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A New Shade of Green

By Sherry Listgarten

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About this blog: Climate change, despite its outsized impact on the planet, is still an abstract concept to many of us. That needs to change. My hope is that readers of this blog will develop a better understanding of how our climate is evolving a...  (More)

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The Silver Bullet for our Emissions

Uploaded: Nov 8, 2020
People often say there is no silver bullet for our greenhouse gas emissions. That’s certainly true in general. But for those of us on the mid-Peninsula, there’s not all that much that we do from the perspective of a traditional emissions inventory other than drive, heat our buildings, and throw away food, in that order. (1) That makes zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) pretty close to a silver bullet for our area’s emissions. Some of you may want to give them “bronze bullet” status since they don’t heat buildings. Either way, we need to embrace ZEVs with the priority they deserve.

I’ve written blog posts on shuttles, long-distance buses, vehicle miles traveled, and a few other ways to get us out of cars. They work when adopted, but behavior is hard to change. I’m not seeing many of you hopping into slow-moving buses or exchanging your home here for an urban apartment. Bikes are great, but they aren’t always a fit. At the end of the day, cars are central to many of our lives, but we just aren’t seeing enough adoption of low-emission electric vehicles.

That is why I breathed a sigh of relief when Newsom announced his executive order directing California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) to identify policies that will get us to 100% ZEV sales by 2035 (2). This is exactly the kind of significant, forward-looking action that we need to meet our climate goals. As NASA climate scientist Peter Kalmus put it, “A switch to EVs is one of the smallest and easiest pieces of the climate solution puzzle.” I am super excited about the executive order, and want to see phase outs of gas cars adopted across the country.

But let’s start with California. What does it look like to get to 100% ZEV sales across the state by 2035? What are the challenges and objections, and what do we need to do to get there?

First, it’s helpful to know that many countries have set similar goals to phase out gas-powered cars. The map below illustrates this, with the addition that China just announced that by 2035 half of all sales will be ZEVs, and the other half hybrid.

Phase outs of gas car sales around the world (Source: Rocky Mountain Institute presentation, September 2020)

Car manufacturers are following suit by making commitments to low-emission vehicles. Toyota and Volvo both plan to generate half their sales from electric vehicles by 2025. Ford, Volkswagen, and BMW are investing heavily in electric models across their full lineup. Bentley just announced that it will be going all-electric by 2030. And there's more.

In fact, the growth of the electric vehicle industry is one of the major drivers of Newsom’s order. Electric vehicle sales have become California’s #2 export in just three years, growing far faster than any of the top exports. The 2035 phase out enables us to simultaneously grow our economy and wage a critical part of the war against climate change.

Check out the size and rate of growth of California’s electric vehicle market (Source: US Census Bureau)

Announcements are one thing and achievement is quite another. California tends to hit its climate goals but this ZEV mandate isn’t policy yet, it’s just an executive order. Will CARB find a way to get there?

The graph below shows what ZEV adoption might look like. In this trajectory, the percentage of sales that are ZEVs (the dotted line) would increase modestly through 2025 and then grow much faster, presumably as prices come down, more models become available, and charging infrastructure is deployed.

What 100% ZEV sales by 2035 might look like (Source: Presentation by CARB to the CEC by Joshua Cunningham, August 2020). Note: Here “ZEV” does not include the plug-in hybrid cars, which are shown as PHEV.

Are we on track for this kind of curve? Not yet. Joshua Cunningham, the head of CARB’s Advanced Clean Cars program, estimates that California is headed towards 1.5 million ZEVs by 2025 and 2.4 million by 2030. In contrast, the above graph shows about 3 million ZEVs in 2025 and 6 million by 2030. It seems unlikely that we can immediately start doubling our adoption rate to get to 3 million in 2025. I would expect the adoption curve to ramp up a few years later and be a little steeper if we are going to phase out new gas cars by 2035. CARB’s job over the next few months is to determine what the curve should look like based on various constraints and what it will take to make us successful. (3)

What is holding back EV adoption? There are a couple of things. One is just the lack of suitable models at good prices. EV prices have been high, though government incentives and lower total cost of ownership can bring overall cost to parity. Sticker prices need to come down further (4), which will happen as battery prices drop and competition heats up. Popular styles like small crossovers and pickup trucks are lacking but in the wings. Battery range is increasing and charging is getting both easier and faster.

