GM proposes nationwide zero-emissions vehicle sales mandate
By TOM KRISHER
AP Auto Writer
Friday, October 26
DETROIT (AP) — General Motors says it will ask the federal government for one national gas mileage standard, including a requirement that a percentage of auto companies’ sales be zero-emissions vehicles.
Mark Reuss, GM’s executive vice president of product development, said the company will propose that a certain percentage of nationwide sales be made up of vehicles that run on electricity or hydrogen fuel cells.
“A national zero emissions program will drive the scale and infrastructure investments needed to allow the U.S. to lead the way to a zero emissions future,” Reuss said.
GM, the nation’s largest automaker, will spell out the request Friday in written comments on a Trump administration proposal to roll back Obama-era fuel economy and emissions standards, freezing them at 2020 levels instead of gradually making them tougher.
Under a regulation finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency at the end of the Obama administration, the fleet of new automobiles would have to get 36 miles per gallon (15 kilometers per liter) by 2025, 10 miles per gallon (4 kilometers per liter) higher than the current requirement.
But the Trump administration’s preferred plan is to freeze the standards starting in 2021. Administration officials say waiving the tougher fuel efficiency requirements would make vehicles more affordable, which would get safer cars into consumer hands more quickly.
GM on Thursday said it doesn’t support the freeze, but wants flexibility to deal with consumers’ shift from cars to less-efficient SUVs and trucks.
Its proposed requirement would be based on current standards now required in California and nine other states. Under those rules, GM must sell a minimum of around 2,200 fully electric vehicles in California this year, or about 1.1 percent of the roughly 200,000 cars, trucks and SUVs that it normally sells in the state each year.
California sets the requirements based on a complex formula that considers the total number of vehicles sold by an automaker and gives credits for fully electric vehicle sales and partial credits for plug-in gas-electric hybrid vehicles. Credits can be banked or sold to other automakers that need them.
GM’s proposal would set lower zero-emissions vehicle requirements than California, but spread them to the entire nation. The requirements would gradually increase until 2025.
Reuss said GM’s proposal is a starting point for discussions on one set of national fuel efficiency and zero-emissions vehicle standards.
“We want really one national set of standards,” he said. “Engineering to multiple standards is very costly and frankly, unnecessary.”
Federal and California gas mileage standards have been the same since 2010. But if President Donald Trump’s administration ends up relaxing the requirements, it could create two standards, one for California and states that follow it, and another for the rest of the nation.
Trump could challenge California’s power to set its own standards, granted under the Clean Air Act, and that could set up a lengthy legal battle since California has pledged to defend its quest to reduce pollution.
“I think the facts, the science and the legal weight is behind California and its efforts to continue to be able to set its own standards if necessary,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Wednesday.
Reuss said GM doesn’t want a long legal battle. “That just leads to a bunch of uncertainty,” he said, urging all parties to reach an agreement. He said the nation would be better served if companies could spend money on electric vehicle research rather than designing different vehicles for California.
Environmental groups still are likely to oppose any changes in the standards. Daniel Becker of the Safe Climate Campaign, an environmental advocacy group, said automakers like GM want the federal government to set standards rather than California because it’s easier to lobby for loopholes in Washington.
“The auto companies want to be able to make a small number of electric vehicles and a large number of gas-guzzling SUVs and other trucks instead of complying with the existing mileage and emissions rules,” Becker said.
The deadline for written comments on the Trump administration plan are due Friday, with a final decision expected in March.
GM, which offers the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt with 238 miles of range, and the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt, has invested millions to develop battery technology so additional electric vehicle sales nationwide would help its bottom line. The company has promised to introduce 20 new all-electric vehicles globally by 2023.
Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington, D.C., and Jonathan J. Cooper in Sacramento, California, contributed to this report.
Spread of self-driving cars could cause more pollution – unless the electric grid transforms radically
October 25, 2018
Director, Institute for Sustainable Energy, and Professor of Practice, Questrom School of Business, Boston University
Research Fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Boston University
Graduate Student Researcher, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Peter Fox-Penner is an academic affiliate of the Brattle Group and Chief Strategy Officer for Energy Impact Partners, which owns interests in a number of clean energy firms listed on EIP’s website. He currently sits on the advisory board of EOS energy storage. Peter is also director of the Institute of Sustainable Energy at Boston University, which receives funding from the Hewlett, Barr, Mitchell, and Energy Foundations as well as Bank of America and National Grid.
Jennifer Hatch works at the Institute of Sustainable Energy at Boston University, which receives funding from the Hewlett, Barr, Mitchell, and Energy Foundations as well as Bank of America and National Grid.
Will Gorman does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Boston University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
The world is on the cusp of dramatic changes in the ways people own, operate and power their means of transportation.
Known as the “three revolutions,” a term coined by UC Davis transportation professor Daniel Sperling, the new trends are: electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles and sharing-oriented business models (think Uber and Lyft). Optimistically, these revolutions could make our cities a dreamscape of walkable urbanism that will reduce accidents to near zero and make more space for bikes, trees, pedestrians and small businesses while emitting no carbon emissions.
