The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions seeks to inform the design and implementation of federal policies that will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Drawing from its extensive peer-reviewed published works, in-house policy analyses, and tracking of current legislative proposals, the Center provides research, analysis, and recommendations to policymakers in Congress and the Executive Branch. Read More
More than 100 bills, resolutions, and amendments focusing on climate change were introduced in the 112th Congress (2011-2012). Many more touched on energy, environment, transportation, agriculture and other areas that would have an impact on climate change. The list below, however, contains only those bills whose authors thought it was important to explicitly reference climate change or related terms, such as greenhouse gases (GHG) or carbon dioxide. (For brevity, all legislative proposals are referred to here as "bills.")
Reflecting an anti-regulatory mood on Capitol Hill, there were nearly as many proposals in the 112th Congress to block efforts to curb carbon emissions as proposals to strengthen them. And, reflecting the general state of gridlock in Congress, virtually none of the bills proposed were enacted.
A closer look:
- 113 climate-specific bills were introduced in the 112th Congress. This compares with 263 such bills introduced in the Congress before this one, 235 in the Congress before that, and 106, 96, 80, 25, and seven, respectively, in the Congressional terms before that.
- 57 of the bills (52 percent) supported climate action in some way. However, for the first time since the introduction of the McCain-Lieberman greenhouse gas cap-and-trade bill in 2003, not a single greenhouse gas cap-and-trade bill was introduced. Most took much smaller steps, such as preparing the United States to adapt to climate change or preserving voluntary greenhouse gas reduction programs in a bill that would otherwise block the Environmental Protection Agency's climate change work. The two bills that proposed a comprehensive approach to reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions would have established a carbon tax. (Two of the bills mentioned greenhouse gases without clearly supporting or hindering climate action.)
- 55 bills would have blocked or hindered climate action – 40 of which would have prohibited or hindered regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, primarily by preventing EPA from regulating under the Clean Air Act. Four of these passed the House, with no prospects for movement through the Senate. For its part, the Senate voted on four bills to prevent, delay or modify EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, all of which failed.
Perhaps the most significant law enacted by this Congress addressing climate change is not on the list below because it does not mention the words "climate change" at all – the reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program. Among other things, the bill, signed into law by President Obama, seeks to ensure that "the best available science regarding future changes in sea levels, precipitation, and intensity of hurricanes" are factored into future calculations of flood risk. Our blog notes that the bill is a good first step toward comprehensive reform that will bring the program back to solvency.
In addition, a bill that would combine House and Senate energy efficiency measures passed the Senate on its last day before the elections and was signed by President Obama in December 2012.
The bills, resolutions, and amendments of the 112th Congress dealing with climate change are divided into the following categories:
In a resounding victory for sound science and policy, the US Court of Appeals decided unanimously this week to uphold both EPA’s finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare and the agency’s initial set of regulations limiting emissions from vehicles and major new and modified industrial sources.
Given the choice, we’d much prefer to see a new law establishing a comprehensive market-based program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But until Congress gets its act together, regulating emissions under the Clean Air Act is really the only option.
Statement of Eileen Claussen
President, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
June 26, 2012
Today’s decision reaffirms sensible science-based regulation and takes an important step to protect the American people from dangerous climate change.
We’ve always maintained that the best way to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions is through new legislation establishing a comprehensive market-based approach. But in the face of Congressional inaction, EPA has no choice but to move forward under the existing Clean Air Act—not the best tool, but for now the only one available.
As expected, the Court affirmed EPA’s interpretation of the overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change endangers America’s environment and economy. It also affirmed common-sense steps by EPA to tailor the somewhat cumbersome provisions of the Clean Air Act to the particular challenges of regulating greenhouse gases.
The ruling significantly reduces the regulatory uncertainty facing major emitters so they can begin factoring carbon reductions into their investment decisions. Far from the draconian scenarios painted by opponents, the greenhouse gas standards for vehicles will deliver huge fuel savings for consumers,
Hopefully we can now move past the false debate over whether or not climate change is real, and continue the hard work of building common ground for common-sense solutions.
Contact: Rebecca Matulka, 703-516-4146, email@example.com
With the Senate set to vote today on fixes to the ailing National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), a new C2ES brief explains why the program is chronically in debt to the U.S. Treasury, and how to make it solvent. We urge, among other things, that Congress allow federal underwriters to begin taking into account rising flood risk due to climate change.
The 44-year-old federally-backed NFIP covers 5.6 million American households and more than $1 trillion in assets in flood-prone areas along rivers and coasts. Flooding is not an easy risk to insure, so historically private insurers chose not to. But in assuming that role, the NFIP has at times served to encourage rather than contain risk, and has racked up $18 billion in debt in the process.
This week, C2ES filed comments on EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standard for new power plants.
Let me start by saying I would prefer to be working on the implementation of a market-based program to reduce GHG emissions. For years, C2ES has believed that a market-based policy—whether a cap-and-trade program, an emissions tax, emissions averaging among companies, or a clean energy standard with tradable credits—would be the best way of reducing GHG emissions and spurring clean energy technology. Market-based policies create a good division of labor, with the law setting the goal, and private industry deciding how best to achieve it.