Coming soon: Ford F-150 (prototype shown) and Volkswagen ID.4 crossover

Auto manufacturers have also been reluctant to advertise their electric vehicles, which has suppressed demand. Many models haven’t been profitable, and dealers dislike them because there is little lucrative maintenance to be done on them. Manufacturers are selling them largely because they have to: California’s Advanced Clean Cars program has mandated for years that a certain percentage of vehicles sold here need to be low-emission or zero-emission. (5) With no interest in exceeding that mandate, advertising has been negligible.

In 2018, automakers spent far less on ads for their top-selling EV than for their top-selling conventional vehicle. (Source: Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management presentation, November 2019)

This is changing. Automakers are increasingly setting their own ambitious goals for EV sales, so I hope we’ll start to see better marketing and education from dealers. A new “Climate Insights” report on why consumers reject ZEVs found that many have unfounded concerns about poor acceleration and high cost of maintenance. Some decent marketing would go a long way to winning over more buyers.

Even with fully committed automakers, though, is our electricity supply and transmission adequate, is there enough charging infrastructure, and is the supply chain for batteries robust enough to support sustained and rapid growth in ZEVs? The EPA’s Andrew Wheeler lit into Newsom with this snarky criticism: “California’s record of rolling blackouts—unprecedented in size and scope—coupled with recent requests to neighboring states for power begs the question of how you expect to run an electric car fleet that will come with significant increases in electricity demand, when you can’t even keep the lights on today.”

RTO Insider has a good article on this. My take is I’m not worried so much about the electricity supply as I am about the charging infrastructure. This report that they cite, from the Department of Energy, estimates that our charging capacity could effectively be doubled if we were smart about when things were plugged in. That comes down to placement and availability of chargers, particularly at workplaces and other places where people are during the day when solar energy is ample. California has nowhere near the charging infrastructure that is required. It has around 67,000 public or shared private chargers today, but needs 250,000 by 2025 to meet a benchmark set by Jerry Brown. That is about 100 new chargers every day for the next five years. Even with $1B set aside, there is a significant funding gap. EV adoption and daytime charging infrastructure need to go hand in hand.

Around the world, China and to some extent Europe are ramping up chargers. The US and others are lagging. (Source: Bloomberg presentation to the CEC, June 2020)

Our area has adopted ZEVs faster than any region in the country. Nevertheless, even in our wealthiest zip codes, at most 11% of registered cars are electric vehicles. (6) With automakers coming on board as California creates policy, this will change, and quickly. The Drive writes: “The world of motoring is changing right before our very eyes. We may not see the shift happening in real-time, but the next 15 years will likely go down as the most rapid change in commercial propulsion in history.” Finally! This is the work we must do to get our atmosphere back to a comfortable equilibrium. ZEV adoption is a no-brainer. As Representative Nicole Macri (D-WA) put it when Washington State was trying to pass a similar bill: "I really think that if Boris Johnson can do this, then so can we." I’d love to hear your thoughts, though!

Notes and References
1. I’m not saying that’s the right way to count. In my opinion, we are each of us responsible for the emissions related to our consumption, whether it’s the food we eat, the things we buy, or the services we use. But the emissions accountants tally things up differently. By their reckoning, driving accounts for two-thirds of our emissions, and it has an easy fix.

2. A “ZEV” is a zero-emission vehicle. We typically think of those as battery-powered vehicles like Teslas and the Nissan Leaf, but it also includes plug-in vehicles like the (belated) Chevy Volt and Ford Fusion Energi, as well as hydrogen vehicles like the Toyota Mirai and Honda Clarity.

3. You will see on the graph that even if we phase out the sale of gas cars by 2035, they still compose 20% of the cars on the road by 2045, when California is targeted to be carbon neutral. That has led some researchers to conclude this order is not aggressive enough.

4. You can get a sense of current sticker prices and incentives at this page by Electrek.

5. Volkswagen settlement funds have been used to create a terrific Normal Now campaign, but we need to see aggressive promotions for ZEVs coming from the dealers themselves.

6. You can lookup ZEV adoption by zipcode here by setting the Map Filter to “Zip”.

7. This graph from a Bloomberg presentation to the CEC shows global EV adoption. China and Europe have over twice the adoption of the US.

