The Greenlight blog shares the latest, original, forward-looking research by UC Davis on sustainable transportation, energy and climate-related challenges facing society. The blog highlights fact-based, data driven analysis and expert insights on the scientific, commercial, technological, environmental and societal issues related to the future of fuels, mobility and energy efficiency. Through this blog, workshops and publications, UC Davis seeks to inform and elevate public dialogue on government policy and business strategy.
Welcome to GreenLight, blog of the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, Energy Institute, Energy Efficiency Center, Policy Institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy—and affiliated centers and programs. Here you will find news on the latest research conducted by our affiliated faculty and research members, along with our graduate students. Our aim is to inform government and industry decision-making regarding vehicles, fuels, infrastructure, and mobility on key sustainable transportation and energy issues. Please explore, share, and comment on issues you find insightful or interesting.
The photo above shows West Village, the zero net energy community which is home to many of our transportation and energy research centers and institutes.
-Daniel Sperling, Professor and Director, ITS-Davis and the Energy Institute
Since the First Industrial Revolution, oil and gas have played a pivotal role in economic transformation and mobility. But now, with the prospects that major economies like the United States, China and European nations will try to shift away from oil, producers are coming to realize that their oil reserves under the ground – sometimes referred to as “black gold” – could become less valuable in the future than they are today.
On March 10, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy co-sponsored “Natural Climate Solutions Symposium” in Sacramento which featured speakers from government, academia, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector to elevate the dialogue on how California’s natural landscapes can be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help the State of California adapt to its changing climate. The event featured speakers from government, academia, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector.
The Paris Climate Accord reached on Saturday, December 12, feels like a home run. Nearly 200 countries fully agreed on text in which they pledge to make large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions over the next 15 years, with mechanisms to help ensure that this goal is achieved. It includes quantified CO2 mitigation commitments from all major economies around the world; mechanisms for reporting and verifying progress; commitments for $100 billion in financing of actions; and many other key elements.
I arrived in Paris to (ironically) unseasonably warm temperatures, and a strange mix: a festive Christmas-time atmosphere combined with a paramilitary police presence at almost every street corner, keeping watch over the throngs.
Paris is currently hosting the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change—“COP21”—where the next phase of international climate policy is being formulated. The global conference has drawn more than 150 international leaders and some 40,000 diplomats, advocates and experts. Among them is Lew Fulton, Co-Director of the Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (STEPS) program of ITS-Davis.
With the elusive goal of forging a legally binding global climate agreement just a few months away, climate scientists are weighing how to get the world on track to limit climate change to a two-degree Celsius increase.
Who’s most likely to drive an electric vehicle? An environmentally conscious consumer, many would respond. One of the key societal benefits of electric vehicles is that they produce zero tailpipe emissions and result in far fewer carbon emissions per mile travelled. This means that EVs can help mitigate the issues of climate change and urban air pollution, which arguably are some of the most prevalent issues of our time.
Can we reach very low carbon trucking by 2050?
The state of California is targeting an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050, and recently announced its goal to reduce fossil fuel use in transportation by 40% by 2030. The U.S. federal government is also looking for new ways to reduce emissions from transport. One promising area to achieve both goals is in the tighter regulation of medium and heavy-duty trucks. A new UC Davis research study, “Strategies for Transitioning to Low-Carbon Emission Trucks in the United States,”* concludes that the trucking sector can offer significant reductions in both fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions through increased efficiency, electrification and alternative fuels. However the study cautions that achieving an 80% reduction in GHGs in the trucking sector by 2050 will be very challenging.
Switching from diesel fuel to natural gas may hold advantages for the U.S. heavy duty trucking fleet, and California’s high volume I-5 truck corridor would be a commercially optimum location to launch first investments, according to, “Exploring the Role of Natural Gas in U.S. Trucking,” the new white paper released today from the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis and Rice University.
Such a network could help the state enable a faster transition to renewable natural gas, biogas and waste-to-energy pathways. But it would require significant policy intervention to reap climate change advantages, our research found.
Oil prices have hit their cheapest level since the height of the 2009 recession, and U.S. oil imports are at a 16-year low. As a result, policymakers across the country will be rethinking energy strategies, including the new U.S. Congress and California Governor Jerry Brown. Governor Brown suggested in his inaugural speech on January 5 that California should try to reduce current petroleum use in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent by 2030 as part of the state’s climate action plan, with the Air Resources Board outlining California’s policies to meet this target. President Barack Obama is also expected early this year to announce a set of additional climate policies.
In Part 2, we consider how current laws intended to protect dealers and consumers may have the unintended effect of stymieing the retail innovation needed to sell more PEVs. A key policy component is the lowering of barriers that make it difficult for key players to try new approaches for attracting and supporting customers ready to make the jump to these path-breaking new vehicles. For example, customers need help learning how to use unfamiliar charging equipment, help arranging installation of a home charger, or assistance figuring out which public incentives they qualify for and how to get them. Many dealers are ill-prepared to offer these services in the face of uncertain profits.