Fixing A Broken National Flood Insurance Program: Risks And Potential Reforms
by Dan Huber
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) insures 5.6 million American homeowners and some $1 trillion in assets. For many years, however, the premiums collected have not been sufficient to cover losses, resulting in a current debt to the U.S. Treasury of more than $18 billion. A number of factors, including increased flooding as a result of climate change, are likely to further widen the gap between revenue and risk. Reforms are needed to put the NFIP on the path to solvency and to reduce homeowners’ exposure to chronic and catastrophic flooding risk. Ideally, such reforms should fully account for the increased risks posed by climate change. At a minimum, steps are needed to adjust premiums, improve flood mitigation measures, and prepare for the catastrophic risk of events like Hurricane Katrina.
With government budgets still reeling from the effects of the recent recession, and ongoing debates over the future costs of Medicare and Social Security, unfunded public liabilities are of growing concern. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is one such liability that is often overlooked. The NFIP is already significantly in debt due to premiums that have not reflected the true risk of flood damages. Looking forward, the risk of further losses only increases, as demographic trends place more infrastructure in harm’s way, watersheds are developed and climate change increases flood risk over time.
This paper explores the structural issues underlying the growing gap between flood insurance premiums and actual flood risk. It also examines reforms that can put the program on a more sound financial footing and the incentives needed to reduce the potential costs of future flooding. A report by the American Enterprise Institute found that insurers have “a huge opportunity today to develop creative loss-prevention solutions.”  Using both adaptive and financial tools to manage the rising risks posed by climate change will be critical to preventing losses and maintaining the insurability (and therefore property values) of trillions of dollars in at-risk property assets.
Between 1980 and 2005, U.S. insurers paid out a total of $320 billion in weather-related insurance claims. While not all weather-related claims are flood claims, losses from weather events are increasing. Today, the NFIP covers over $1.2 trillion in assets, representing more than a fourfold increase since 1980. If providing this coverage is to remain affordable, Congress must provide FEMA with the tools to accurately price and manage risk.
2. Kunreuther and Michel-Kerjan, (2009, January 15). Market and Government Failure in Insuring and Mitigating Natural Catastrophes: How Long-Term Contracts Can Help. Washington D.C., USA: American Enterprise Institute Conference on Private markets and Public Insurance Programs
Below are the comments C2ES submitted on June 25, 2012, on EPA's proposed greenhouse gas emissions standard for new power plants.
Comments of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions on
Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions for
New Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units;
United States Environmental Protection Agency
(77 Fed. Reg. 22392 (April 13, 2012))
Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2011-0660; FRL-9654-7
This document constitutes the comments of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) on the proposed standards of performance for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for new electric utility generating units (Proposal), proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and published in the Federal Register on April 13, 2012. C2ES is an independent nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to advancing practical and effective policies and actions to address our global climate change and energy challenges. As such, the views expressed here are those of C2ES alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of members of the C2ES Business Environmental Leadership Council (BELC). In addition, the comments made in this document pertain to new sources in the specific industrial sector addressed by the Proposal and may not be appropriate for other industrial sectors or for existing electric utility generating units.
Preference for Market-based Policy
C2ES believes market-based policies—such as emissions averaging among companies, a cap-and-trade system, an emissions tax, or a clean energy standard with tradable credits – would be the most efficient and effective way of reducing GHG emissions and spurring clean energy development and deployment. Properly-designed market-based policies create an appropriate division of labor in addressing climate change, with the law establishing the overarching goal of reducing GHG emissions, and private industry determining how best to achieve that goal. Under market-based policies, the government neither specifies a given company’s emission level nor requires the use of any given technology—both of these questions are determined by the company itself.
Beyond providing an incentive for the use of best available technologies, market-based policies provide a direct financial incentive for inventors and investors to develop and deploy lower-cost, clean energy technologies, and leave the private market to determine technology winners and losers. Market-based policies can be designed to minimize transition costs for companies and their customers in moving from high-emitting technologies to low-emitting technologies; to prevent manufacturers in countries without GHG limits from using this as a competitive advantage over U.S. manufacturers; and to reverse any regressive impacts of increased energy prices. At the federal level, market-based policies have been used to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions at a fraction of the originally estimated cost, while at the state level they have been used successfully in renewable energy programs and cap-and-trade programs.
However, enactment of federal legislation that would establish a comprehensive market-based policy to reduce GHG emissions does not appear imminent. Given the urgency of addressing the rising risks that climate change poses to U.S. economic, environmental and security interests, C2ES believes that in the absence of Congressional action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, EPA must proceed using its existing authorities under the Clean Air Act.
The Context of the Proposal
The Proposal is consistent with the EPA’s authority to implement the Clean Air Act, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court. On April 2, 2007, in the case of Massachusetts v. EPA, the court found that the harms associated with climate change are serious and well recognized, the EPA has the authority to regulate CO2 and other GHGs under the existing Clean Air Act, and, although enacting regulations may not by itself reverse global warming, that is not a reason for EPA not to act in order to “slow or reduce” global warming.
