifecycle emissions than fossil fuel products they replace or complement.  But achieving a net zero economy requires a higher level of ambition.  All aspects of the economy must not simply reduce emissions compared to a status quo scenario, but bring net emissions to zero in the second half of the century.  Bringing net emission to zero will require steadily scaling up carbon sinks, both to offset economic sectors in which it is not feasible to bring emissions to zero, and to achieve net negative emissions profiles consistent with climate stabilization in the second half the century.  These goals are illustrated in the chart below, with falling blue bars reflecting the need to dramatically cut emissions while the growing yellow bars show the importance of increasing carbon sinks.

bioeconomy-blog-chart

This chart, adapted from Professor Piers Forster, illustrates one scenario for keeping global temperature rise well below 2 degrees C. It highlights the need to simultaneously reduce emissions with low carbon products (the blue bars) while also scaling up anthropogenic carbon sinks that provide carbon removal services (the yellow bars).

Today’s bioeconomy is mostly about low carbon products

Today the primary way the bioeconomy supports the transition to a net zero economy is by providing less carbon intensive biobased fuels and products to substitute for carbon intensive fossil fuels and products.  This helps to bring down the height of the blue bars.  But the production of bio-based products also competes for land that could otherwise be used to expand the biogenic carbon sink, most notably by protecting, enhancing or expanding forests that can sequester carbon.  This means the bioeconomy can also influence the yellow bars.

The tradeoffs between producing biofuels and protecting forests has been the subject of considerable analysis and debate in the context of estimating land use change emissions from biofuels (see this earlier post for more details).  But there is another way to look at the same basic tradeoff in the context of the path to net zero emissions. The ability of the land sector to act as a carbon sink can be considered a carbon removal service provided by the bioeconomy.  Carbon removal services can be produced as a primary land use strategy, for example by expanding the amount of forest land.  But carbon removal services can also be produced in conjunction with production of other biofuels or bioproducts and as the economy moves towards net zero, the role of these carbon removal services will grow.

Net zero means moving beyond combustion

Two essential elements deep decarbonization strategies have in common are a steadily larger share of energy supplied from non-combustion sources such as wind or solar energy, and a steady shift in end uses of energy away from combustion based technology towards electrification.  For transportation, this means battery electric and fuel cell vehicles powered with wind, solar and other low carbon sources of electricity and hydrogen.  The transition beyond combustion will take time, and will occur more quickly in some sectors than others.  For example, battery electric passenger cars are available today, while long haul trucking is more challenging for electrification, and aviation even more so.

As the shift beyond combustion occurs, the bioeconomy must adapt.  One strategy would be to transition from its current focus on producing low carbon biofuels to a focus on producing carbon removal services.  As demand for gasoline falls, demand for ethanol to blend into it will as well.  But biofuel facilities are also well positioned to get into the carbon removal business.  In fact one of the first carbon sequestration projects is at an ethanol facility in Decatur Illinois, which is capturing CO2 emitted during the ethanol fermentation process and sequestering it in a saline reservoir in the nearby sandstone.

adm-ccs

Archer Daniels Midland’s Agricultural Processing and Biofuels Plant, Decatur, IL. Photo DOE.

Fermentation, and many other important biological and chemical processes produce CO2 as a byproduct of their processes.  Because CO2 released from some of these processes is nearly pure, it is much more efficient to capture it from these sources than from exhaust gasses of combustion (in which CO2 is just 10-15%) or from the air (in which CO2 is just 0.04%).  Capturing and sequestering CO2 from the bioeconomy can complement existing low carbon fuel production in the near term, and over time the value of the carbon removal may eventually exceed that of the biofuel or bioproduct.  A recent study of how the Western United States could achieve a net negative emissions electricity system by 2050 using biomass energy coupled with geologic carbon sequestration found that, in most scenarios, the value of carbon removal exceeded the value of energy generation.  So, as demand for gasoline other liquid transportation fuels fall, the biofuels industry may evolve into sequestering carbon and producing recyclable bio-plastics in place of combustion fuels.

