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The race to put more zero-emission cars on the road

EVs can replace nearly 90 percent of vehicles, but there are a few roadblocks on the way to California's 2025 emission-free car goals.

California has led the charge for electric vehicles with an ambitious strategy to put 1.5 million zero‐emission vehicles on the road by 2025 (Executive Order B‐16‐2012) with the ultimate goal of transitioning virtually all personal transportation in the state to zero‐emission cars by 2050. This leadership has paid off  California continues to make up for about half of the growth of electric vehicles in the United States.

Monthly U.S. EV sales.

Electric-car sales continue to climb despite relatively low gas prices. Today, consumers are able to access many more electric-powered 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.

That said, a new study by the California Center for Jobs and the Economy suggests that the EV picture isn’t as bright as it seems  finding that California is underperforming to reach its 2025 goal. About 71,000 zero-emission vehicles (electric and hydrogen-powered) are being sold each year in the state, but annual sales need to be about 175,000 to reach the target in the coming decade.

Quarterly EV sales.

Driving on electricity can be cheaper than driving on gasoline. When you take advantage of nighttime, off-peak electricity rates of about $0.10 per kilowatt-hour, it’s the equivalent of driving on gasoline that costs less than $1 per gallon. A number of federal, state and local rebates are also available to offset the price of purchasing an electric vehicle (here is more information on rebates).

Electric vehicle drivers in California also can receive checks and rebates from utilities from credits accumulated through California’s low-carbon fuels standard (LCFS) system.

Customers of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) in the San Francisco region get a one-time check for $500. San Diego Gas & Electric Co. (SDG&E) is giving rebates that start at $50 annually. Southern California Edison Co. plans to launch its program in the spring.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District have partnered with the California Air Resources Board to help low-income motorists replace old, polluting cars with ones that are cleaner, more fuel-efficient and also cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The programs provide incentives on a sliding scale, with larger cash payments for the lowest-income families moving up to the cleanest cars. Under the program, it is possible for a family that meets income guidelines to receive as much as $12,000 toward the purchase of an electric car or they can choose not to replace their car and receive transit passes valued at between $2,500 and $4,500.

EV car sharing is another way to make clean-car technology available to disadvantaged community residents. The California Air Resources Board funded selected two projects to receive Greenhouse Gas Reduction Funds for Car Sharing and Mobility Options Pilot Projects. It is anticipated that another round of funding will be announced in the next two months. Information will be released here.

The "Los Angeles Leading by Example" project will provide 100 advanced-technology vehicles and 110 charging stations for a car-sharing system in Westlake, Pico-Union, neighborhoods north of the University of Southern California and portions of the Downtown, Hollywood and Koreatown disadvantaged communities currently not served by car-sharing. The project eventually will serve over 7,000 residents.

"Our Community Car Share Sacramento" will provide eight electric vehicles and charging stations for a car-sharing system in three disadvantaged-community, subsidized housing projects. The project eventually will serve up to 2,000 residents.

Overcoming range anxiety

One barrier to expanding the adoption of electric vehicles is the concern that they won’t be able to go far enough on a charge to reach a driver’s destination, and would thus strand the vehicle’s occupants.

A new study in Nature Energy in August by researchers from MIT and the Santa Fe Institute, based on a vast data analysis of second-by-second U.S. driving patterns and other evidence, finds that, in a surprisingly large number of daily driving cases, range anxiety may be overblown.

"What we found was that 87 percent of vehicles on the road could be replaced by a low-cost electric vehicle available today, even if there’s no possibility to recharge during the day," said Jessika Trancik, the study’s senior author and a researcher with MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems, and Society.

There will be even less cause for concern as charging infrastructure becomes more widespread, charging becomes faster and more convenient and vehicle technology improves making it possible to go further on a charge.

Community opportunities

Plug-in electric vehicles are one of many promising tools to increase energy independence and reduce air-quality impacts. PEVs dramatically lower smog and greenhouse gas emissions, even when you take into account the emissions from production, distribution and refining of fuels and the generation of electricity.