However, because these new technologies aim to dramatically reduce transportation costs, many people are concerned that more people will use autos to get around and the future will be filled with worse traffic and congestion. That could mean that consumption of fossil fuels will increase – bad outcomes for society’s sustainability goals.
We’ve analyzed a whole body of literature on autonomous vehicles and found that autonomous vehicles in particular will likely greatly increase overall transportation demand: With more options available, more people will take advantage of these autonomous vehicles and ride services. Whether there is a net increase or decrease in pollution from higher energy consumption, however, is less obvious.
The key factors affecting carbon emissions from these emerging transportation trends are whether vehicles are electric or use conventional internal combustion engine technology, and how quickly the electric grid can “decarbonize,” or generate power with no net carbon emissions.
Powering autos with the electric grid
Since 2016, transportation has been the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. As our electricity mix becomes less carbon-intensive and transportation demand grows, transportation will make up an increasing proportion of our carbon emissions if the U.S. continues to depend upon a system fueled by internal combustion engines and gasoline.
But how does our country realistically plan for a system that both meets the energy demands of our future transportation system and reduces our carbon emissions?
Our recent paper aimed to answer these questions. Our goal was first to incorporate the big but often overlooked trends in transportation to forecast how much transportation demand will grow. Second, we sought to create reasonable estimates for what is required to enable a clean, renewable and dependable electricity system in the years to come.
We reviewed both academic and industry research regarding future personal vehicle sales, energy efficiency improvements and total vehicle miles traveled as more people use autonomous vehicles.
This research allowed us to build a model that projects the number of electric and autonomous vehicles that could be on U.S. roads in the future and their related energy and emissions.
Our study estimates that by 2050 the net increase in electricity demand from converting the light duty vehicle fleet to electric, autonomous vehicles will be between 13 percent and 26 percent more than today’s total electricity demand. In the best case, where 95 percent of the electric sector decarbonizes by that time, this scenario would result in a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of up to 80 percent from 2015 light duty vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.
A few interesting implications follow from of our greenhouse gas emission results. The first is that the rise in ride-hailing services and autonomy – assuming it is 100 percent electric – doesn’t drive significant increases in carbon emissions.
In our “stress case,” we assumed dramatic increases in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) due to autonomous vehicles, slow improvements in vehicle energy efficiency and limited transportation redesign. In this scenario, there was virtually no difference in greenhouse gas emissions compared to other cases with more conscientious policy planning, including VMT taxes, increased public transportation and other measures.
This counterintuitive outcome might make a little more sense by diving into the results. In comparing different scenarios, we found that emissions are more than twice as high in a “low EV” scenario of 50 percent EVs in the fleet by 2050, compared to a “high EV” scenario of 86 percent EVs in the fleet by 2050.
This reflects how much more the shift in electric vehicles affects transportation pollution relative to other major trends in transportation. Even if there are more miles driven from autonomous vehicles, if they are electric and the grid becomes increasingly cleaner, then emissions won’t rise dramatically compared to the country’s current course.
Another takeaway that follows from this result is that society can only achieve dramatic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by making the electric grid dramatically less polluting.
Our study describes what is possible by 2050, and more or less what we believe we need to do in order to ensure the shift to autonomous vehicles and widespread ride-hailing services doesn’t lead to big spikes in pollution.
Of course, transitioning the grid to 95 percent to 100 percent clean energy won’t be easy; currently only 37 percent is from wind, solar, hydropower and nuclear. Nor will ensuring that almost all of our light duty vehicles are electric. That’s partly because EVs are not yet cost-competitive with internal combustion engine vehicles. Also, there are a number of infrastructure challenges to updating the grid for a major shift to electric transportation.
The good news for utilities is that the increase in electricity demand from electric vehicles will provide a positive, but not overwhelming amount of growth for electric utilities – growth that is welcome given the stagnant or declining revenues for electric utilities the last decade. This should come as a welcome opportunity and could create a strong ally as EV ownership grows.
Though our results represent time frames far out into the future, the policies that will lead us there are being written today. Our study suggests that in the near term, rapid and complete transport electrification and a carbon-free grid should remain the cornerstones of transport decarbonization policy. However, long-term policy should also aim to ensure AVs are electric and mitigate autonomous vehicles’ potential to increase driving mileage, urban and suburban sprawl, and traffic congestion.
And policymakers should not delay. The rise of Uber and Lyft have already dramatically upended business models that have existed for decades, and autonomous vehicle technology, which still has a few years to go before replacing human drivers, is already impacting cities around the country. The question now is whether these trends will reduce or increase our country’s emissions.
Foundations are making climate change a bigger priority
October 25, 2018
Research Fellow, American University
Morten Wendelbo does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Twenty-nine mostly U.S.-based philanthropic institutions, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation plan to spend an unprecedented total of US$4 billion over the next five years addressing climate change.
