Bezos Earth Fund Grant Advances UCS work on Grid Modernization and Truck Electrification

Published Nov 16, 2020

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (November 16, 2020)–Today, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) received a two-year $15 million grant from the Bezos Earth Fund. This grant will be used to advocate for updates to the U.S. electrical grid that will dramatically speed the amount of wind, solar, and energy storage used in key states. The grant will also support UCS efforts to accelerate the electrification of commercial trucking, a major source of dangerous air pollution to communities along high-traffic corridors nationwide.

“We greatly appreciate this unprecedented investment in our clean energy and transportation work,” said Angela Anderson, director of the Climate and Energy Program at UCS. "We will use this funding to help accelerate the economy’s transition away from fossil fuels, in partnership with others striving for just and equitable climate solutions. As we create and expand shared strategies and alliances, we will use a significant portion of this grant to provide essential resources to grassroots and environmental justice groups.”

Renewable energy is now the cheapest energy to build in many parts of the country. States and communities want to benefit from these resources, but face barriers.

“The United States’ outdated electrical grid still uses the same basic technology that was developed nearly a century ago while trying to meet 21st century energy needs,” said Jeff Deyette, director of state policy and analysis in the UCS Climate and Energy Program. “The grid was built to transmit electricity from large, centralized power plants, not to handle large amounts of renewable energy like wind and solar.”

UCS analysis shows that scaling up and aggregating distributed energy resources like rooftop solar and energy efficiency can democratize access to clean sources of electricity while strengthening the system’s resilience to extreme weather. Any successful grid modernization must also boost investments in new transmission and storage, as well as eliminate policy loopholes and biases that perpetuate pollution burdens on communities of color where large, polluting power plants are frequently located.

The grant also will fund efforts to scale up electrification of medium and heavy-duty trucks. Trucks and buses combined make up only 10 percent of all vehicles on the road but 28 percent of the carbon emissions from on-road transportation. Trucks also are a major source of local air pollution. Heavy-duty vehicles are responsible for 45 percent of smog-forming nitrogen oxides and more than 57 percent of fine particulate matter pollution from on-road vehicles. This pollution disproportionately burdens communities of color and low-income communities due to their proximity to roads and vehicle traffic.

“Breaking down barriers to truck electrification is essential if we are to address dangerous air pollution that plagues communities along high-traffic corridors and meet the net-zero carbon emissions target necessary to tackle climate change,” said Michelle Robinson, director of the Clean Transportation Program at UCS.

Earlier this year, the California Air Resources Board voted unanimously to pass the Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) Rule. It is the first zero-emission truck sales standard in the world. The rule requires manufacturers to sell increasing percentages of zero-emission trucks and will result in 15 percent of the trucks on the road in California being zero emission by 2035 (about 300,000 electric trucks). This action, which will spur greater investment in electric trucks, sets the stage to expand heavy duty vehicle electrification across the country.

“Scaling up truck electrification is closely tied to electric grid reform, as grid managers will need to plan for the charging infrastructure to accommodate the electricity demand from electric trucks,” said Robinson. “Focusing on grid modernization and truck electrification together is a strategic investment in improving air quality and making rapid progress on climate solutions.”