Electric vehicles represent an opportunity to proactively serve existing local residents and business owners and also attract additional investment that will stimulate the local economy, all while creating a healthier and more sustainable region.

In addition to land-use changes and investments in transit and active-transportation infrastructure, local governments should be considering the role that cleaner cars can play in reducing pollution and providing more transportation options for residents.

The California Plug-In Electric Vehicle Collaborative’s Toolkit for Community Plug-In Electric Vehicle Readiness offers a number of strategies to increase your community’s PEV readiness:

  1. Update zoning and parking policies to address signage (surface-street directional signs and parking facility signs), charging infrastructure installation that incorporates accessibility guidelines, and parking facility policies.
  2. Update local building codes to include specifications for PEV charging infrastructure types, electric-service requirements and installation recommendations for various building types.
  3. Streamline permitting and inspection processes to make installing a charger easy through online applications, same-day "over-the-counter" approvals and minimal fees for charging equipment.
  4. Participate in Training and Education Programs for Local Officials to increase familiarity with PEV-charging infrastructure for inspection and maintenance purposes and better understand the safety implications of vehicles and chargers.
  5. Conduct outreach and education to local businesses and residents on permit process, local contractors, incentives and locations of charging stations.
  6. Consider ways to provide charging opportunities for people who live in multifamily dwelling units, including reaching out to local homeowners’ associations to work through their concerns and building challenges and exploring opportunities such as identifying nearby public or workplace charging that tenants can access during non-business hours.
  7. Encourage local employers to install workplace charging by informing local employers and property owners of the benefits of providing workplace charging (to employees), and how to implement it.
  8. Include electric vehicles in local fleets by setting a target for the number of PEVs, establishing purchase and evaluation criteria, and co-locating fleet charging stations with public assess stations for shared use. The city of San Diego has implemented an aggressive replacement plan to replace its aging fleet to achieve their Climate Action Plan goal of 50 percent zero-emission vehicles in the fleet by 2020. Los Angeles has a goal of 80 percent electric by 2025 — it already has the largest municipal electric-battery fleet in the country (with EVs making up half of their fleet). According to city officials, the EVs will save taxpayers about 40 percent in operating costs.

Their guidebook (PDF) provides case studies, existing local policies and more information and resources for furthering PEV readiness.

Taking these steps to accelerate the adoption of EVs will not only improve health and air quality and save money on gasoline that can circulate through the local economy — it also will create the necessary infrastructure for EV autonomous vehicles. Meanwhile, electric car-sharing programs being piloted in Sacramento and Los Angeles are also playing an important role in providing equitable, low-carbon transportation options.

Funding opportunities

Last session, the Legislature approved Assembly Bill 1613 (Committee on Budget, Chapter 370) to give the Air Resources Board $363 million in cap-and-trade revenues for low-carbon transportation projects. The funding would be allocated to provide:

  • $133 million to the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project to hand out rebates to individuals, nonprofits, government entities and business owners to buy clean-fuel vehicles.
  • $80 million to light-duty equity projects, with at least $60 million for the Enhanced Fleet Modernization Program (EFMP) and EFMP Plus-up (car scrap and replace, with incentives up to $5,000 for plug-in hybrid or zero-emission vehicles) and up to $20 million for other light-duty equity projects.
  • $150 million to heavy-duty vehicle and off-road equipment projects.

Volkswagen’s settlement with the state of California (for installing secret software to cheat exhaust emissions tests) requires the auto manufacturer to invest $800 million in ZEV projects in California over a 10-year period. Eligible projects include installation of charging infrastructure, consumer-awareness campaigns and investments in projects such as car-sharing programs that will increase ZEV access for all consumers, including those in lower-income and disadvantaged communities. 

Reaching our destination

California’s 2025 and 2050 goals for changing the way people drive are ambitious but local governments can help pave the way by implementing strategies that result in economic and environmental benefits. The power to succeed rests with local governments and community members acting at the local level — with state support — to create the climate-smart, resource-efficient infrastructure that improves mobility and our communities’ health and prosperity.

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