The Court required that the EPA determine whether GHG emissions from new motor vehicles cause or contribute to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare. The EPA released a draft Technical Support Document (TSD) in 2008 that provided technical analysis of the potential risks of GHGs for human health and welfare and contribution of human activities to rising GHG concentrations, and adopted a final endangerment finding in December 2009. The finding explained and documented the determination that (1) the ambient concentration of six key GHGs—CO2, methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)—contribute to climate change, which results in a threat to the public health and welfare of current and future generations, and (2) emissions from motor vehicles contribute to the ambient concentration of the GHGs.
The EPA’s endangerment finding did not, by itself, impose any restrictions on any entities. It was, however, a required step in the EPA’s process of regulating GHG emissions. The EPA has already issued several requirements pertaining to GHG emissions—two as a consequence of the endangerment finding, and two in response to specific Congressional mandates regarding the reporting of GHG emissions.
Reporting CO2 emissions from power plants. Under section 821 of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, the EPA requires power plants to monitor their CO2 emissions and report the data to the EPA, which makes the data available to the public. Under this provision, power plants have been reporting their CO2 emissions since the early 1990s, and the data have been made publicly available through the EPA’s website.
GHG Reporting Rule. As part of the Fiscal Year 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act, signed into law in December 2007, the EPA was ordered to publish a rule requiring public reporting of GHG emissions from large sources. The GHG Reporting Program database was published for the first time in January 2012, and consisted of data reported under the rule.
Vehicle tailpipe standards. The first and most direct result of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Massachusetts V. EPA and the EPA’s subsequent endangerment finding was the EPA’s promulgation of GHG emissions standards for vehicles. In April 2010, the EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a joint regulation to establish new light-duty vehicle standards for Model Year (MY) 2012 to MY 2016; in August 2011, they issued the final rulemaking for heavy-duty vehicles for MY 2014-2018; and in November 2011, they issued a joint proposal for light-duty vehicle standards for MY 2017 to MY 2025.
New Source Review/Best Available Control Technology. Under the Clean Air Act, major new sources or major modifications to existing sources must employ technologies aimed at limiting air pollutants. Once GHGs were regulated as air pollutants through the vehicle tailpipe standard, the requirement that new or modified sources must use “best available control technology” (BACT) for GHGs also took effect. In November 2010, the EPA released guidance to be used by states in implementing BACT requirements for GHG emissions from major new or modified stationary sources of air pollution. Under the BACT guidance, covered facilities are generally required to use the most energy-efficient technologies available, rather than install particular pollution control technologies. More than a dozen facilities have received permits under the program.
The Proposal is the first GHG standard proposed by the EPA under the New Source Performance Standard provision of the Clean Air Act. Electric power plants account for about one-third of U.S. GHG emissions—nearly twice the contribution of light-duty vehicles.
Comments on the Proposal
C2ES has some concerns with the Proposal, as discussed below. If the concerns are adequately addressed, C2ES supports moving the rule forward.
The EPA should set the emissions standard at a level that can be reliably achieved by currently available technology under reasonably expected operating conditions.
The technology on which the standard in the Proposal is based is natural gas combined cycle (NGCC). It is imperative that the EPA set the GHG emissions standard at a level and in a form that can be reliably achieved by currently available NGCC technology under the full range of reasonably expected operating conditions. A recent study raises questions about the extent to which currently available NGCC units can reliably achieve the standard in the Proposal. In order to maximize the efficiency of the overall interconnected electric system – and often to minimize the overall GHG emissions – it is sometimes necessary to run a particular plant at less than peak efficiency. The standard should reflect this reality.
C2ES agrees that, as proposed, the standard should not cover simple cycle combustion turbines and biomass-fueled boilers.
The standard must be consistent with the advancement of carbon capture and storage technology.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is not one of the technologies on which the Proposal’s standard is based. Rather, CCS is a method by which a facility could potentially comply with the NGCC-based standard.
CCS operations have been built at scale in other industrial sectors, but not yet in the electricity sector. The first commercial-scale U.S. power plant with CCS is currently under construction. Power companies are planning several additional CCS projects, some of which will be in conjunction with enhanced oil recovery (EOR). CCS power projects that would supply captured CO2 to EOR are in the planning stages in Texas, Mississippi, California, North Dakota, and Kentucky for the 2014—2020 timeframe. Several more power companies have had plans to build CCS operations that did not go forward primarily because of the cost of CCS and the uncertainty with respect to CO2 emission regulation and legislation.
The Proposal offers an alternative compliance mechanism in which a coal power plant could be operated for 10 years without CCS, followed by 20 years with CCS. While the standard and the alternative compliance mechanism could make it easier for public utility commissions to approve proposals to build coal power plants with CCS, given the current cost and limited demonstration and deployment of CCS technologies, these alone may not be enough to surmount the challenge of financing a plant with CCS. (Please see the discussion of CCS under “Related Matters” below.)