The bioeconomy has a big land footprint, and they aren’t making any more land

For the most part, the bioeconomy relies on arable land.  The land base of the United States is essentially fixed, so if we use more land for the bioeconomy, we use less for something else.  The lower 48 states are about 1.9 billion acres, of which about 600 million acres are forests, 600 million acres are grassland/pasture, and about 400 million acres are cropland.

bioeconomy-land-uses-map

U.S. Geological Survey. National Land Cover Database, 2011

Biofuels are already a major part of the crop mix

Already a significant share of U.S. cropland is producing bioenergy.  Almost half of U.S. cropland is planted in just two crops, corn (94 million acres) and soybeans (84 million acres).  A large share of these crops are already used as transportation fuel (about 40% of corn is used for ethanol and 25% of soybean oil is used for biodiesel), and given competing demand for food and animal feed, substantial growth will have to come from other sources.

 

bioeconomy-blog-corn-soy-maps

USDA NASS, 2012 Census of Agriculture.

Production of first-generation biofuels is integrated with production of animal feed, as biofuels use consumes about 70% of the mass of the corn and 20% of the soybeans, with the remainder used for animal feed.  Further integration of biofuels production into existing agricultural production is possible, for example by producing cellulosic biofuels from crop residues like corn stalks that would otherwise be rapidly oxidized.  Using crop residues for fuel allows for expanded biofuel production without expanding the footprint of agriculture.  However, harvesting crop residues must be very selective, because residues also play an important role protecting soil from erosion and maintaining soil carbon.  Excessive harvest of residues from the field may reduce soil carbon, or miss the opportunity to increase it.  The use of residues must be carefully monitored, to understand the tradeoffs.  adopting limited harvest of residues together with practices such as cover crops, these tradeoffs can be mitigated.

Integrating perennial energy crops into the agricultural landscape provides another important opportunity for synergy between producing biofuels and providing carbon removal and other environmental services.  However, using large areas of land for perennial crops is not without tradeoffs.  For example, much of the U.S. land area identified as suitable for energy crop production in the Department of Energy’s the recently updated billion-ton study overlaps with the land identified for potential reforestation by the World Resources Institute.

bioeconomy-blog-fuel-versus-forests

Expanding either perennial energy crops or regrowing forests on land largely in pasture today can provide climate benefits with a relatively modest impact on food markets and other competing land uses.  But more of one land use obviously comes at the expense of less of the other, and they bring a different balance of low carbon goods versus carbon removal services.

Within forest management, there are similar tradeoffs.  Forests managed to provide maximum biomass for biofuels or bioenergy may come with shorter rotations and thus come at the expense of maximizing carbon stored in the forest.  Different combinations of products will provide different mix of carbon removal and other environmental services, for example forests managed with longer rotations will produce more timber and also store more carbon.

Smart land use opportunities at a subfield scale

Another emerging opportunity for synergy comes from recent efforts to apply the tools of precision agriculture to conservation goals.  Using fine grained data to evaluate yields, profits, and other outcomes at a sub-field scale, researchers find there is an opportunity to place perennial cover on small areas of farms that are marginally profitable for corn.  A related field of research demonstrates that strategic placement of perennials in row crop systems can provide disproportionate benefits, for examples placement of prairie strips on 10-20% of a field can reduce rates of water pollution and erosion by 80-90%.  Taken together these lines of inquiry suggests that with skillful placement, the integration of high yielding perennial energy crops like miscanthus into a landscape currently dominated by row crops can provide not only a feedstock for low carbon biofuel production, but can reduce pollution from row-crop agriculture while the crops sequester significant carbon in deep root systems.  Meeting biofuel feedstock demand with perennial crops can significantly reduce water pollution, thereby reducing the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

Scaling up perennials for multiple benefits

Initially, when only a small share of land is in perennial cover, the logistics of harvest and collection will not likely support large scale biorefinery feedstock requirements, so these strategies will at first be motivated primarily for the environmental services they provide, especially reduced water pollution.  But as biomass feedstock supply chains evolve and grow, perennial feedstocks can play a larger role in the bioeconomy.  The visual sequence below was created by researchers at Iowa State University.  It provides a visual representation of how Iowa’s landscape could evolve, from its present state dominated by row crops, to increasingly large share of perennial land cover.  The commentary I added highlights implications for the bioeconomy as we move towards net zero.

Perennial Progression Slidewhow Based on Imagery from Researchers Larsen, Schulte & Tyndal from Iowa State University from Union of Concerned Scientists Policies must support low carbon products and carbon removal services

With appropriate policy support for carbon sequestration and reduced water pollution, strategies that are good for the climate can also improve profitability for farmers.  Given that approximately 40% of U.S. corn grain and 25% of soybean oil are currently being used to produce biofuels, there is a substantial opportunity to complement the production of low carbon products with carbon removal and other environmental services within the footprint of land currently used for biofuel production.

