Is California Ushering in the Electrification of All Transportation?

Mary Nichols

The transition to an electrified transportation system continues to be led by California regulators and utilities. In early 2018, Governor Brown announced a new target to get to five million electric vehicles by 2030. In his last year, the Governor’s Executive Order aimed at accelerating infrastructure development and implementing a $2.5 billion investment plan to bring 200 hydrogen stations, 250,000 public charging stations, and more fast chargers than gas stations to California by 2025. At VerdeXchange 2018, CARB Chair Mary Nichols moderated a conversation between Québec Transportation Minister Pierre Moreau, California Energy Commissioner David Hochschild, California Clean Energy Fund Director Danny Kennedy, and Southern California Edison’s Laura Renger on the prospects for zero emission vehicles in 2018. You can click here to watch the entire panel conversation:

Mary Nichols: Countries around the world and global auto manufacturers are announcing bold plans to end production of gas and diesel vehicles in the coming years. Emboldened by new funding sources, California leaders continue to push to achieve ambitious zero-emission vehicle targets, and we’re working to increase renewable energy sources for those vehicles. 

Declining battery prices and greater public awareness are on the horizon. But are we on the pathway to electrifying everything, as electric vehicles become part of the home energy system? Is a tipping point about to occur for existing grid infrastructure? 

California has been a leader for many years on clean and electric transportation, and 2018 will be no different. Governor Brown announced a new target to get to five million electric vehicles by 2030. He’s issued an executive order to accelerate infrastructure development and a $2.5 billion investment plan to bring 200 hydrogen stations, 250,000 public charging stations, and more fast chargers than gas stations to California by 2025.

Also this year, we’ll be amending our Low Carbon Fuel Standards and our cap-and-trade program, both of which are implemented by the Air Resources Board, to achieve better emissions reductions through 2030. We’re looking at a zero-emission bus mandate that would require all new buses to be electric or fuel-cell by 2030. And we’re talking about concepts for the next round of light-duty vehicle standards, which would come into effect after the 2025 model year.

We have tools in place to make the transition to electric and zero-emission transportation fast and beneficial: a commitment to incentives, infrastructure development, and an outreach campaign through Veloz. If we put these all together, we could make transportation the market-winning option from now on. But it’s not quite that simple. Minister Moreau, give us a rundown on your most recent efforts on clean transportation (besides cap and trade.)

Pierre Moreau: The government of Québec recently released a very ambitious energy policy called Energy Policy 2030. It has five main targets: reduce our use of oil products by 40 percent; stop using thermal coal entirely starting now; increase our bio energy by 50 percent and our renewable energy by 25 percent; and become 50 percent more energy efficient.

In order to reduce our use of oil, our first task is to reduce its use in the transportation sector. The transportation sector in Québec burned up 75 percent of all oil use for energy in the province, and is responsible for 41 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions. The government of Québec is strongly investing in transport electrification, and the action plan aims to make Québec a world leader in electricity-powered transportation and a driving force in sustainable transport.

Our goal includes bringing the number of rechargeable electric and hybrid vehicles in the province up to 100,000 by 2020. (That figure is much smaller than California’s target, but our population is 8 million people, while yours is 40 million.) 

Québec is already the province that sells the most electric and rechargeable vehicles. We launched our first network of public charging stations in March 2012. By December 31, 2017, the province had more than 1,800 electric charging stations.

We are working with Le Circuit électrique, or Electric Circuit, which is coordinated by Hydro Québec, the government-owned corporation responsible for hydroelectricity in the province. We would like to double the number of stations by 2020, bringing them to around 3,000 or more. Tesla Motors also has its own charging stations in the province, which would add to the current government-owned network. 

We’re really pushing Québec vehicle owners to go green as part of our fight against climate change. In that vein, we recently adopted the ZEV standard for zero-emission vehicles—a powerful incentive for increasing the number of clean models on offer in Québec.

A lot of people in Québec are ready to purchase zero-emission vehicles, but the options are limited. That is why Québec has become the first Canadian province—and one of the first North American states—to set a standard that will help consumers gain access to a vast selection of rechargeable electric and hybrid vehicles. The law provides that car manufacturers have to accumulate carbon credits according to the number of clean vehicles sold in Québec. This is another major step forward in the fight against climate change.

We also have a pilot project with Toyota Canada. Toyota will provide 50 hydrogen cars—the Mirai—to the government. We will establish two refueling stations, one in Montreal and one in Québec, which are more than 250 kilometers apart. The Mirai has a range of about 400 kilometers, so the pilot will help us see whether it’s a viable option for electric cars. Transition énergétique Québec (Québec Electric Transition), a government-owned body, is developing the pilot project with Toyota.

Finally, just yesterday, I was at the Los Angeles International Airport to assist with the first transpacific flight with one of Qantas Airlines’ 787 Boeing Dreamliner powered by biofuel that was produced with technology developed by Agrisoma, a Québec-based company also present at VerdeXchange. Their biofuel, made from the carinata seed, produces 50 percent of the emissions of greenhouse gases. I’ve asked Steven Fabijanski, who developed this technology, about using this invention in trucking. In Québec, 99 percent of the trucking industry uses diesel. If we could switch to carinata biofuel, it would be a great improvement as far as greenhouse gas emissions are concerned. 

We in Québec believe that the time has come to connect the consumer to renewable energy, and give the transport industry—no matter if it’s truck, bus, or plane—widespread access to bioenergy. Québec strongly believes the solution to our energy challenges are in the hands of those who are willing to innovate. 

The future of the green economy requires vision and daring, and we need to support companies specializing in clean technology so that they thrive. We need to encourage natural partnerships, like the one between Agrisoma and Qantas Airlines, because they help us develop new ideas for greener energy.

