NRDC calls for investments leading to 100 mpg fleet

on Sep20

The report said Congress should extend tax credits for electric vehicles before manufacturers reach their caps in total sales of plug-in electric vehicle sales.

UPDATED: 9/19/17 4:24 pm ET – adds comment, corrected

Editor’s note: Earlier versions of this story misstated the names of Roland Hwang and the Natural Resources Defense Council. 

WASHINGTON — Sharp reductions in vehicle use, a tripling of automobile fuel economy, widespread use of electric vehicles and greater substitution of alternative fuels can help the U.S. hit aggressive international targets for reducing carbon emissions by the middle of the century, according to a clean-energy blueprint​ issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The environmental group says the climate-change goals can be met through energy efficiency and renewable fuels at much lower cost than predicted by those who focused on greater use of nuclear power, biomass and carbon capture sequestration.

The group projects that the transportation sector will spend about $115 billion more on electric and hybrid vehicles and trucks annually during the next 35 years if its clean-energy plan is followed, annually saving almost $200 billion in net energy costs at the start and reaching nearly $500 billion by 2050.

Scientists agree the U.S. and other developed countries must reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least 80 percent below 1990 levels to stave off the worst impacts of global warming. Under the Obama administration, the U.S. set an intermediate emissions reduction target of 26 to 28 percent by 2025, relative to 2005 levels.

The NRDC report, “America’s Clean Energy Frontier: A Pathway to a Safer Climate Future,” was released three months after President Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement, under which nearly 200 nations voluntarily committed to help limit global average temperature increase to less than 2 degrees. The administration is also considering whether to loosen fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards for automobiles and light trucks.

The report recommends that the federal government maintain the existing fuel-economy standards and strengthen them in future years by at least 5 percent per year, following the trajectory of the current standards for the 2012-25 model years.

Among the report’s other auto-related recommendations:

    • California and other states following its low-emission vehicle standards should strengthen the program for getting zero-emission vehicles into the market.

    • Congress should extend tax credits for electric vehicles before manufacturers reach their caps in total sales of plug-in electric vehicle sales.

    • Utilities should partner with cities and states to expand charging infrastructure for electric vehicles and treat EV loads fairly in their pricing.

    • Cities should create walkable neighborhoods, improve transit options and work with on-demand transportation network companies such as Lyft to reduce the need for personal vehicles.

    Energy costs

    The NRDC said it’s “80 by 50” plan costs only 1 percent more than the U.S. currently spends on energy, but delivers seven times the benefits ($176 billion per year) in terms of costs and impacts from extreme weather events. The additional expense comes from more upfront capital investment in clean and efficient vehicles, power generation and appliances, but the fuel savings from technology upgrades pay for themselves over time, it said.

    “The United States can cost-effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions with proven clean energy solutions, most of which are deployed at commercial scale today,” authors Vignesh Gowrishankar and Amanda Levin wrote.

    Their analysis, conducted in partnership with consulting group Energy + Environmental Economics, says strategic investments in clean vehicles, energy efficiency, renewable energy and a stronger electricity grid are needed to deal with the looming threat of climate change. It urges all levels of government to create the policy framework, including performance-based standards for energy use and carbon pollution, and market structures to unleash clean-energy investments.

    U.S. energy demand, for example, can be reduced 40 percent by quick pursuit of energy efficiency improvements in vehicles, buildings, factories and appliances.

    “The big news is we don’t need to wait for big breakthroughs in technology. But we need to go fast and to go big,” Roland Hwang, co-director of NRDC’s transportation program, said in a conference call with reporters.

    The NRDC predicts automobile efficiency will reach 95 mpg for gasoline-powered passenger vehicles by 2050 if fuel-saving technologies continue to improve. The entire vehicle fleet will have gasoline-equivalent fuel economy of more than 100 mpg if electric cars are included, while annual average passenger vehicle miles traveled would drop by about 25 percent.

    The report also predicts that electricity produced mostly from renewable resources could supply up to 45 percent of U.S. energy needs, spurring the displacement of fossil fuels in transportation and other sectors of the economy. Its primary scenario has 60 percent of passenger vehicle miles traveled powered by electricity in 2050. Making that happen will require accelerated sales of new electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, expanding from 1 percent of annual sales in 2015 to 4 percent by 2020, about 30 percent by 2030 and nearly 85 percent by 2050. EV and plug-in hybrid sales are expected to reach 1 million by 2023, and those vehicles will account for 70 percent of the light-duty vehicle stock in 2050 under its baseline scenario.

    The model shows energy demand for light-duty vehicles reduced almost 75 percent by mid-century, with nearly half the improvement from vehicle fuel efficiency and the rest from reduced distance traveled and electrification. The drop in energy consumption will reduce emissions by 173 million tons of carbon.

    Widespread electrification, in turn, will require a significant investment in modernizing the electricity grid, the NRDC said.

    If implementation of clean energy technology is delayed or insufficient, the NRDC said, the U.S. could fall short of the 2050 emissions goal by 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide (about one-fifth of the necessary reductions), or more, at a cost of about $120 billion per year.

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