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UC transportation researchers offer to assist CARB with GHG reductions data analysis; Audit report “likely incorrect”

A group of 13 researchers from the University of California system have offered to assist the California Air Resources Board (ARB) with its analysis of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction data resulting from state programs and also to develop better long-term data collection and analysis tools.

The group wrote to CARB executive officer Richard Corey in response to a recently released state Audit report that concluded that the state might not meet its 2030 GHG reduction goal, asserting that CARB has overstated emissions reductions achieved through its incentive programs and charging that CARB has not consistently collected or analyzed data to evaluate the benefits of its programs. (Earlier post.)

In the letter, the group of UC researchers (among them Professor Dan Sperling, an Automotive Member of the CARB board) wrote:

As researchers of GHG transportation mitigation strategies, we understand the complexity of measuring the impact of overlapping incentives, regulations, infrastructure supply and more. Clearly, more data and analysis are needed to assess the impacts of the suite of policies, regulations, and incentives aimed at meeting the state’s GHG reduction goals and the goals of researching 5 million zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) on the road by 2030 and 100% ZEV sales by 2035. However, the Report greatly understates the challenge of untangling the effects of specific incentives and policies.

… An effective ZEV strategy would be built on regulatory mandates, incentives, pricing, consumer education, and infrastructure investments—that is, those policies impacting ZEV production, sales, and use. The Report focused on only one of these elements: purchase incentive policies, highlighting “free riders”, those who receive incentive dollars even though they would have purchased the ZEV without the incentives.

The focus on free riders is simplistic and largely misleading. Consider that the total impact of the purchase incentives goes well beyond the direct impact on the initial purchase decision. The secondary impacts include impacts on resale value (and thus the expansion of the used car market), the willingness of automakers to provide vehicles (currently a big barrier to market expansion), consumer awareness, support of the charging infrastructure, and much more.

These second order impacts may well have a larger and longer-term effect on the state’s GHG emissions than the direct effects. Thus, the finding of the Report that CARB “...overstated GHG emissions reductions its incentive programs achieve” is likely incorrect. Moreover, equity-motivated changes have already been made to reduce free riding on light duty vehicle incentive programs and are under consideration for medium and heavy-duty vehicle purchase incentives.


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