More concerning is the possibility that the standard could inadvertently inhibit the advancement of CCS. For example, one intermediate step in demonstrating the compatibility of CCS with large-scale electricity generation might be to capture and sequester only a fraction of the CO2 from a large coal plant – which might not be allowed under the Proposal. C2ES suggests that the EPA consider mechanisms by which CCS demonstration projects and other operations important to the advancement of CCS could go forward.
Given the unique circumstances of electricity generation today, it is on balance appropriate to set a standard that does not differentiate between fuel types for new power plants. A non-differentiated standard may not, however, be appropriate for other industry sectors or existing sources in this sector.
Perhaps the most novel aspect of the Proposal is that it does not issue separate NSPS for coal and natural gas. Under the Clean Air Act, section 111(b)(2), the EPA “may distinguish among classes, types and sizes within categories of new sources for the purpose of establishing [NSPS] standards.” (Emphasis added.) It has in fact typically been the case that Clean Air Act regulations have established separate air pollution standards for coal- and natural gas-fired power plants. While this differentiation is authorized, however, it is not required by the Clean Air Act. Because the proposed rule would apply to new units only, and because prospective owners have options in selecting the designs of their units, fuel switching (i.e., replacing coal use at existing plants with natural gas) would not be required by the rule.
Moreover, recent developments having nothing to do with GHG regulation, such as the availability of inexpensive natural gas and the regulation of other pollutants, have created conditions under which the GHG emissions intensity of electricity generation is declining. Aside from a small number of facilities far along in the planning process and specifically exempt from the Proposal, no new construction of conventional coal plants is currently foreseen at recent forward market natural gas prices through 2020 (when the Clean Air Act requires that the rule be reevaluated). The Proposal reflects the projections of independent analysts with regard to the future of new coal and natural gas electricity generation. For this reason, the Office of Management and Budget estimates that there will be no cost for industry compliance with the Proposal as compared with the status quo.
That said, it is important to recognize that widely fluctuating natural gas prices are a recent memory, and that, while the majority of independent analysts currently project an abundant and inexpensive supply of natural gas for decades to come, this forecast may prove wrong. Issuing a standard that in effect prohibits the construction of new high-emitting coal plants (i.e., those not using CCS) therefore poses risks – as would issuing a standard that allows the construction of such plants. If the construction of new high-emitting coal plants is effectively prohibited and natural gas prices rise higher than currently foreseen, electricity rates could face an upward pressure. On the other hand, allowing the construction of new high-emitting coal plants could lock in the emissions of those plants for decades to come, exacerbating the challenges the United States faces in reducing its GHG emissions and increasing the risks and costs of dangerous anthropogenic climate change.
On balance, C2ES believes the best choice in implementing the NSPS requirement for new power plants is to issue one standard, regardless of fuel type, but with a mechanism that allows for technological innovation (as discussed above). This should be accompanied by heavy federal investment in low-emitting technologies, including CCS, with the goal of maintaining a diverse set of energy sources in generating the nation’s electricity.
Finally, while the establishment of one emission standard regardless of fuel type may be appropriate with respect to new facilities in the power sector, it may not be appropriate for existing facilities in the power sector or for other sectors for which the EPA may issue regulations.
The United States needs a comprehensive energy strategy that delivers a diverse set of affordable low-emitting sources of electricity.
C2ES believes that as a matter of national policy and economic common sense, it is imperative to enhance energy diversity through programs that advance low-emitting uses of coal and natural gas; nuclear power; renewable energy; and efficiency in generation, transmission and end-use.
In particular, the United States needs an effective strategy for demonstrating CCS and making it inexpensive enough to use on future coal and natural gas power plants. Coal- and natural gas-fired generation will likely be predominant sources of electricity in the United States and most of world’s other major economies for decades to come. It will therefore be essential to advance CCS to the point that its use is economical in the context of electricity generation.
A CCS strategy should include a major research, development and demonstration effort, and subsidies to actively encourage the use of CCS with new and existing natural gas and coal power plants so that the technology can travel down the learning curve. C2ES strongly supports, among other measures, the federal grant programs that have allowed the construction of the previously-mentioned CCS projects. Another option is to establish a trust fund to support demonstration projects at commercial scale for a full range of systems applicable to U.S. power plants. CO2-enhanced oil recovery (CO2-EOR), a practice in which oil producers inject CO2 into wells to draw more oil to the surface, presents an important opportunity to advance CCS while boosting domestic oil production and reducing CO2 emissions. A coalition, co-convened by C2ES, has called for a federal tax credit for capture and pipeline projects to deliver CO2 from industrial and power plants to operating wells. (Note that the recommended tax credit is focused on plant and pipeline operators, rather than EOR operators.)
In addition to investing in CCS, it should be a national priority to invest in and otherwise advance a range of low-emitting energy technologies—for economic, as well as environmental, reasons. The diversity of energy sources used in electricity generation has been a valuable hedge against the unpredictable volatility of the various fuel sources, including natural gas. An electricity sector that increasingly relies on any single fuel would create unintended risks for our economy.
C2ES urges the EPA to move forward with the GHG NSPS for existing power plants, and to do so in a way that builds on existing state programs and allows states to use flexible market-based measures to implement the standards.
