Are EVs California’s roadway-based transportation future?

Ever since the big-smog episodes of the mid-1900s – these encounters really opening our eyes to the harm to health that this type of pollution can cause – there has been much progress made in the areas of identifying the key ingredients that enable smog formation – like hydrocarbons, oxides of nitrogen and heat from the sun, for example – and figuring out methods and taking necessary steps to help keep smog at bay.

Whereas initially and for a time the main preoccupation seemed to center around air pollution first coming from stationary sources like factories and industry, and its control or reduction (or complete elimination in certain circumstances – mostly having to do with an emergency accidental release of a highly toxic emission and then stemming such) followed by that which emanates from the transportation sector, now the primary focus seems to be with emissions of greenhouse gases pouring from all sectors; transportation, industry, agriculture, energy, manufacturing, etc. alike and regulation and mitigation of those. The bulk of the conversation thus having switched, the main emphasis in this regard is being placed on transportation, and on the road-based platform especially.

Which brings us to California with its population’s seemingly insatiable appetite for driving.

With its roughly 22 million licensed drivers and approximately 30 million registered motor vehicles, Californians’ attention now has turned to, first and foremost, cutting GHGs from the roadway sector.

So, GHG emissions-wise, how is California trending now?

From: “Transport may keep California from reaching its 2020 emissions-reduction goal, if …” the Aug. 23, 2017 Air Quality Matters blog post, here is the introductory passage from that post quoted verbatim:

“‘While the state has made considerable progress decoupling economic growth from greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the rate of emissions decline appears to be slowing, due in part to a spike in transportation emissions,’ Next 10 acknowledged in its Aug. 22, 2017 ‘Ninth annual Green Innovation Index finds California clean economy thriving – But emissions-reduction challenges loom: Transportation sector emissions spike, pose major challenge to state’s 2030 climate goals,’ press release. ‘On an absolute basis, California’s total GHG emissions fell only slightly in 2015, down 0.34 percent from 2014. This compares to a 0.73 percent reduction in the previous year and sharper falls in years before. If current rates of decline continue through 2020, the state will need to reduce emissions at a rate of 4.97 percent each year in the decade between 2020 and 2030, and produce even steeper declines in the period from 2030 to 2050, if it is to meet current climate goals.'”

That’s the challenge. And, transportation will, presumably, play a key contributory role in helping facilitate that.

Going electric: A seismic shift

Electric vehicles in California seem all the rage. In 2021 in state, there were, according to Veloz statistical data, a quarter-million zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs) sold. And 2022’s numbers for the first three quarters, have already surpassed even that. As for market share, the latter number represents just south of 18 percent of all new vehicles sold in state. It is not too difficult to see where this is going.

Then there’s this: In 2035, all new vehicle sales in the Golden State will be restricted to electric models. This isn’t to say that internal-combustion-engined-powered vehicles will be barred from operating on California roadways. So, for at least a time, there will be an EV/ICE mix.

What’s important to note here, meanwhile, is that besides the standard or conventional fueling stations, there will also need to be adequate charging and fueling infrastructure (for fuel-cell vehicles) in place to accommodate the ZEV numbers needing charging/fueling. As it stands, the state has around 80,000 ZEV charging and fueling facilities. And currently with 1.3 million ZEVs sold in state in a span of eleven-and-three-quarter years (year 2011 to Q3 2022, according to Veloz data), then, broken down, as it stands, that means there are six charging/fueling stations for every 100 ZEVs. So, the charging/fueling capability is definitely there, at this moment.

Vehicle/vehicle battery affordability

ZEVs can be expensive. The same holds true regarding replacement batteries. Hopefully, over time, such costs will come down significantly. Purchasers are also concerned about driving range for reasons which aren’t too hard to imagine. This too will hopefully improve.

Ethical considerations

Materials that go into the assembly of batteries, especially raw materials like lithium, must be mined environmentally responsibly. At present, and most unfortunately, there are situations where it’s not. That’s problematic and raises all kinds of ethical questions. Is such causing physical harm to miners? Is such causing harm to the environment? If such environmentally harmful and/or unsafe mining practices continue, then, as far as I’m concerned, alternatively safe/healthy and/or environmentally responsible methods must be identified and implemented instead. It’s a similar situation regarding used electric-vehicle-battery disposal.

The way forward

All of which, in my mind, has implications for the way in which California (as well as other jurisdictions) in advancing the platform and technology, should proceed going forward. This could all factor in, in determining California’s roadway-based transportation future.

– Alan Kandel

Copyrighted material.

Last updated on Jan. 10, 2023 at 3:30 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.