Mary Nichols: David, your office at the California Energy Commission recently put out a report describing the benefits of reaching five million zero-emission vehicles in California by 2030. Can you share your perspective on the benefits of electric transportation, and why you’re devoting your spare time to being the chair of Veloz? 

David Hochschild: This transition to a clean transportation future is one we have to make. But we have to remember, first and foremost, this is about the health of our kids. Don’t get sidetracked with the sexy new Tesla model: At the end of the day, this is a health issue. 

California is a giant incubator for clean energy technologies. The modern wind industry and the modern solar industry were both born in California and spread globally. And we’re winning on that front: The majority of new energy generation capacity added domestically and globally last year came from renewables. We have incredible muscle to bring clean transportation technologies mainstream.

Recently, the governor came out with a bold new goal to get to five million zero-emission vehicles by 2030. My prediction is that we’re not just going to hit that goal; we’re going to surpass it. But it’s going to take work at every level.

We need cash incentives, we need leadership, and we need a big, bold campaign—like “got milk?”—for electric vehicles. That was the basis for the formation of the new nonprofit Veloz, which is going to roll out a public outreach and communications campaign similar to the “Flex Your Power” campaign during the energy crisis, and the water conservation campaign during the drought. It’s time to do that for clean transportation.

How do costs come down? It’s not complicated. There are three factors: innovation, automation, and scale—and it’s mostly scale. Right now we’re in the Valley of Death: there are all these models of zero-emission vehicles being made, but they’re being made in small volume. Manufacturers today are stapling $3-6,000 on every clean vehicle that goes out the door of the factory, because it’s in small volume. We need to get that to big volumes. And California has done this again and again.

The iPhone was invented 10 years ago. Last year, Apple manufactured its 1 billionth iPhone. When we get things to scale, they can become ubiquitous. We have to have an expansive sense of possibility as we approach this challenge. Having long-term stable policy is a critical piece; it begins with policy, but it doesn’t end there.

Mary Nichols: Laura, Southern California Edison recently put out a very bold and comprehensive document: an electrification pathway for California that would see seven million EVs on our roads by 2030—more than the governor’s goal—along with vast new amounts of renewable energy and increasing electrification of buildings. This was a vision that was designed to rally and focus people on the potential for electrification, and it got a pretty powerful response. Describe SCE’s vision for the future of clean transportation in California.

Laura Renger: The pathway was developed as a comprehensive holistic plan for achieving our 2030 goals. It’s the most cost-effective plan for Californians. In addition to seven million electric vehicles, it calls for 80 percent carbon-free renewable energy by 2030, as well as for one-third of our buildings to be electrified. 

The pathway is meant to speak not just to policy, which is important, but to hearts and minds as well. We need our customers to understand that we’re doing this for our health, and that when we electrify our transportation sector, everybody benefits. These aren’t just cars for rich people. These aren’t just investments for those who like to have the newest iPhone or toys. These are benefits that we all should achieve. 

Another important component of our vision for 2030 is to become partners with the state in electrifying, and to do what utilities can to move the ball forward. We recently had five priority review projects approved by the Public Utilities Commission, and we’re making meaningful investments in the infrastructure to support this transition to a zero-emission future. 

It’s important to have utilities play this role, because we have the market scale to bring about this kind of change. We have the relationships with the customers. And quite frankly, the need is so great that at this point, it’s all hands on deck. We’re all needed.

We need the electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) suppliers to step to the table. We need the state to continue with all of the funding and infrastructure and financing and incentives. We need the market education and outreach. We all need to collaboratively come together. If we do, we can find the solution that’s best for all Californian—for the ratepayers, for the taxpayers, and for the customers. We’ll all benefit from the clean energy future.

Mary Nichols: Danny, what is the California Clean Energy Fund doing on mobility and energy in California?

Danny Kennedy: We help startups start up. We’ve got up to $600,000, care of the California Energy Commission, to provide to good ideas. We’re finding and funding the next 100 companies to help achieve the state’s energy and climate goals; we did 28 of those investments last year, and plan to do another 25 this year.

As to what we’re seeing in the marketplace, I’ve got to say that it’s a really exciting time. We have the governor on one side saying, “Five million EVs,” and Southern California Edison on the saying saying, “No, seven million!” 

Meanwhile, the entrepreneurs in California are asking, “How do we do 1,500?,” especially because of the charging infrastructure and the businesses that will be required to balance the grid when you have that many distributed energy resources to manage.

There is a lot of hot stuff in the battery component space: new separator technologies, new anode technologies, and even sucking carbon out of the sky to make graphene for the components within batteries. All these are being funded by CalSEED right now. 

Another interesting sector that is being led in Southern California is electric aviation. Qantas’ biofuel flight was fantastic, but there’s also a good case for electric aviation, particularly on short-haul flights. 

There’s a company here in LA called Ampere Motors, which is retrofitting Cessnas with electric engines, and could be in the sky in two years’ time. They can actually fit two electric engines where Cessnas have one motor, so there’s redundancy and backup. It’s better, faster, and cheaper.

All of this is dependent on batteries. That’s the missing piece for the grid, for the electric vehicle, and for electrification. The convergence of mobility and technology is in battery technologies. California is a leading light in battery intellectual property, but we don’t make that many here, and I think that that’s a huge opportunity for California to grasp: the opportunity to manufacture here as well as to invent.

“Recently, Gov. Brown came out with a bold new goal to get to 5 million zero-emission vehicles by 2030. My prediction is that we’re not just going to hit that goal; we’re going to surpass it.” —David Hochschild, CEC Commissioner