As mentioned, C2ES believes market-based policies would be the best way of reducing GHG emissions and spurring clean energy development and deployment. In the absence of a legislated solution, there appears to be an opportunity to utilize market-based policies in the regulation of GHG emissions from existing power plants.
Under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, the EPA, in concert with the states, is required to establish GHG emission standards for existing stationary sources—including existing power plants, which account for about one-third of U.S. GHG emissions today. The EPA has, in fact, entered into a settlement agreement under which it will implement section 111(d) for existing power plants. C2ES urges the EPA to move forward in implementing section 111(d) in a manner that can utilize market-based policies as soon as practicable.
Over the next few years, power plant owners will have to make billions of dollars’ worth of decisions about retrofitting, retiring, and replacing a large number of older, carbon-intensive coal plants in light of pending non-climate air, water, and waste regulations. Not knowing what GHG standards these existing facilities will have to meet presents facility owners with enormous uncertainty, greatly complicating and even delaying their decisions, ultimately at the expense of electricity rate payers. Because the Proposal addresses only new sources, this uncertainty pertains even to reconstruction or modification of existing sources. The Proposal mitigates some of the regulatory uncertainty faced by the power sector, but not all.
At the same time, several northeastern states already have an operational regional cap-and-trade program for CO2 from power plants (the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative), California is implementing an economy-wide GHG cap-and-trade program, and several states have renewable energy standards, alternative energy standards, or other programs that are effective in reducing the average GHG emission rate across all sources, as well as the overall level of GHG emissions.
C2ES strongly prefers that Congress establish a comprehensive, national market-based GHG reduction policy that would cover both new and existing sources and help to reduce this patchwork quilt of state and regional regulation. In the absence of such legislation, however, C2ES recommends that, in implementing section 111(d) for existing power plants, the EPA issue GHG emission rate-based performance standards in a manner that allows for averaging, banking and trading among sources, giving states the flexibility to adopt various market-based policies that will meet or outperform the standard.
3. Matthew J. Kotchen and Erin T. Mansur, “How Stringent is the EPA’s Proposed Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants?” University of California Center for Energy and Environmental Economics, April 2012.
As Rio+20 negotiators rush to complete a consolidated text of outcomes before heads of state begin arriving tomorrow, participants at hundreds of side events are calling on business and government to take stronger action on clean energy, poverty elimination, food security, oceans, sustainable cities, green technology development, education, and more.
On Sunday at the U.S. Center pavilion, C2ES and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) convened a panel of companies, small-business innovators, and business representatives highlighting the critical roles played by each in promoting low-carbon innovation and sustainable development.
Opportunities for low-carbon innovation are growing, driven by policy changes, market shifts, and continued growth in energy demand, particularly in developing countries. This Sunday in Rio de Janeiro, ahead of the UN’s “Rio+20” Conference on Sustainable Development, C2ES will have a chance to share what it’s learned about low-carbon innovation with partners from around the world.
With the Global Environment Facility (GEF), we will convene a panel of companies (Johnson Controls, DuPont), small-business innovators (from the Cleantech Open), and government and business representatives (from UNIDO and ABDI) to share stories and lessons from the front lines of clean-tech entrepreneurship. The event, to be held at the U.S. Center pavilion, will examine the keys to successful low-carbon innovation, and the benefits for climate mitigation and adaptation, energy security, resource efficiency, and job creation.
- The transportation sector uses natural gas in a variety of forms including: as compressed natural gas, as liquefied natural gas, through gas-to-liquids technologies, in fuel cells, or as a generation fuel for electricity for electric vehicles.
- Depending on the type of natural gas or fuel cell vehicle, greenhouse gas reductions can be between 28 and 55 percent as compared to gasoline- and diesel-powered engines.
- Greater replacement of petroleum-based fuels with natural gas could contribute to reduced petroleum imports and increased national energy independence.
- Natural gas vehicles currently offer lower fuel costs; however, there are higher up-front vehicle and infrastructure costs.
|Figure 1: Energy Sources in the US Transportation Sector 2010|
|Source: Energy Information Agency, 2011|
Natural gas is the most flexible of the three primary fossil fuels (coal, petroleum, natural gas) used in the United States and accounted for 25 percent of the total energy consumed nationwide in 2009. In spite of the major roles that natural gas plays in electricity generation as well as in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors, it is not commonly used for transportation. In total, as illustrated in Figure 1, the U.S. transportation sector used 27.51 quadrillion British thermal units (Btus) of energy in 2010, of which 25.65 quadrillion Btus came from petroleum and just 0.68 quadrillion Btus came from natural gas (93 percent and 3 percent of the sector, respectively), Natural gas used in the transportation sector resulted in the emission of around 34.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) in 2009.