Current Climate Data (September/October 2020)
Global impacts, US impacts, CO2 metric, Climate dashboard (updated annually)

Just a few days ago the northeast passage through the Arctic Ocean finally froze shut after a record 112 days (see red bar below). Just a few decades ago this passage was closed year-round.

Comment Guidelines
I hope that your contributions will be an important part of this blog. To keep the discussion productive, please adhere to these guidelines or your comment may be moderated:
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What is it worth to you?


Posted by that Arctic graph, a resident of Charleston Gardens,
on Nov 8, 2020 at 3:57 pm

that Arctic graph is a registered user.

That Arctic graph is crazy.

Thanks for the article. Have to start somewhere, so why not pick the 'low hanging fruit' with ZEV's?

“The world of motoring is changing right before our very eyes. We may not see the shift happening in real-time, but the next 15 years will likely go down as the most rapid change in commercial propulsion in history."

Alas, we need many other "worlds" to change as rapidly in that same 15 year window.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Nov 8, 2020 at 6:37 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Arctic, yes, we are going to have to get used to change. It's going to be hard because while things are changing quickly the climate will continue to worsen, maybe a lot depending on tipping points, until we get some negative emissions at scale. (Sense any covid analogies?) People are going to have to rally around some abstract climate metrics while vendors tout more immediate benefits of the new tech. EVs are so easy though because they are a lot better in many ways. Once you have one, it's hard to go back to the days of gas stations, oil changes, and other regular maintenance.

Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Nov 8, 2020 at 7:41 pm

Joseph E. Davis is a registered user.

I would like to know the source of the governor's authority to proclaim such an edict. Shouldn't such a major change be passed by the legislature in the form of a bill?

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Nov 8, 2020 at 7:51 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Joseph, that is a great question. Danny Cullenward is a Stanford energy economist and lawyer, and he addresses that question in some detail here. In short, this is not law (yet), it is an executive order (which is how much of our climate legislation starts). It would be stronger if it were law, and one question is whether Newsom will try to push it to become law. As is, "there is nothing to force CARB to take action in response to the EO. I'm not saying they don't want to, but the law does not compel them to achieve the EO's full goals."

Posted by David Coale, a resident of Barron Park,
on Nov 8, 2020 at 9:39 pm

David Coale is a registered user.

While transportation is the big piece of the emissions pie and EVs are a good solution (and fun to drive), if I take a magic wand and turn all the gas cars to electric tomorrow, I am still stuck in traffic and can't find a parking place so we do need a silver buckshot approach to transportation if we are to find a sustainable solution that also increases the quality of life. And for that, you can't beat a bike. While not for everyone, active transportation and transit have to be a much larger part of the solution. Who ever thought over half the population could work from home? We need to address the climate crisis with the same resolve as the covid crises �" like our lives depended on it.

Posted by Well said, David Coale., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 9, 2020 at 1:01 pm

Well said, David Coale. is a registered user.

Congestion and parking are a huge part of the transportation puzzle. Focusing narrowly on e-cars will exacerbate these challenging community problems. Framing e-cars as the silver bullet or sole solution is not feasible. We still need people to choose transit, walking and biking for shorter trips. It is simply not possible to create a road system with endless capacity for auto growth. We don't have enough public right-of-way to do that. That is as true of e-cars as gas-powered cars.

Cars (including e-cars) create serious safety problems in every community. They kill and maim people every day. Another pedestrian was killed by a driver in Palo Alto this week on University Avenue.

Increasing numbers of drivers demand greater masses of land and city budget dollars for road and parking infrastructure that could be better put to other uses --like housing. This is not a good use of land resources.

Cars intimidate people, so they are afraid to walk and bike for exercise, recreation and transportation. This effects community health and well-being.

Focus on cars excludes large segments of our community. Many people cannot drive---either because they are too young to have a driver's license or because they have some disability that prevents them from driving. Or they cannot afford to buy or rent a car. A transportation system that is designed to depend on cars does not serve everyone. It is designed only for able-bodied adults who can afford to own a car. It makes everyone else dependent on people who can drive. Not good.

E-car infrastructure should be paid for by the people who use it. Otherwise, we taxpayers are being asked once again to subsidize the auto industry and their endless push to garner market share. If government is going to invest my tax dollars in EV infrastructure, they had better also invest in other types of electric powered vehicles like electric cargo bikes (which are much more efficient and convenient for local trips than an e-car for many). Zero emissions transit options for longer trips and for folks who cannot drive is a must. Do not let the auto industry hijack transportation infrastructure discussion AGAIN. City Hall, I am talking to YOU. People who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

I am not opposed to e-cars. I think they will be an important mobility option and piece to the transportation puzzle moving forward, but they are NOT the silver bullet. If we only support e-cars and no other e-vehicle options along with transit and foot-powered transportation, we will not have a workable solution.