The current policy landscape provides support through a variety of mechanisms for climate benefits associated with biofuels.  But in most cases, the same level of support is not currently available for land based carbon removal services that compete with or complement biofuel production, such as reforestation or agricultural practices to increase soil carbon.  This asymmetry in policy support is unlikely to produce an optimal outcome.

The land sector has a lot to offer in a net zero world, but it can’t do everything.  We need smart policies that deliver multiple benefits and we need to be realistic about how large a bioeconomy we have room for in a crowded landscape.  Different types of land will be suitable for different combinations of row crop production, utilization of agricultural residues for bioenergy, implementation of cover crops or conversion of specific areas to perennial cover or forest.  Moreover, the preferences of a landowner or manager will depend a great deal on policy support, market access, and availability of knowledge and technology to support different approaches.  Analysts need to provide data, insight and tools to guide these choices, while policymakers should provide a policy landscape that supports an appropriate mix of products and carbon removal services required to meet net zero challenge and stabilize the climate for future generations.

Standing Strong for Science and Democracy

After one of the most contentious US elections in memory, the results are in. By their votes, Americans expressed deep disgust with politics as usual and issued an urgent call for our leaders to focus on those who have been battered by an economy that does not include them. While this is understandable, there is no sugar coating the fact that Mr. Trump’s statements and conduct brought out the worst in us.  Denigrating vital members of our community is wrong, and we cannot hope to tackle the enormous challenges of our time without a cohesive, respectful, and tolerant society.

Today, science, data, and evidence-based decision making appear to be major casualties of the election. The election results raise the specter of backsliding on the critical progress we’ve made in recent years on climate change and many other vital issues, even though these issues were barely discussed during the campaign. In no sense did the voters grant the new president a mandate to turn back the clock.

On this momentous day after, here are my top-level thoughts on the path forward:

Engage the new administration

As a candidate, Mr. Trump made statements on climate change, government regulation, and other issues that were disturbing. But the candidate’s position on a number of issues evolved over the course of the campaign, and Mr. Trump defended his evolution by pointing out that it is important for leaders to remain open-minded. In that spirit, we will do everything we can to communicate directly with the Trump team about the benefits of science-based decision making and the importance of addressing climate change, our food supply, and nuclear weapons, among many other things.

We believe it is particularly important to appeal to President-elect Trump’s business experience to point out that addressing climate change can bring jobs to those left out of the economic recovery. Mr. Trump’s proposed infrastructure legislation, for example, could fund thousands of good-paying jobs building transmission lines to connect renewable sources to population centers; repairing leaking gas pipelines; and removing the threat of lead pollution from drinking water pipes.

Mr. Trump was also a forceful opponent of wasteful government spending during the campaign. We can show his team that spending $1.1 trillion to update our nuclear weapon system does not make sense and that we cannot afford it. Similarly, we can show the waste and harm of large federal subsidies for commodity crops that subsidize foods that make us unhealthy.

Be the nation’s watchdog for science

With all three branches of government under control of one party, the absence of checks and balances greatly raises the risk of government by special interests. For example, numerous anti-science bills that were previously proposed in congress and vetoed are likely to return. And we can anticipate many attacks on the Obama administration’s regulations that protect our health, safety, and the environment.

UCS must be the leading champion of science-based public policy. We will bring special interest legislation and regulation to light, expose the actors behind it, and mobilize the scientific community against it.

Make progress in states, regions and cities

While we engage with the Trump administration to promote sound policies or fight bad ones, we will find other ways to make progress, too. We’ve done it before. For example, during the presidency of George W. Bush, we helped encourage states to pass laws like California’s Global Warming Solutions Act and to join together in programs like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

And, during the last eight years of gridlock between congress and the president, UCS helped make significant progress working regionally and within states. This past summer, for example, we helped California and Massachusetts pass clean-energy laws that go far beyond federal policies and position us on the right trend line. The California victory is particularly notable because of the diverse coalition of leaders that brought the bill over the finish line:

Leaders from the African-American, Latino and Asian communities joined Governor Brown in signing one of the most ambitious climate laws in the world.

Leaders from the African-American, Latino and Asian communities joined Governor Brown in signing one of the most ambitious climate laws in the world.

On this issue, we have a major tailwind working in our favor: the economics of clean energy are rapidly improving, making advances possible in all states. The presidential election does not change that. For example, Texas has invested billions of dollars in transmission lines that take advantage of plentiful and inexpensive renewable energy: wind energy is now so inexpensive in some areas that it’s given away at night. Georgia, which until recently had some of the nation’s best incentives in place for electric vehicles, had the second most electric vehicles sold in any state.

