Despite sharp growth in electric cars, vehicle emissions keep rising
By Julie Cart, CalMatters
It is tempting to employ any number of puns when considering California’s transportation future: The state is at a crossroads, its policies could run out of gas, dangerous curves lie ahead.
More than half the nation’s clean cars reside in California garages and driveways, with sales making wild leaps—a nearly 81% increase in registration of new electric vehicles between 2017 and 2018, according to the California New Car Dealers Association. Yet planet-warming pollution from transportation has been rising, amounting to as much as half of the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions. Unless California can quickly reverse that trend, the ability to meet long-term climate goals is in doubt.
The state’s stunning goal of electrifying all vehicles that move us and the goods we need—think of buses, trucking, rail freight, ships and airplanes—requires disruption of a sector whose last game-changing innovation was high-speed rail in the mid-1960s (one California struggles with even today).
Dan Sperling, who sits on the Air Resources Board and is the founding director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, comes down squarely on the “we haven’t done enough” side of the equation.
Consumers tell researchers they don’t understand how electric cars operate and, critically, are confused about the status of state and federal incentive programs that bring down the cost, which ranges from $25,000 for a subcompact Smart car to $90,00 or more for an uber-luxe Tesla. The only hybrid vehicles eligible for rebates are plug-in electrics.
Customers now have nearly 50 electric models to choose from, and automakers are cranking out clean versions of the types of vehicles Americans currently want—SUVs and pickup trucks. But the batteries these vehicles carry may demand more electricity than the grid may have to sell, depending on what time of day consumers charge their cars. Power consumption from electric vehicles in the United States has nearly doubled in the last two years, a thirst that will only grow.
Another word about batteries: Lofty expectations could be cruelly dashed. Clean vehicles may not be powered by fossil fuel, but they also may not be as green as we would like. Critics point out that some of the minerals in the current generation of lithium-ion batteries are pulled from the ground in undemocratic and often authoritarian countries. Sometimes by child labor.
Tesla executives recently predicted an international shortage of battery minerals, including nickel, cobalt and copper, prompting concerns about the cost of batteries just as electric vehicles are in greater worldwide demand.
And when they reach the end of their lives, batteries can be nasty, leaky things that make safe disposal a challenge. It is difficult to remove costly lithium when batteries are recycled, for example, necessitating more mining and problematic disposal, some environmentalists say.
Gov. Gavin Newsom is likely to embrace the continuing transformation of transportation, Sperling said. “He likes technology, entrepreneurship, the private sector, … partnerships.”
But right now, “we don’t have any compelling, high-profile initiatives that are transparently obvious,” he said. “It’s a problem.”
Read More at CalMatters