Sorry, Sherry. I usually agree with many of your points, but I think you have really framed this issue wrong. It sounds to me like you have been talking with the Utilities Department who would a enjoy a massive revenue stream increase from this. E-cars would be a boon for them. Congestion and parking problems are handled by another department at City Hall. Utilities needs to work with Transportation on better balanced solutions that considers the full scope of issues around this, not just pay lip service to it as they have in the past.

Posted by that Arctic graph, a resident of Charleston Gardens,
on Nov 9, 2020 at 1:56 pm

that Arctic graph is a registered user.

"...the Utilities Department who would a enjoy a massive revenue stream increase from this..."

And you prefer the "massive revenue stream" continue to Exxon and BP?

Posted by ln, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights,
on Nov 9, 2020 at 4:15 pm

ln is a registered user.

Fact is there is no way that California's current infrastructure can support 20 to 25 million new electric vehicles. We can barely support what we have now, seeing that we have roving power outages during the summer. We will need massive de elopement of power generation facilities, and seeing that there is a governmental dictate that it be carbon neutral, it looks like we're going to have to go the nuclear power route. Which I think is great.

Posted by David Coale, a resident of Barron Park,
on Nov 9, 2020 at 9:02 pm

David Coale is a registered user.

Dear In,

There is plenty of capacity on the grid to charge EVs as long as it is not during peak times. Charging during the day when solar is actually curtailed and off-peak at night, there is plenty of energy. In fact, soon we will have vehicle to home/grid charging that will allow EVs to provide storage on the grid for excess renewable energy as well as added resiliency in a case of a disaster. So in this case, the more EVs the better.

Posted by Dan Waylonis, a resident of Jackson Park,
on Nov 10, 2020 at 2:21 pm

Dan Waylonis is a registered user.

A good, informative article. I think that one thing that the governmental entities can do is transition their existing vehicles to electric. Also require contractual vendors (e.g., garbage, public transportation) to do the same. I also believe that short-haul trucks are a leading cause of air pollution.

Most importantly, the state should understand the largest contributors to air pollution and seek changes to those before limiting consumer's choices to EV only.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Nov 10, 2020 at 2:23 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

The above are great comments. I'll respond in a bit, but first I want to address a question that I get sometimes. This one was emailed to me. "Global auto energy use is still a multiple of mass and distance -- and the energy source is still principally natural gas in the near term. I suspect that ... overall emissions from hydrocarbons may not be essentially reduced by EVs."

One thing we forget is how efficient electric engines are. Even if the electricity is 100% from gas, the EVs still win out, despite manufacturing requiring more emissions (from creating the battery). As batteries are starting to be made with clean energy, and as power grids are getting cleaner, the EV benefit is growing every year. Below is a chart showing how the Tesla 3 compares to an average gas car and to the most efficient one (Toyota Prius Eco). California's state-wide grid is similar to that of the UK shown, and locally the power we purchase is carbon-neutral. If you charge midday, your lifecycle emissions would be like that shown for Norway. And wouldn't you rather drive a Tesla than a Prius Eco?

Source: Carbon Brief, 2020

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Nov 10, 2020 at 3:26 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@In: When you make claims about what California's grid can and cannot support, and deduce that massive amounts of nuclear power are needed, please include a reference since it's obviously pretty technical. I did include a reference when I said it's not an immediate problem, to this article which cites this report. Read them! Short of that, here is a partial summary from the first writeup: "In its final report released in July 2020, the PNNL team said the Western Interconnection likely will have sufficient resources to accommodate 9 million EVs by 2028 even if most people charge their cars immediately after getting home from work." (This does not include extreme heat events, which would need some time-smart charging.) You say that our current infrastructure can't support 25 million new EVs, but no one is proposing that. Lots of things, including the grid, need to change and evolve if we are to hit our emissions goals.

@Dan: I'm not sure what you mean by "short-haul" trucks, but the worst truck polluters afaik are "drayage" trucks, which are heavy-duty trucks that carry container loads around ports and railyards. They emit and pollute like crazy, and it's why the executive order specifies a year of 2035 to be electrified, rather than 2045 like other medium and heavy trucks.

