California Strives to Remain Ahead in Zero Emission Vehicles

September 26, 2012 | 3:31 pm
Don Anair
Deputy Director & Research Director, Clean Transportation

California leads the nation in plug-in car sales, but the state isn’t resting on its laurels to maintain dominance in the emerging market for zero tailpipe emission vehicles.

A draft 2012 ZEV Action Plan, the result of Governor Brown’s Executive Order issued in March, was released last week by an interagency working group. The plan identifies strategies and actions California state agencies can take to meet the goal of having 1.5 million battery electric, fuel cell, and plug-in hybrid vehicles (ZEVs) on California’s roads by 2025.

To get  input on the plan from outside stakeholders, the Governor’s office is holding a summit on Friday focused on how to successfully expand the ZEV market.

The plan wisely recognizes that continued coordination between government and the private sector is key to boosting broader adoption of zero-emission vehicles.

There’s a lot of momentum right now for advanced vehicles, with more and more manufacturers announcing new plug-in models and, in the not too distant future, plans to get increasing numbers of fuel cell vehicles on the road. But much work remains to be done. Meeting clean air standards in the state and climate reduction goals (transportation makes up about 40 percent of California greenhouse gas emissions) depends on a rapid transformation of our cars and trucks. That’s why it’s encouraging to see continued leadership from the Governor and California state agencies.

When it comes to powering our transportation with cleaner energy sources like renewable electricity and hydrogen, we are essentially in the opening mile of a marathon. Developing a ZEV Action Plan for the next decade is a great way to keep up the momentum and make sure we are on track to finish AND win the race.

Putting the action plan into action

The draft plan is comprehensive, covering infrastructure planning to consumer awareness. Of course, creating the plan is only the first step in achieving the goals of 1.5 million ZEVs on California’s roads by 2025. The plan also has to be implemented. Below are some key components in the draft plan that will be especially important to accomplish in the coming years.

  • Education and Awareness – Providing customers with the information they need to choose the right utility rate plans and making electric vehicle charging costs transparent are important, as I detailed in my post Are Californians paying too much to Charge their Plug-in Vehicles?  Knowing how much you save on fuel by driving an electric vehicle can be a strong motivator for choosing a plug-in EV at the dealership. Increasing availability of ZEVs in car sharing and rental car fleets, identified in the action plan, is also a great way to give more people experience with ZEVs.

    Increasing the number of plug-in electric vehicles in car sharing fleets, one goal identified in the draft ZEV Action Plan, is an opportunity to make more consumers aware of and familiar with the technology. (Picture taken at EV Week)

  • Freight Electrification – The  recent Vision for Clean Air released by the California Air Resources Board clearly indicates the need for advances in off-road technologies such as cargo handling equipment used at ports and railyards, as well as zero emission trains and other freight movement systems (electric truck lanes for example).  Support is needed from California research institutions and state agencies such as CalTrans, the Energy Commission, and the Air Resources Board specifically for addressing the needs and challenges of moving the freight transportation system to zero emissions. These are big investments with long-term benefits, the types of projects that need state-level leadership and coordination.
  • Coordinating ZEV Research – Continued research is required to answer key questions. Are current utility rate options sufficient to meet the needs of EV owners and utilities?  Where is public charging and refueling infrastructure needed most and how much is needed to support the expanding market? What are the best opportunities for zero emission freight and what are the critical barriers to overcome? These and other questions are important research areas that California universities are well suited to tackle.

One thing that struck me is the need for further developing the heavy-duty vehicle and freight electrification goals and acknowledging the importance of implementing existing clean vehicle policies. A couple of additions could strengthen the plan, including.

  • Set Targets for Medium and Heavy Duty Trucks – The executive order sets a goal of 1.5 million zero emission vehicles by 2025. But the light duty and heavy-duty vehicle markets face different challenges. Setting a specific goal for heavy-duty vehicles can help focus on the needs of businesses, trucking fleets, and truck technology developers in moving towards greater adoption and development of zero tailpipe emission vehicles.
  • Implement California’s Clean Vehicles Policies – California has a long history leading the nation and the world in clean vehicle policies, reflected in the Low Emission Vehicle Program, Zero Emission Vehicle Program, Clean Fuels Outlet, Low Carbon Fuel Standard, and incentive programs funded by AB118 just to name a few.  Carrying out these important policies should be part of the state’s action plan.

I’ll be keeping an eye on the completion of the action plan, so stay tuned for future updates ……