California’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Program requires automakers to sell increasing numbers of advanced clean vehicle technologies, including battery electric, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell electric vehicles. To bolster the rapid expansion in sales of these innovative new vehicles, the state offers rebates to buyers. But the policy focus on manufacturers and consumers is only half the battle, new research shows. Still missing are policies directed at fully independent car dealers, who may hold the key to increased electric vehicle sales. A recently released ITS-Davis study suggests many dealers are less than enthusiastic about plug-in vehicles, despite evidence that plug-ins can be just as profitable for dealers as conventional gas-powered cars.
As the saying goes, “Put your money where your mouth is.”
Well, California is doing just that. Thanks to the Cap-and-Trade Program, the state has $832 million to spend in fiscal year 2014-15 on projects that will help chip away at the ambitious target of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—and even more is expected in future years. A portion of these funds ($130 million) will be passed along to California communities, in part to support projects that help people replace car trips with low-carbon transportation options (e.g., walking, bicycling, and transit) and in part to preserve agricultural lands.
We at ITS-Davis put a fair bit of effort into studying the transition to new types of fuels and vehicles. A shift to low-carbon fuels such as electricity, hydrogen and biofuels will be necessary to decarbonize transportation over the next several decades. However there is another important near-term strategy that can also produce enormous benefits: improving conventional vehicle fuel economy.
The signing this week of a landmark Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between UC Davis and the China Automotive Technology and Research Center (CATARC) on clean vehicle adoption comes at an opportune time. China is experiencing explosive expansion in its vehicles market. At the same time, China’s leaders are eager to play a global role in sustainable transport and are looking for partners.
Are hydrogen powered fuel cell vehicles (FCV) ready for the big stage?
We seem to be tantalizingly close to the beginning of a hydrogen transition. Of course, energy decision-makers have heard this before. What’s different this time around?
In our latest white paper, “The Hydrogen Transition,” my ITS-Davis colleagues Christopher Yang, Michael Nicholas, Lew Fulton and I analyze challenges surrounding transitioning to mainstream adoption of hydrogen. We identify important factors that are bringing hydrogen and fuel cell technologies back to the verge of commercialization.
Ladies and gentlemen: Start your chargers!
Wondering whether a plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) could save you money? Check out the UC Davis EV Explorer, a cutting edge web-based tool that helps consumers see if a plug-in electric vehicle is right for them.
The Obama administration is thinking creatively about how to address the 2015 requirement for renewable fuels. In doing so, it needs to consider the efficiency and process improvements that are taking place at existing U.S. biorefineries.
In a new white paper released this week by the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis (ITS-Davis), we measure the Incremental changes that are occurring in the U.S. biofuels industry and discuss their relevance in advancing domestic environmental goals.
Last week’s Supreme Court decision to decline an appeal on the constitutionality of California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) is further evidence the oil industry is likely to be on the wrong side of history in its fight to block policies to bring alternative fuels to market. The California public has voted decisively to be a leader in addressing climate change through an ambitious carbon policy, including maintaining the state’s goal to promote innovation in fuels and vehicles. California policy also aligns with national polling which shows that two-thirds of Americans are concerned enough about climate change to support President Obama’s new climate rules. Politically, climate policy will get increased backing over time given that the Millennial generation is 76 percent more likely than their parents to favor environmental action.
By late this month or early July, Mercedes-Benz is set to start shipping its first mass-produced pure electric vehicle in the U.S. – the B-Class Electric Drive – joining producers like BMW, Nissan and Tesla , Forbes Magazine reported yesterday. Forbes stated this is another sign of the “fast growing plug-in electric vehicle market,” with global PEV sales expected to reach more than “2.7 million units globally by 2018.”
In California, the U.S. and across the globe, we are at a turning point for plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs)—as electric transportation options become technologically diverse and more available and attractive to consumers.
Yesterday’s action by the U.S. EPA to limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from coal-fired power plants brings the nation one step closer to reducing emissions 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels. So what other actions will be needed to meet long-term climate goals? And what will they cost? Nobody has a crystal ball, but UC Davis experts, along with other academics and policymakers, developed a series of scenarios that may help to answer these questions. While our research is focused on California, many insights are applicable to other regions and the nation. The timing of this research is particularly relevant as the California Air Resources Board looks to set a mid-term target (i.e. 2030), as outlined in the first update to the AB 32 climate change scoping plan, a document released last month.
The current shale energy revolution surprised almost everyone. Ditto with today’s automotive technology revolution. Throughout the 1990s, car technology was seen as mature, with only incremental improvements likely in the future. Auto makers vociferously opposed stronger fuel-economy standards on the grounds that it would be costly and require a shrinking of vehicles. It was mantra that tougher standards would not be able to be met and jobs would be lost.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just released a report in Berlin that details what needs to be done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The IPCC is a scientific body commissioned by the United Nations to review and assess the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information regarding climate change.