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.
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.
Progress on a multifaceted global challenge like climate change doesn’t happen in one flash of bright light. This can lead to the impression that little is being accomplished, especially when stories highlight areas of disagreement.
Nothing can be further from the truth. In reality, progress is more like the brightening sky before dawn. We saw positive steps in 2014, and they’ll help lay the groundwork for significant climate action in 2015 in the United States and around the world.
In the U.S., we will see the EPA Clean Power Plan finalized and states taking up the challenge to develop innovative policies to reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Allowing governors to do what they do best, innovating at the state level, will be a key achievement of 2015.
Internationally, more countries than ever before will be putting forward new targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions ahead of talks in December in Paris to hammer out a climate pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol.
In the New Year, we will be building on solid progress made in 2014 by governments, businesses, and individuals. Here are 10 examples:
“Oh the weather outside is frightful.” That line from the classic song “Let it Snow” usually heard this time of year is a reminder winter is upon us, bringing hot chocolate, holidays – oh, and higher energy bills.
But we can all sing a happy tune about saving energy and money, and reducing our impact on the climate, if we’re a little smarter about how we stay toasty in our homes this winter.
Most homeowners’ largest energy expense comes from space heating, which accounts for nearly 30 percent of a typical household’s annual utility bill (and 40 percent of home energy use).
As for environmental impact, the energy used in residential buildings -- for space heating and cooling, water heating, appliances, electronics and lighting -- is responsible for more than one-fifth of total U.S. energy-related carbon emissions.
Space heating accounts for almost 30 percent of a typical home’s energy bill. Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Most people can agree that being efficient consumers of energy is a good thing. And yet encouraging energy efficiency can be challenging, in part because the potential audience can be huge and diverse, and in part because making a change, even if it saves you money, typically requires effort.
That’s why it’s essential to find the people who are most likely to give energy-efficiency programs a try. Intelligent use of customer data can help target and inform a receptive audience. Members of this audience will then be encouraged to take action with some motivation.
I recently moderated a panel at the Behavior Energy and Climate Conference in Washington, D.C., where three experts discussed innovative ways to strategically target energy-efficiency programs, address factors that make people hesitant to join, and then scale the program.