Friday, June 16, 2017

Cities Can Jump-Start Climate Progress by Plugging in Their Vehicles - By Daniel Cohan, Rice University

Nissan Leaf electric vehicles added to the City of Seattle fleet. (Credit: Mayor McGinn, CC by 2.0) Click to Enlarge.
President Donald Trump’s decision to exit the Paris climate agreement reaffirmed what was already clear:  The federal government is no longer leading American efforts to shrink our carbon footprint.  But many state and local governments — along with businesses and consumers — aim to help fill this policy void.

At least a dozen governors have joined the United States Climate Alliance, committing their states to achieve emissions reductions consistent with President Barack Obama’s Paris pledge.  More than 200 mayors are promising their cities will follow suit.

My research with my former student Shayak Sengupta about how cities can benefit from buying electric cars suggests that fuel-free municipal fleets can cut urban carbon footprints while improving public health and saving taxpayers money.

Options for States and Cities
States can help curb emissions in many ways, such as by setting caps on power plant emissions and creating incentives and targets for renewable electricity.

Most of those steps lies beyond the jurisdiction of cities.  So how can they take climate action?

Urban governments most strongly impact emissions by influencing the behavior of local residents and businesses through building codes and incentives, public transit, and urban planning.  Buying increasingly affordable electric vehicles gives cities an additional opportunity to cut climate-warming emissions by reducing the amount of fossil fuels their vehicles consume.

Historically, cities and transit agencies turned to natural gas as an alternative fuel for fleet vehicles and buses.  However, our previous research showed that natural gas does not provide significant emissions savings compared with gasoline cars or diesel buses.

Electric vehicles, however, can bring about clear-cut reductions in carbon emissions.

The Electric Vehicle Market
U.S. cities own few of the 540,000 electric cars on the road nationwide as of 2016.  The nation’s two largest cities, New York City and Los Angeles, operate 1,000 and 200 electric cars, respectively.

That could soon change.  Thirty cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston, are seeking bulk-rate deals on electric vehicles.  They’ve asked manufacturers to submit bids to supply up to 114,000 electric vehicles, ranging from police cruisers to trash haulers, at a total cost of roughly US$10 billion.

This surge in electric vehicle sales could make them more affordable not just for cities but for the rest of us too.  That’s because emerging technologies typically get cheaper as production increases.  A study by researchers from the Stockholm Environment Institute estimates that electric car batteries prices fall by 6 percent to 9 percent every time production doubles.

Some analysts forecast that as soon as 2025, electric cars will become cheaper than gasoline-powered cars.  In some cases, they are already cheaper to own and operate over the vehicle’s lifetime, our research has shown.  If cities help ramp up demand for electric cars faster than anticipated, this transition could happen even faster.

Read more at Cities Can Jump-Start Climate Progress by Plugging in Their Vehicles

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