A variety of vehicle technologies available today allow natural gas to be used in light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicles. Most commonly, natural gas is used in a highly pressurized form as compressed natural gas (CNG) or as liquefied natural gas (LNG). While CNG and LNG are ultimately combusted in the vehicle, it can also power vehicles in other ways. It can be converted into liquid fuel that can be used in conventional vehicles, power fuel cell vehicles, or be used in the production of electricity for electric vehicles. Despite the existence of these technologies, only about 117,000 of the more than 250 million vehicles on the road in 2010 (about .05%), were powered directly by natural gas (not including electric vehicles). Of these, the majority of natural gas vehicles are buses and trucks. The recent relative cost differential between natural gas and oil as a fuel source, however, has increased interest in expanding the use of natural gas beyond just buses and trucks, thus representing a much broader market opportunity.
A Variety of Natural Gas Transportation Technologies Are Available
Of all natural gas powered vehicles, CNG is the most common form of natural gas used in transportation today. There were 114,270 CNG vehicles on U.S. roads in 2009 using 873 CNG fueling sites. Although Honda offers a CNG passenger vehicle, only 4,000 vehicles are scheduled for production in 2012, and sales figures are not available. CNG vehicles are most commonly found in larger transportation fleets, at present. Public transit buses, for example, are the largest users of natural gas in the transportation sector, with about one fifth of buses running on CNG or LNG. Other fleets also use natural gas trucks, including thousands of trucks at Waste Management, FedEx, UPS and AT&T.
|Figure 2: Light-Duty, Trucks, and Buses in the U.S. in 2010|
Note: Trucks include single-unit, 2-axle, 6-tires or more trucks and combination tractor trailers.
CNG is natural gas compressed to less than 1 percent of its standard atmospheric pressure volume. As a consequence of its highly pressurized state, CNG requires special handling and storage. In vehicles, CNG requires cylindrical storage tanks, which are significantly larger than conventional fuel and keep the fuel at pressures of up to 3,600 pounds per square inch. Given the size requirement of these tanks, their placement in passenger vehicles, can take up valuable passenger or trunk space.
Like CNG, but to a lesser extent, LNG vehicles (mainly heavy-duty trucks) are also used on U.S. roads and a budding fueling infrastructure has begun to develop. Approximately 3,176 LNG vehicles were in use in the United States in 2009 using 40 public and private refueling sites, 32 of which were in California. Liquefied natural gas is created by chilling it to -260 degrees Fahrenheit at normal pressures, at which point it condenses into a liquid 0.0017 percent the volume of the gaseous form. The conversion of natural gas to LNG removes compounds such as water, CO2 and sulfur compounds from the raw material leaving a purer methane product, whose combustion results in fewer air emissions. The stable, non-corrosive form also makes LNG more easily transportable such that it can be moved by ocean tankers or trucks. Use of LNG requires large, heavy, and highly insulated fuel tanks to keep the fuel cold, which adds a significant incremental cost to the vehicle. Today, LNG is mainly used as direct replacement for diesel in heavy-duty trucks because they are able to accommodate this hefty storage system and use LNG fueling infrastructure currently limited to trucking routes.
Both CNG and LNG are less dense forms of energy than conventional diesel fuel, which requires vehicles using these fuels to have larger fuel tanks to store the same amount of energy, as seen in Figure 3. The energy density of CNG is so low that CNG vehicles with ranges of greater than 300 miles are unlikely to be produced due to space and weight limitations. CNG is often thought about as primarily suitable for fleet passenger vehicles, municipal buses, and other vehicles where travel distances are shorter. The greater energy density of LNG, however, makes it more practical for long-haul tractor-trailers that can accommodate larger fuel tanks. Despite these lower energy densities, both CNG and LNG can be an attractive fuel source for certain applications from an economic and environmental perspective.
|Figure 3: Comparison of Natural Gas Energy Density Compared to Diesel|
|Source: Energy Information Administration, 2010|
While CNG and LNG are today the most common forms of natural gas fuels in vehicles, other technologies are available that could increase the use of natural gas in the broader transportation system. One such technology converts natural gas into diesel or gasoline, which can be both used in the existing vehicle fleet and moved through existing infrastructure. Gas-to-liquids (GTL) technology transforms natural gas hydrocarbons into gasoline or diesel hydrocarbons and the resulting products have similar energy density as traditionally-produced diesel properties that allow for better engine performance and potentially.
Conversion technologies typically require 10 million cubic feet (mcf) of gas to produce one barrel of oil-equivalent product output, which may include diesel, naphtha, and other petrochemical products. At $4 per mcf of natural gas, that is equivalent to $40 per barrel of oil equivalent. GTLs have been produced at facilities around the world, and the development of new facilities in the United States is underway. Several companies are said to be in various stages of analysis for GTL facilities on the Gulf Coast because of natural gas supplies and current domestic prices.
Natural gas also plays a role in supplying fuel cell vehicles. Fuel cells produce electricity through an electrochemical process, rather than through combustion, resulting in heat and water and far fewer GHGs or other pollutants. Fuel cells are fueled by hydrogen, and the most common source of that today is natural gas. Hydrogen can be extracted on board the vehicle using a reformer, or it can be externally extracted and subsequently added to the vehicles as fuel. Today, no light-duty fuel cell vehicles are commercially available in the United States, although there are certain test vehicles on the road as well as rudimentary hydrogen fueling infrastructure in California. Several companies have concept cars that are powered by fuel cells, while 14 companies are working to introduce commercially-available fuel cell vehicles and infrastructure in Japan. In the United States, Hyundai plans to build 1,000 fuel cell vehicles for distribution in 2013 and Toyota has suggested that production costs are decreasing such that it should be able to sell fuel cell vehicles for $50,000 by 2015. Several other companies plan to offer fuel cell vehicles by 2015 as well.