But what exactly can charitable efforts on that scale do to slow the pace of global warming and help people cope with its consequences? Based on my research in disaster preparedness and response, I believe that although philanthropy amounts to only a small part of climate change spending worldwide, givers can make a big difference to those already suffering the consequences.
Causes vs. consequences
There are two main priorities for all climate-related spending, no matter the source.
One is forward-looking. It has to do with actions and research that might avert climate change on the most disastrous scale possible.
The other addresses what’s happening now. The effects of a warming world are increasingly becoming a matter of reality, and not just hypothetical concerns about what might occur in the future. There are people who have already lost their homes, livelihoods or loved ones because of the changing climate.
There will be more of them in the years ahead – probably including hundreds of millions of people in countries like Bangladesh who can least cope with the changes. According to the World Bank, climate change and poverty are now so intertwined that they can only be solved together.
Philanthropists also have a third climate-spending priority to consider: reducing collateral damage.
Actions to curb climate change may have unintended consequences that hit specific groups of people hardest. Some of the policies and technologies that can help slow down climate change by reducing carbon emissions are bound to create a few losers even if the winners are far more numerous.
Charity, activism, advocacy and research
Climate philanthropy may be ramping up, but it isn’t new. Donors and foundations have been playing a role in the fight against climate change for decades, albeit on a smaller scale.
Some of the foundations engaged in climate philanthropy spend significant sums on efforts to increase public awareness of the problem, sometimes through media coverage of global warming and helping develop better policies, such as the climate bill that cleared the House of Representatives – but not the Senate – during the Obama administration. There are foundations backing efforts to make the economy more equitable while it becomes less fossil-fueled as well.
In some cases, philanthropic dollars flow toward developing better technologies that might lower the impact of humans on the climate but are not getting enough funding from other sources such as the Gates Foundation’s grants to develop technology to lift subsistence farmers out of poverty, which is one of the groups most vulnerable to climate change.
And dozens of foundations have declared that they will no longer invest any money from their endowments in companies that extract or produce oil, gas and coal. By refusing to own stocks and bonds in those industries, they are encouraging big corporations to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that stoke global warming.
Bigger pools of money
Even so, charitable donations constitute a small share of the private-sector money addressing global warming. Donors can and do, for example, simply invest in companies that are deploying solar power or offshore wind turbines.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, along with other billionaire philanthropists like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and entrepreneur Richard Branson, created a $1 billion fund to back startups working on climate change solutions. Gates serves as the chairman of this private company.
Indeed, the costs of wind power and solar energy have fallen sharply over the past decade, making them far more competitive and sparking swift growth in the amount of power derived from renewable sources around the world and especially in China, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization that tracks this data.
Bill Gates describes what he sees as the five ‘grand challenges’ for addressing climate change.
And many donors support political candidates who pledge to take action on climate change – as the billionaire Tom Steyer and his wife Kathryn Taylor regularly do in addition to their climate-inspired giving.
How significant has climate giving become? While $4 billion may sound like a lot of money, it still represents a small fraction of 1 percent of the $410 billion U.S. individuals, estates, corporations and foundations gave in 2017 to nonprofits, faith-based organizations and other charities, according to the Giving USA 2018 report. More than half of this giving supports religious activities, education, social services, health care and medical research.
Even though climate change by most accounts is the greatest threat to human health, philanthropy also still accounts for only a small percentage of all grants from the nation’s foundations, which disbursed nearly $67 billion in 2017.
Worldwide, spending on climate change, coincidentally, also amounts to about $410 billion a year, from governments, businesses and charities.
Philanthropy also contributes only a sliver of this climate change funding coming from all sources. Governments, even after the U.S. backed out of its commitments under the Paris climate deal, are by far the largest source.
The European Union alone provided $23 billion to developing countries in 2016 to combat climate change, and it plans to spend at least a full 20 percent of its budget on climate change in the future, which comes to nearly $37 billion each year by 2020. Many intergovernmental financial institutions, such as the African Development Bank, also support the use of green energy technology in low-income countries.
An important role
That does not mean climate giving is insignificant. It does mean, I believe, that philanthropists must carefully target their relatively modest grants and investments to maximize their impact.
Rather than adding a few billion dollars into the total pool of climate funding, philanthropists can heavily fund a few specific areas that are often neglected. The biggest difference climate philanthropy can make, in my view, is by helping the most vulnerable people around the world cope with climate change.
There are 800 million people in developing countries who depend on subsistence farming to make a living, and many of the 143 million people who the World Bank estimates will become climate refugees by 2050 are subsistence farmers.
That is how the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which does not rank among the leaders in climate-related giving, is proceeding. It sat out of the $4 billion collective philanthropic pledge but it is making grants to help farmers with small plots of land in the poorest countries like Tanzania and Niger cope with “diseases, pests and drought from a changing climate.”
Editor’s note: The Gates Foundation is a funder of The Conversation Media Group.