Low gas prices tempt consumers to buy gas guzzlers, but they should resist

In the past six months, the price of gasoline in the United States has declined precipitously - from its June peak of $3.63 per gallon to less than $2 in some parts of the country now.

The effect this sharp price decline will ultimately have on greenhouse gas emissions is not yet known, but a reasonable estimate is that emissions will rise as less efficient cars and trucks become popular for the first time in years. Luckily for the climate, stronger federal fuel economy standards will mean that emissions from the transportation sector won’t rise nearly as much as they would have.

Using travel data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), monthly vehicle sales data, and fuel economy calculations by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoetle of the University of Michigan, we calculate that vehicles purchased in last five months will emit 7.8 million more metric tons of greenhouse gases than if car-buying habits before the gas price drop had continued. An average car emits about 43 metric tons of greenhouse gases over its useful life, so the additional emissions are about the same as putting 180,000 new cars and light trucks on the road.

The sudden plunge in gas prices can make it tempting to forget the lessons of the past.

Public policy, private investment needed to keep EV market growing in 2015

Sales of electric vehicles (EVs) were up 25 percent last year, and automakers are looking to boost sales further in 2015 with new and updated models. Clearly, EVs have moved beyond their infancy. But continued growth in the EV market will require smart public and private strategies to expand charging infrastructure so motorists don’t have to worry about running out of juice.

Advancing the deployment of low-carbon vehicle technology, like EVs, is essential if we’re going to achieve meaningful emissions reductions from the transportation sector, which is responsible for 28 percent of U.S. greenhouse gases. Globally, the problem is more acute as the number of light-duty vehicles on the road is expected to double to more than 2 billion by 2050.

Automakers will begin introducing their second generation EVs beginning this month with the 2016 Chevy Volt. While sales will likely jump because of the incremental improvements from the first generation Volt, more time is likely needed for batteries to improve and charging infrastructure to be deployed.

Our work for the Washington State Legislature shows that new business models to foster private investment in charging infrastructure will be vital, but public sector policies and incentives will still be needed in the near term to keep the market growing.

Firsthand lessons on public charging for EVs

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My ride for the weekend: BMW’s first mass-produced all-electric vehicle.

Washington, D.C., is well-situated for day trips with mountains, forests, beach and bay all a short drive away. On a recent weekend, I was lucky enough to tool around in style. BMW lent me their new electric car – the i3 – and asked that I race it around the DC metro region. (Or perhaps that’s just how I heard them.)

The car handles beautifully the way you’d expect a BMW to, and proves there’s no performance tradeoff by going with an electric vehicle (EV). For most drivers, EVs like the i3 can accommodate daily driving needs. The average American only travels 30 miles per day. In particular, EVs are well suited for commuting because a driver can charge at home or the workplace. But day-tripping with an EV can take more planning and I learned firsthand that a robust public charging network is essential if EVs are to make more headway in the marketplace.

At C2ES, we often cite the importance of public charging stations to extend the range of EVs and give drivers confidence that an EV is a practical replacement for their conventional car. To allow EV drivers to travel as they would with a gasoline car, quick charging stations are needed along major roadways. Multiple, slower charging stations (referred to as Level 2) should be at key destinations to provide redundancy in case stations are in use or down for maintenance. Those are some of the conclusions of our new paper assessing the public charging infrastructure in Washington state and the same can be said of Washington, D.C.

Energy efficiency financing models for buildings could work for natural gas vehicles

Owners of large buildings who want to save money by improving energy efficiency first have to overcome a huge hurdle – the upfront costs of getting the work done. A similar hurdle exists for fleet managers considering switching to natural gas vehicles to save on fuel costs – high initial expenses for vehicles and infrastructure.

What if the same method being used to pay for more energy-efficient buildings could also be used to get cleaner alternative fuel vehicles on the road? A new report by C2ES makes the connection between a commonly used business arrangement in the building sector and its potential use in the deployment of natural gas in public and private vehicle fleets.

Eight states take a big step to advance zero-emission vehicles

States representing more than a quarter of U.S. car sales made a strong statement today that they’ll be engaged in advancing the deployment of zero emission vehicles (ZEVs).

In their “Multi-State ZEV Action Plan,” eight states — California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont — lay out an ambitious agenda to support vehicle sales and fueling infrastructure over the next decade with the goal of putting 3.3 million ZEVs on the roads by 2025. These vehicles, which include cars fueled by electricity and hydrogen, are a key part of our efforts to reduce the emissions contributing to climate change.

The transition to a low-carbon transportation system will take decades and cost billions. As C2ES has noted in our work in this area, government is unlikely to make significant new investments in the near term, but it can play a critical role in encouraging private sector investment in ZEVs and their infrastructure.