No matter what happens in Congress, we will continue to secure state policies that move us forward, such as renewable and energy efficiency standards, long-term contracting requirements, green banks, and others. We will also hold California and eight other states’ feet to the fire on meeting the commitments they made to expand electric vehicle market share, and will call upon them to back up these commitments with stronger incentives and infrastructure investments. With enough effort in the right places, we can secure a critical mass of geographically and politically diverse leadership states.

We will also push for progress at the regional level, where success reaps larger gains. For example, UCS will work to expand the highly successful regional cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions in the Northeast by including other sources of emissions, such as transportation fuels. And UCS will offer its technical expertise in the West Coast, the Midwest, and mid-Atlantic to meet a critical challenge: modernizing our regional electric grids so that as renewable energy expands, it is reliably and seamlessly integrated into the grid.

Cities are also an extremely important arena for progress. While we will focus on securing coordinated national food policies in Washington, we are also working to demonstrate successful approaches by local governments on good food purchasing policies. This idea, which has been highly successful in Los Angeles, creates demand for food that is healthy and locally grown. UCS will help spread this idea to other cities to build the food movement from the bottom up.

Using science to bolster our democracy

The bottom line is this: UCS will continue to work toward practical solutions and, regardless of whether or not our elected leaders choose to come together, we will stand up on behalf of science and democracy as we always have, and as forcefully as we need to. We will call out elected officials and other special interests when they ignore science and undermine safeguards that protect people’s health and safety. We will continue to expose fossil fuel companies when they deceive the public and their shareholders about climate change. We will continue to connect members of our Science Network with local groups working to reduce the pollution that make their children sick. We will provide research to communities on the front lines of climate change—threatened with rising seas, wildfire, floods, and drought.

In short, we will find ways to make progress on the issues that matter and, as always, we will rely heavily on the vital support of our more than 500,000 members and supporters to work for a healthier planet and a safer world. Photo: Matthew Platt/CC BY-SA (Flickr)

Driving to a Stable Climate: The Pathway to Reducing Emissions From Transportation

The Paris climate targets require greatly reducing US global warming emissions from all sectors of the economy to reach or even surpass net zero emissions. Reducing emissions from transportation is critical to this goal since the United States transportation sector has now become a larger source of carbon dioxide emissions than electricity generation for the first time in decades. In 2014, the EPA estimated that 31 percent of all global warming emissions came from the transportation sector. Currently, the transportation system—from cars and trucks to airplanes and ships—runs almost exclusively on petroleum.  And because we burn petroleum in millions of moving vehicles, there is little opportunity for a technology fix that can capture the carbon dioxide that is produced during combustion. Therefore, achieving our 2050 climate targets will mean changing much of our transportation system from the burning of petroleum to cleaner, renewable sources of energy that have much lower emissions. Fortunately, many of the solutions to reducing emissions are already known and being put into use today.

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US global warming emissions from transportation in 2014: Passenger cars and trucks and heavy-duty vehicles are responsible for over 80% of US transportation global warming emissions. (data source: US EPA, Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2014)

The future is here already

For some applications like the personal vehicles many of us drive, we know how to begin this transformation: we can replace yesterday’s technology (gasoline and diesel cars) with electric-drive vehicles.  Both battery electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can replace many of the vehicles we currently drive and have the potential to be virtually emissions free during use. The emissions from these vehicles depend on the energy source used to generate electricity or hydrogen. Already in much of the United States, recharging a battery electric car results in lower global warming emissions than the most efficient gasoline car. And since electricity generation is trending towards lower emissions, recharging vehicles in the future will be even cleaner. Hydrogen can also be made using renewable sources that reduce or eliminate emissions, including solar and wind power.

Since light-duty vehicles make up over 60 percent of all global warming emissions from transportation, changing our personal cars and trucks to electric drive is critical to any deep decarbonization strategy. One influential report,  “Pathway to deep decarbonization in the United States”, shows that most light-duty vehicles on the road will need to be at least partially electric by 2050. This would require the majority of new cars sold in 2035 to be an electric drive vehicle. This is a significant change from today, but a number of states in the United States are already on this path. California and nine other states have adopted a Zero Emission Vehicle policy that requires automakers to sell electric vehicles, with the goal of 15 percent of all new cars being electrified by 2025.