Electric vehicles are another type of vehicle becoming more common on U.S. roads, and these vehicles use electricity from the U.S. electrical grid, which is increasingly powered by natural gas as a fuel source. As of April 2012, Americans had purchased over 25,000 plug-in electric vehicles, including Chevrolet Volts, Nissan LEAFs, and Toyota Plug-in Priuses. PEVs are also now available from BMW, Ford, Mitsubishi, and Daimler. By the end of 2012, other models will be offered by automotive startups Coda and Tesla. When fueled by a combined cycle natural gas power plant, such “natural gas-powered electric vehicles” offer significant efficiency and GHG emission benefits over conventional diesel- or gasoline-powered vehicles.
Increased CNG Use in Heavy Duty Vehicle Fleets
While fuel pricing differentials clearly provide a market opportunity for natural gas in the transport sector, significant expansion barriers exist for CNG and LNG vehicles. CNG and LNG trucks currently offer less range, refueling options and resale value than traditional diesel-powered trucks. A diesel truck with a 150-gallon tank and a 6 to 7 mpg fuel economy can travel about 1,000 miles on one tank, which is significantly more than its natural gas counterparts. Depending on the mounting of the cylindrical tanks, CNG trucks can travel 150 miles or 400 miles between fueling. LNG trucks can travel 400 miles. The limited availability of fueling infrastructure also hampers deployment of natural gas trucks, and better infrastructure is a requirement for greater use. However, fleet owners are often not faced with the same constraints that passenger vehicles owners are. Range requirements may not be as significant an issue, as fleet vehicles travel regular and known paths. Refueling can also take place at a centralized facility or along a set route.
|Figure 4: Megaregions in the United States|
|Source: Regional Plan Association, 2012|
Nevertheless, the profitability of CNG vehicle projects depends on the many variables inherent in fleet vehicle composition and use and refueling infrastructure costs. NREL conducted research into three different types of notional CNG fleets and refueling infrastructures that might be used by municipal governments: transit buses, school buses, and refuse trucks. This segment was targeted by NREL based on “the advantages of CNG, including long-term cost-effectiveness, more-consistent operational costs, increased energy security, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced local air pollution, and reduced noise pollution.” NREL’s research led to the creation of a model for fleet profitability that highlighted the importance of fleet size and vehicle miles driven in calculating the cost and benefits of CNG vehicles. It estimated payback periods of between 3 and 10 years that were sensitive to the costs related to refueling stations, vehicle conversion, operations, and maintenance.
This model, like others, includes the cost of building and operating centralized fleet refueling infrastructure and thus avoids the “chicken versus egg” refueling quandary that is challenging to non-fleet applications. If it were not for the lack of a public CNG refueling infrastructure, the decision to convert heavy- duty vehicles would be much more compelling as their high annual miles driven provide a much quicker return on the upfront cost of vehicle conversion than do fleet vehicles. One approach that may help to overcome the vehicle conversion versus refueling infrastructure hurdle is to focus on a subset of the high mileage, heavy-duty, tractor-trailer industry segment, namely, intercity transport as opposed to interstate.
In intercity regions with high tractor-trailer industry usage areas, a very small number of public CNG refueling stations can serve a large number and percentage of the heavy vehicle transportation segment. As illustrated in Figure 4, the United States has eleven “Megaregions” where tractor-trailers travel tens of thousands of miles annually, but never leave the confines of a relatively small geographic area. Natural gas infrastructure can be built out in these Megaregions, such as through the Texas Clean Transportation Triangle strategic plan shown in Figure 5. Nearly 75 percent of Texas intrastate heavy and medium transport occurs within the triangle, making it an excellent candidate for CNG infrastructure. Nominal public CNG vehicle refueling infrastructure in the eleven Megaregions could also prove sufficient to service the interstate CNG tractor-trailer segment for a significant portion of the nation and create enough consumer demand to encourage the installation of CNG refueling capability throughout the nation’s network of commercial truck stops.
|Figure 5: Texas Clean Transportation Triangle|
|Source: Greater Houston Natural Gas Vehicle Alliance, 2010|
Passenger Natural Gas Vehicles
While there are 159,006 retail gasoline stations in the United States in 2010, more than 65 million U.S. homes currently have natural gas service. Home refueling of a CNG vehicle requires the installation of a wall-mounted electric compressor to deliver the low-pressure gas from the residential system into the high-pressure CNG vehicle tank. The compressors are small and unobtrusive, but require several hours to fill the vehicles tank. Home refueling of CNG private vehicles, in addition to lower fuel prices may persuade some consumers to consider purchasing CNG passenger cars or to convert existing ones over from gasoline. However, other barriers to adoption exist. When compared with conventional gasoline vehicles, CNG vehicles have reduced range because of CNG’s lower energy density (Honda says the maximum range of the Civic GX NG is 248 miles), higher up-front costs, and a smaller trunk capacity. The lack of a large national CNG refueling infrastructure is also a barrier.
