The Potential for Electrification in Transportation

The future of transportation will be low-carbon

There are many reasons to plan for a transportation system that cuts out carbon emissions. A transition to low-carbon transportation could reduce the impacts of climate change, improve our air quality and help switch to local sustainable energy sources. In addition to increasing the amount of biking, walking and transit - switching from gas cars to electric vehicles is the biggest cut to our carbon diet that we can expect to see in the coming decade. Low energy cars at the Sonoma County Water Agency.

Going electric is a big deal

So how much of an improvement is an electric vehicle (EV) over gas cars? In general, Californians shifting from an average gas car Are you joining the low-energy car squad?to an EV will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 60%. But wait, it gets better!

If you use renewable power (like Sonoma Clean Power’s Evergreen option), or choose a more efficient electric vehicle (like a Nissan Leaf), you can reduce your driving emissions by 95%. If you want to see for yourself you can play around with the Union of Concerned Scientists’ EV Emissions Tool.

Planning to make Sonoma County a leader in electric vehicles

Better planning will be key to getting more EVs. You might have heard that some of the earliest cars were electric. There were even electric taxi fleets introduced in London and New York during the 1890s. Why didn’t they take off?

In the 1890s and 1900s, the US still lacked a network of gas stations as well as a widespread electricity grid (these were mostly limited to cities). Gas cars ended up taking off because it was easier to build out gas stations in rural areas where most of the population still lived. If cars had taken off 20 years later, when we had a more established electric grid, things might have been different. Electric vehicles can be found through out Sonoma County.

So how do we boost the number of EVs in Sonoma County? There are a number of efforts currently underway. One of them is Climate Action 2020 and Beyond. This regional program for Sonoma County Communities is supported by the Regional Climate Protection Authority and includes measures on electric vehicles for Sonoma County communities to adopt. These include an Electric Vehicle Charging Station Program and a Regional EV promotion program that would help add another 8,000 EVs by 2020. The Press Democrat summarized the plan nicely, “Cars key to addressing climate change in Sonoma County.”

At the March 17 presentation by Chris Jones, author of the report “A Consumption-Based Greenhouse Gas Inventory of San Francisco Bay Area Neighborhoods, Cities and Counties”, it was shown how the fastest path to sustainable transportation comes from switching away from fossil fuels. While transitioning our land use is vital, we’re unlikely to see meaningful reductions in greenhouse gases from things like Smart Growth for many years to come. 

The future of EVs is bright

We’re currently on track to have 2 Billion gas cars operating on our planet and we’ll need to replace all of them with a low-carbon option in the coming years. The good news is that automakers are building quality EVs and the infrastructure is starting to be built to support them. But how do we make such a huge transition quickly?

One of the most promising scenarios for electric cars would be a service offering autonomous electric vehicles. This scenario for driverless electric taxis was recently modelled by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It showed that autonomous EV trips would be cheaper and reduce per-trip emissions by over 90%.

This concept for autonomous electric taxis could also make life better for those biking or walking. Just think about never smelling car exhaust again and knowing that the driverless technology will prevent cars from coming too close.

Here’s what you can do

There are a number of incentives available right now if you get an electric car. You can get up to $5,000 from the state of California if you buy or lease an EV and up to $1,500 for vehicle retirement depending on your income level. Want to learn more about what it might cost to switch to an EV? Check out the great EV Explorer tool developed by UC Davis to calculate costs based on your home and unique commute.

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Brant Arthur is the Community Affairs Specialist, responsible for public engagement and community outreach, at the SCTA and Brant ArthurRCPA. Brant also coordinates online communications through the website and social media. He is directly engaged on elements of the Fuel Shift Action Plan, the Countywide Transportation Plan and the Bay Area Regional Energy Network.

Mr. Arthur joined the Authority in May 2015 after working for several years on the SCTA-led Carma Carpooling pilot. Most recently Brant managed transportation and solid-waste initiatives at the Center for Climate Protection. He has also worked on community engagement projects in Oakland, China and India. Brant holds a Master of Development Practice degree from the University of Queensland.

This blog was produced as informational material for the Leadership for a Sustainable Future course.  It has been provided to the public to promote community wide education on issues of sustainability. You can support the education efforts of the Leadership Institute, 501 (c)3 non-profit, by donating here.