To achieve deep decarbonization of transportation, gasoline-only light-duty vehicles are almost entirely replaced with electric drive vehicles. Figure from “Pathways to deep decarbonization in the United States. The U.S. report of the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations.”, 2015.

To achieve deep decarbonization of transportation, gasoline-only light-duty vehicles are almost entirely replaced with electric drive vehicles. Figure from “Pathways to deep decarbonization in the United States. The U.S. report of the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations.”, 2015.

Larger vehicles such as heavy-duty trucks and buses also will need to electrify, and solutions are beginning to be developed. Outside the Oakland UCS office, I often see one of AC Transit’s hydrogen fuel cell buses drive by. Battery options also are becoming available for both buses and delivery trucks and more information can be found in our recent report, “Delivering Opportunity”.  For some large vehicles, biofuels will likely also be part of the solution. Fuels like biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol can reduce emissions from transportation, if they are produced in a sustainable manner.

Planes, trains, and ships

Aviation, rail, and shipping make up a smaller portion of transportation emissions, though improvements are still important to reaching emissions reduction goals.  Efficiency improvements in aircraft can help, as well as the use of biofuels. Similarly, rail and shipping can also use a combination of biofuels, efficiency, and perhaps hydrogen to reduce energy demand and lower global warming emissions.

Cleaning up combustion is important too

To be consistent with long term climate plans, we must move transportation away from petroleum to the greatest extent possible. However, in the near and medium term, many of our vehicles will still rely on combustion. For this reason, we cannot ignore efforts to make conventional vehicles more efficient and less polluting. This means making sure that current rules on both passenger car and heavy-duty truck efficiency go forward, saving significant emissions and petroleum.

A path to cleaning up transportation

Reducing emissions from transportation will require a wide-scale shift away from petroleum. This change won’t happen overnight and will require new investments in alternatives to using oil, both in vehicle technology and fuel infrastructure. However, the good news is that many of the solutions we’ll need, like battery and fuel cell technology and conventional efficiency improvements, are ready to be put into action.

Dude, Where’s My Car (Charging Station)? How Public Charging Is a Centerpiece of a U.S. Department of Transportation Initiative

There are nearly 15,000 public charging stations for electric vehicles in the U.S., but there hasn’t been a great way to navigate to those spots without an app or internet access – until now.

Included in a package of electric vehicle-related initiatives from the White House is the designation of 25,000 miles of U.S. highway as “sign-ready,” meaning they are ready to get uniform signs for electric vehicle charging next to the existing signs for gas, food, and lodging. For now, the placement of the charging signs is limited to highway segments that have charging stations (existing or planned) at least every 50 miles. But this limited placement is not insignificant. 25,000 miles of highway across 35 states already qualify, and with additional investments in public charging coming from states and utilities, tens of thousands more highway miles will likely be getting charging signs in near future as well.

Highways across the country are “sign-ready,” meaning that they will have uniform signage for EV charging stations. See the interactive map at: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/alternative_fuel_corridors/maps/

I admit, signs for electric vehicle charging is not as exciting as breaking a 108-year championship drought, but this seemingly simple initiative could significantly impact the electric vehicle market.

First, the physical signs for electric vehicle charging could help alleviate range anxiety. Most electric vehicle drivers likely have an app for navigating to charging stations, but perhaps some are part of my T-Mobile family, which means ¼ the cell coverage for ¾ the price. So a charging locator app isn’t necessarily foolproof. If you’re driving along a highway with charging signs, however, no phone service is no problem. Charging signs will be a physical backstop to relying on cell phones or apps, and could give electric vehicle drivers additional peace of mind when embarking on a trip that is further than a single charge.

Second, signs for public charging can instill confidence in non-electric vehicle drivers and raise public awareness toward the existing network of 15,000 electric vehicle charging stations. Just seeing signs for electric vehicle charging every 50 miles along heavily trafficked highways could be the little nudge needed to choose an electric vehicle. Although most electric vehicle charging is done at home, many consumers want to know they can charge on-the-go, and both perceived and actual access to public charging is an important consideration when thinking about whether an electric vehicle can fit your needs.

Lastly, this announcement sends a clear signal to the next Administration that continuing federal initiatives to help electric vehicles gain a better foothold in the U.S. vehicle market should be a priority. Electric vehicles are not just a foil against climate change. They also cut oil use, are cheaper to fuel and maintain, and simply offer a better driving experience. For more on why electric vehicles are smart solution, check out our web content here.

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