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Electric Vehicles Can Help California Hit 2030 Emissions Reduction Target

Energy Innovation, a nonpartisan energy and climate policy firm, recently released research showing the state of California may not meet its 2030 climate emissions reduction target. Chris Busch, Energy Innovation’s Research Director, answered some questions about the EV side of the equation.

Energy Innovation, a nonpartisan energy and climate policy firm, recently released research showing the state of California may not meet its 2030 climate emissions reduction target. In order to remedy this situation, the organization recommended six policies, which are:

  • Reform the state’s cap-and-trade program to tie carbon prices to the pace of emissions reductions
  • Increase 2030 clean energy standards for statewide power supply
  • Increase the state’s 2030 zero-emission vehicles target to 7.5 million electric vehicles
  • Accelerate building electrification to reach at least 50% of residential appliance sales
  • Create a zero-emission heat performance standard for the industry sector
  • Create an emission performance standard for cement and concrete production
Tesla Model Y

Tesla Model Y — Image credit: Kyle Field | Cleantechnica

Implementing these policies could result in the creation of $7 billion in direct economic benefits, the organization’s analysis also found.

Because many CleanTechnica readers are very interested in electric vehicles, it seemed appropriate to focus on what could be done to help hit the emissions reduction target from the EV standpoint. Chris Busch, Energy Innovation’s Research Director, answered some questions about the EV side of the equation.

How can the state’s zero emission vehicles goal increase to 7.5 million vehicles by 2030, up from the current objective of 5 million? 

A goal of 7.5 million zero emission vehicles on the road by 2030 could be set by executive order, in the same way the current goal of 5 million was set. It could also be enunciated through inclusion in the next Scoping Plan, the state’s long run climate policy planning process, due by 2022.

But setting a goal is only meaningful if it is backed up by a plan to get there. On that front, the state has a sound strategy, combining consumer incentives, zero emission vehicle mandates, expanded electric vehicle charging infrastructure, continued exploration of the role for hydrogen in transportation and decarbonization more broadly, and broader research. Leaps and bounds have been made in charging infrastructure installation and planning. Certainly more needs to be done, including solving the challenge of home access for the roughly 50 percent of California households who live in multi-family buildings, where lack of space or recalcitrant landlords may be obstacles to charger installation.  

The state’s zero emission vehicle mandate, which requires a fraction of overall vehicle sales to be zero emission, is a powerful option. The state’s clean car standards, applying to all new cars sales, also help, since they set automaker requirements for tailpipe emissions based on the weighted average of their vehicle sales.  Since EVs have no tailpipe emissions, they help automakers meet the broader clean car standards.

Both a zero emission vehicle mandate and broader clean car standards are caught up in California’s battle with the Trump administration, which is attempting to not just block new measures, but to revoke previous approvals, as elaborated on in Section 7.3 of the report. 

An interesting emerging option is California’s new “clean miles standard” applied to transportation network companies, i.e. Uber, Lyft, or other ride sharing companies. They require an increasing share of electric vehicle miles for each company. In order to comply, companies might purchase vehicles they would lease to drivers, or they might offer low interest loans with no upfront cost. 

Larger corporations have cheaper access to capital than your average consumer.  Another advantage is that ride-sharing vehicles are driven more miles than the average vehicle. Because EVs are 3x more fuel efficient than conventional gasoline vehicles, fuel savings add up more quickly than for the average household car.    

The “clean miles standard” was established in 2018 by Senate Bill 1014.

Would there be more consumer incentives for EV buyers? Would there be a tax credit for drivers who own and operate zero-emissions EVs?

The key policy instrument in our modeling was  EV sales mandate as discussed above, but there is no question that incentives are helpful in the consumer calculus. We also recommend feebates, a revenue-neutral approach to providing carrots and sticks in the purchase decision, and a longtime favorite of Dan Sperling — member of the California Air Resources Board and founding director of the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis. 

Is cement production the largest source of coal combustion in California? 

Yes, per a report on California’s cement industry. The report also finds that California is the second-largest cement producing state in the U.S., and that its cement industry has the second highest fuel intensity of the 14 countries/regions studied.

Why can’t cement be produced with electricity from renewable sources like solar power?

It can be. We’ve modeled compliance with the proposed policy using carbon capture and storage (CCS) and by substituting other materials, such as fly ash, for a portion of the clinker used in cement. But our report recommends a technology neutral standard for greenhouse gas emissions from cement and concrete production. So, if other options turn out to be more attractive, producers would have the flexibility to use them. 

In order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from work commutes, could there be a mandate to require more telecommuting?

It’s a novel approach. I’m not sure about the legalities. It would seem to offer a direct way to reducing emissions. Thinking about how it might work in practice, the requirement seems challenging to enforce. Also, what about carpenters or factory workers for whom telecommuting is not an option?  How do you decide who falls into that group?  

In your document, it states that, “…electric vehicles are expected to become less costly than conventional gas vehicles, even factoring in the expense of installing a home charger (Lutsey 2019)…” When do you expect EV sticker prices to be less than those for gas-powered vehicles?

For our representative light duty passenger vehicle, which is a weighted average of passenger cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks, the unsubsidized purchase price for a full battery electric vehicle falls below that of a gasoline-fueled vehicle in 2029. 

Our report goes into more detail on why we decided to include pickup trucks: “Vehicle electrification has been most economic for small vehicles so far, but to reach the high levels of electrification recommended, meaningful numbers of pickup trucks will have to be part of the mix. Several new electric pickup trucks have entered mass production or will soon.”

Isn’t total cost of ownership over the life of an EV already lower?

For smaller cars in California, yes. 

The document mentions, “…four key emerging technologies—solar, wind, batteries, and carbon capture and sequestration.” How can public policy support innovation in these technologies?

For solar and wind power, one key challenge is developing policies to ensure sufficient system flexibility for efficiency.  For example, there is a huge opportunity to shift electricity demand from periods of peak demand to off peak periods, but the institutions, technologies, markets, and incentives to take advantage of this low cost source of flexibility remains unclear.  The uncertainty is large enough that California’s current long term planning process found it would be imprudent to count on the availability of any such “demand shift” resource. 

For batteries and CCS, one common theme would be the importance of increasing deployment to take advantage of “learning curves.” With increasing use, innovation occurs and economies of scale emerge –  both lowering cost. Continued research and development investments are also important. 

It also references an increase in EV sales because of the Tesla Model 3, stating, “The 2018 increase partly reflected pent-up demand for the Tesla Model 3 combined with a rush to buy Tesla vehicles before federal incentives were reduced in 2019.” Would it be possible for the State of California to increase the amount of the California state EV tax credit to offset the reduction for Teslas of the federal incentive, in order to support the buying of more Teslas?

Yes, it would be possible.

Could the State of California insist that all its new fleet vehicles be only zero-emissions electric vehicles?

Yes, and this is already a requirement for no later than 2030 (with the exception of case in which no ZEV option exists to meet the functionality required).

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