Electric vehicles are now available nationwide from multiple major automakers and are being marketed at passenger vehicle drivers. Great attention is paid to these vehicles throughout the public and private sectors because of the perceived opportunity they present to issues related to energy security, the environment, and the economy. However, market growth is highly uncertain due to policy, economic, and technical challenges. The C2ES-led An Action Plan to Integrate Plug-in Electric Vehicles with the U.S. Electrical Grid identified challenges and opportunities to PEV deployment including the need for a consistent regulatory framework for PEVs nationwide, the optimization of private and public investments in PEV infrastructure, and consumer education. To a great extent, the plan’s actions must be implemented for the electric vehicle market to compete with conventional vehicles without providing unwarranted public support.
Price Plays a Pivotal Role
A main driver of the discussion of these increased uses of natural gas fleets and passenger vehicles is the relative abundance and low price of domestic natural gas, in comparison to oil. On April 30, 2012, the national average diesel fuel price was $4.07 per gallon and gasoline was $3.83, while a gasoline gallon equivalent of natural gas was $2.09. This price differential primarily results from the differential between the price of petroleum and natural gas, which on the same day were $104.87 per barrel for oil and $12 per energy equivalent of natural gas. In recent years, oil prices have risen while natural gas prices have decreased, creating an ever widening gulf between the two prices, as seen in Figure 6. This differential makes natural gas vehicles increasingly economical from the perspective of fuel costs.
|Figure 6: Oil price as a multiple of natural gas prices|
|Source: Energy Information Administration, 2012|
Emissions Implications of Natural Gas Vehicles
Depending on the type of natural gas technology used, natural gas vehicles offer a significant potential to reduce GHG emissions when compared to traditional gasoline and diesel vehicles. Figure 7 compares the total carbon intensity of diesel with gasoline LNG, CNG, and hydrogen from natural gas as determined by the California Air Resources Board for the purposes of California’s low carbon fuels standard, showing reductions in carbon intensity – up to 55 percent in the case of fuel cell vehicles. While natural gas fuels offer GHG emission reductions when compared to traditional transportation fuels, it is currently difficult to determine the precise carbon intensity of GTL products, as the technologies involved in production are in early stages of development and the emissions factors are not clear. While there are process emissions from GTL production, the CO2 emitted from facilities is pure and as such are a good candidate for carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration.
|Figure 7: Full lifecycle, total carbon intensity of selected transportation fuel options|
Note: Accounting is for California Low Carbon Fuels Standard program.
Depending on the source of electricity, electric vehicle operation can be responsible for much lower greenhouse gas emissions than nearly all conventional vehicles available today on a well-to-wheels basis. A discussion of the increasing role of natural gas in the power sector is to be found in the paper Natural Gas in the Power Sector.
|Figure 8: Transportation GHG Emissions by Source in 2010|
|Source: Environmental Protection Agency, 2012|
In the near term, the effects of natural gas vehicle use on emissions will depend on the type of vehicles in which it is used, and the relative emissions levels from sources in 2010 is illustrated in Figure 8. Long-haul tractor-trailers account for two-thirds of all fuel consumption for freight trucks (medium- and heavy-duty trucks). In total, freight trucks emissions are increasing more rapidly than other transportation sources and will account for a greater percentage of the sector’s GHG emissions over time, as trucking is taking on a greater portion of deliveries for consumer products, using more vehicles for just-in-time shipping, and taking advantage of lower labor costs and changing land use patterns. As such, reducing the carbon intensity from freight trucks will be critical to reducing transportation sector GHG emissions and increased natural gas use is one opportunity. Buses, meanwhile, are a very small share of overall GHGs, only 0.06 percent of on-road vehicle transportation emissions in 2003, despite the more common use of CNG buses.
Reductions of conventional air pollutants from natural gas vehicles are also notable. A 2001 study conducted by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that natural gas vehicles in the United Parcel Service CNG fleet emitted 95 percent less particulate matter, 75 percent less carbon monoxide, 49 percent less nitrogen oxides and 7 percent less volatile organic compounds than their diesel-powered equivalents. This study is encouraging; however, emission reductions vary across vehicle application, age, and type of engine replaced. This complexity also extends to maintenance and operation cost comparisons between CNG-fueled vehicles and their diesel or gasoline equivalents. However, on average, there is little difference in maintenance costs as some applications run slightly higher and others slightly lower.
There are several ways in which natural gas use can be expanded in vehicular transportation. Each of them offers potential improvements in some combination of operating cost and reduced emissions, and all of them offset the use of petroleum, resulting in greater reliance on domestic fuel sources and enhanced energy security. There are, however, significant barriers to natural gas vehicles becoming a substantial part of the petroleum-fuels dominated transportation sector.