When it comes to electric vehicles and renewable energy, California emerges as the undisputed leader in both departments. The state leads an aggressive campaign in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to protect the climate and improve air quality, and this has everything to do with electric vehicles. Not only California is offering attractive perks to boost electric car ownership, but it is also requiring auto manufacturers to produce zero emission vehicles, which also include hydrogen fuel-powered cars. The initiatives of the state is highly commendable and worthy of emulation by other states, but there are still challenges and rooms for improvement.
The numbers say it all
Aside from being a testing ground for electric mobility, California is indeed a major market for electric cars. In a survey commissioned by the Consumers Union and the Union of Concerned Scientists, it was revealed that more than half of the drivers surveyed would consider purchasing or leasing an electric unit as their next vehicle, and more than 65% are generally interested in electric vehicles. Of the households surveyed, 44% say they could use one with little or no change to their current vehicle needs and driving habits.
California is on its way to meet its target of 1.5 million electric vehicles on the road by 2025. To date, over 200,000 units have been sold in the state. Plug-in hybrid units only account for 3% of the new vehicle market in California, home to almost half of all plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in the US. Out of every 10,000 registered vehicles in the state, only about 5 units are plug-in hybrids. The figures will only grow and sales will only increase as the state government is mandating the sale of electric vehicles. California has a mandatory 22% target for electric units within 10 years, and it expects that 15% of all new light-duty vehicles sold must be powered by either electric battery or hydrogen fuel.
In addition to the electric car campaign, the state also aims to source a third of its electricity from renewable sources by the end of 2020 and half by 2030. With its aggressive electrification drive, the state could achieve – and even exceed – its goals years before the target dates.
Economic and climate impact of electric cars
How will electric cars impact the state and the nation as a whole? The increasing adoption of electric cars will benefit both the US economy and the climate, according to the Department of Energy. If all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles completely replaced their internal combustion engine counterparts, carbon pollution would fall by 20%, and dependence on foreign oil would fall by between 30-60%.
In the US, the transportation sector use up 71% of petroleum products, while the industrial, commercial, and residential sectors consume 28%. The remaining 1% goes to electricity production. A sizable fleet of electric cars would save around 17 billion gallons of gasoline a year by 2030. The country would keep the $39.5 billion (by current prices) that could have went offshore. Should the other states promote the use of electric vehicles as aggressively as California does, this will result to a significant drop in oil demand, a crisis oil companies may never recover.
In California, the 200,000 electric vehicles will greatly impact the state’s zero emission drive. They could help save an estimated 56 million gallons of gasoline every year or an equivalent to 7,000 tanker trucks carrying unused gasoline. Based on last year’s average gasoline price of $3.09 per gallon against $0.17 per kWh for electricity, California drivers will save about $81 million a year from paying at the pump. Moreover, the 200,000 electric vehicles will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 425,000 metric tons. Carbon emissions will only get lower once California completes its shift from carbon-emitting coal to renewable energy for their electricity.
How California became electric-centric
The state has been the constant leader in electric vehicle sales over the last five years. It has been extremely aggressive in getting the other states to adopt aggressive zero emission programs, and a number of states have followed suit with their own zero emissions vehicle mandates. What influences California to adopt an electric-centric image? What keeps the state in the top spot of the electric vehicle sales charts?
Sales of electric units in certain markets such as Silicon Valley exceed sales in other US markets. Thousands of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles ply the streets of Silicon Valley, home to Tesla and numerous tech companies and start-ups. Tech companies offer their employees some sort of allowance or subsidy for a purchase of an electric car, along with free charging at the workplace.
More electric options
Car buyers in California have more choices than anywhere else in the US. They can choose across a variety of brands, models, and classes, including minivans, sedans, and SUVs. That is what car buyers get from their state that mandates auto manufacturers to produce electric cars for the mass market.
Opportunity to test drive
Electric vehicle dealers in the state offer potential buyers the opportunity to test drive a unit they desire. If they cannot test-drive it, they would not purchase it, so say 86% of survey respondents.
Possibility of a free car
By taking advantage of the federal tax credit, state rebate, and monthly employer subsidy, you can get an electric car at a zero net cost. But that will depend on the car model (price, options, etc.) and your eligibility for the incentives.
There are millions of people in the state who adhere to the green ideology to some degree. They believe they are protecting Mother Nature, saving the trees, whatever, by buying an electric car. Though irrational at some point, they are just happy to do their part for the environment, along with enjoying the perks of driving an electric car.
Challenges and opportunities for improvement
California is already a leader in electric vehicles, but it should not just stop with current goals and recent accomplishments. There are opportunities for growth. The state can do more and do better with every advancement in the field.
Increase car buyers’ awareness of current incentives
Majority of California drivers know little or nothing about existing federal and state incentives for electric vehicles. Such programs can help potential buyers save thousands of dollars for the purchase of their desired electric car.
Build more charging stations
Though the weather in California is ideal for electric vehicles, state government need not to take chances, but invest in additional charging infrastructures to address range anxiety among drivers. State government can turn to commercial establishments and private businesses for help in exchange for some tax incentives.
Speed up the shift to renewable energy
Using coal-powered electric grids to power electric cars would just defeat the purpose of zero emission. The growing number of electric units in the state will demand more electricity, which will require more electric grids, most of them running on carbon-emitting coal. Without the necessary number of electric grids to meet the power needs of electric cars, grids could overload, transformers would blow up, and a blackout may occur.
Turn to alternative fuels
State government should get auto manufacturers to develop plug-in hybrids that run on alternative fuels such as hydrogen fuel and natural gas. This move will help reduce dependence on gasoline, diesel, and other oil-based fuels.
Support battery research
Many car buyers are still hesitant about buying electric units because batteries are said to be defective and inefficient, no matter how cheaper they have become. Indeed, any affordable electric unit will not be worth the investment if its battery easily runs out of juice. Budget-conscious, range-anxious buyers would get stuck with a limited range car, losing more money in the process rather than actually saving them. State government may do to encourage universities and private laboratories to conduct battery research and even offer to fund them. Electric vehicles will get better with better batteries.