In general, though, 70% of transportation emissions in California come from light-duty vehicles (less than 10,000 pounds). That's us. The state does the analysis you suggest because they want to hit our emissions goals.

I'm curious what your concerns are about switching to an EV. The cars are getting much better every year. I talked with someone today who said no one will even want a gas car or pickup pretty soon, and prices will come down as well to meet demand. Automakers believe that too and are investing accordingly. The executive order just helps to accelerate the change because we haven't left ourselves much time climate-wise.

@David and @WellSaidDavid: Obviously we can invest some money in both, but I think we will get much more mileage (no pun intended) out of electrifying cars than promoting bikes. If we want people to reduce their food emissions, do we promote a vegan diet or offer people Impossible Burgers and similar replacements? A vegan diet has a ton of advantages, but it's also a heavier lift. Do you go for breadth or depth? I hopped in my car twice yesterday, to take my daughter to and from a soccer practice. It was about five miles away, it was dark, and it was cold. Biking and transit weren't practical and COVID puts a damper on carpooling. What if there were a dedicated, well-lit bike lane? Still a moderately heavy lift. My inclination is to swap out our gas cars for ZEVs and, as the roads get crowded, it will force people onto bikes (cf NYC), at which point we build more bike lanes. We have ten years to meet our 2030 emissions goal. Here is a picture of that. (This is for the state of California, but our local trajectory looks similar.) Should we put our bet on getting enough people to bike enough miles?

Source: 2019 EFI Report

Posted by that Arctic graph, a resident of Charleston Gardens,
on Nov 10, 2020 at 4:55 pm

that Arctic graph is a registered user.

Inevitably, the nuclear fantasy sneaks in around the edges of these conversations.

Note the Bloonmberg article on Nuclear in Eastern Europe, published yesterday - lots of good points Web Link

Posted by Michael, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Nov 12, 2020 at 9:52 am

Michael is a registered user.

EV adoption is not yet a demand problem, Tesla and others sell everyone they can build. The EV adoption problem is a battery supply problem, there are not enough being made. Tesla appears to be the only one trying to tackle this scale issue.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Nov 12, 2020 at 11:59 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Michael, thanks for that comment, it's a great point and Tesla was smart to tackle battery production early. I have a sense it's being slowly sorted out (see Northvolt, for example), but it's critical. We need to make sure these factories are located where there is plenty of clean energy, and make sure the battery chemistries that evolve are sustainable. Not easy. It is somewhat overwhelming how much work there is to be done to effect this transformation to clean transportation.

Posted by annashetty, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Nov 15, 2020 at 6:58 pm

annashetty is a registered user.

Rich information, that's really good, I'm looking for it, thanks for sharing.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of Midtown,
on Nov 15, 2020 at 9:58 pm

neighbor is a registered user.

"Auto manufacturers have also been reluctant to advertise their electric vehicles, which has suppressed demand. Many models haven't been profitable, and dealers dislike them because there is little lucrative maintenance to be done on them. Manufacturers are selling them largely because they have to..."

I believe this is true, Sherry. Unfortunately, I don't see why the car makers, auto unions, and dealers are going to agree to have less profits (and fewer jobs) as we go further into recession. The oil'n'gas industry has skin in this game as well. Let's not forget the commercial media (how many ads are about cars/pick-up trucks?).

A cautionary tale is perhaps what happened to the CEO of VW in June - after he made a commitment to go all-in on EV's - he was removed from the his job. I hope you are right, but there are plenty of reasons why this great idea of widespread adoption of EV's hasn't happened yet.

Thanks to blogs like yours, there's more pressure to make it happen soon!

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Nov 16, 2020 at 10:55 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Neighbor: That is a terrific comment, and you are right. It is very expensive for automakers to make this switch, and risky. But many are forging ahead after years of hedging because it is increasingly risky to not make the switch. Auto manufacturers are nervous about Tesla and about the growing restrictions on gas cars. Just in the last few days, Quebec announced it is banning the sale of gas vehicles after 2035, and the UK announced it is banning the sale of "petrol" (and diesel) cars after 2030. I hope VW is successful. California's policy will help, especially if other states (Washington, New Jersey, etc) follow on. And we all need to get out and buy these cars as they become available. Interesting times...

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