By Andrew Cohen
Ethan Elkind and Ted Lamm admit that their goal is ambitious. But from their vantage point, 100-percent consumer adoption of zero-emission vehicles will be essential for California to reach its legislated climate goals.
“Those climate goals won’t be met without significant progress reducing emissions from transportation,” says Elkind, climate program director at Berkeley Law’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment. “It’s the biggest source of emissions in the state, almost 50 percent when you factor in refineries and fuel transport, and combustion engines are also responsible for conventional pollutants that harm public health and lead to smog.”
Per California’s Global Warming Solutions Act and gubernatorial executive orders, California is aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. By 2050, the goal is to be 80 percent below. State law also requires electricity generation—currently at 35 percent from renewable sources like solar and wind—to reach 60 percent by 2030.
Elkind and Lamm, the center’s climate program research fellow, co-wrote a new report that examines the main barriers to achieving full ZEV adoption and proposes solutions to surmount them.
Their report resulted from an April convening with regulators, advocates, experts, and other industry stakeholders. It details how a complete transition away from gasoline-powered internal combustion engines would affect drivers, the workforce, utilities, automakers, charging companies, and other stakeholders.
Barriers include a weak business model for automakers and dealers to produce and sell ZEV models that are competitive on price, range, and performance; a lack of public charging infrastructure to meet current and projected demand; lagging ZEV public awareness to inform purchasing decisions; and insufficient, inefficient, and uncertain public incentives.
“We need battery prices—and therefore vehicle prices—to continue coming down to the point where longer-range, affordable vehicles of all types are available to consumers,” Elkind says. That will only happen, he adds, “with ongoing investment and production, which is in turn dependent on demand and support for the industry.”
Speeding up the process
Among its proposed solutions to eliminate the need to burn gasoline and diesel, the report lists several ways to spark quicker ZEV adoption. They include a funding package to deploy needed charging infrastructure through 2025; new electricity rates for site hosts to minimize fuel and operation costs; better long-term incentives for ZEV purchases and infrastructure; and education campaigns for the public and auto dealers.
“We need improved and stable incentives to boost demand,” Lamm says. “That means steady tax credits and bolstered rebates primarily, which will require more public dollars. Secondly, we need much better charging infrastructure. Drivers should be able to charge at work if they can’t charge at home, or in nearby public fast-charger plazas, akin to a gas station model. They also need high-speed chargers along major interstates in order to make long-distance trips.”
California and some countries around the world are considering phase-outs or bans on the sale of new internal combustion-engine passenger vehicles by a given date. Elkind and Lamm believe 2040 could be a realistic goal in California, so long as the state incentivizes continued innovation and investment.
“China is ramping up its investments to bring down costs and dominate the global electric vehicle market,” Lamm notes. “Policymakers will be encouraged to set this target if they see that it’s feasible and we’re getting close … through more vehicle models and sufficient charging infrastructure.”
California’s first-in-the-nation ZEV program requires manufacturers to sell an increasing proportion of such vehicles in the state over time. Manufacturers can obtain credits based on their percentage of ZEVs out of their total number passenger cars and light-duty trucks sold in California.
Governor Jerry Brown aims to have 5 million ZEVs on state roadways by 2030—midway through this year Californians were driving about 420,000—and 250,000 public chargers by 2025.
“The ultimate goal is for California to pioneer the technologies and policies needed to achieve a zero-carbon economy, with zero-emission vehicles being a critical part of that mix,” Elkind says. “As California invests, the costs of these vehicles will come down, allowing other states and countries to be more willing to promote them.”