21st Century Mobility Runs on Electricity, the Greener the Better
We often write about the role of renewable energy in helping Massachusetts and Rhode Island ratchet down greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to meet the goals of the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) and the Resilient Rhode Island Act. However, it is also true that climate compliance in our states, like elsewhere, hinges on the transformation of the transportation sector.
Transportation is the largest source of GHG emissions in MA and RI, comprising approximately 42% and 34% of state GHG emissions respectively. We simply cannot achieve our climate commitments without changing the way we drive or ride or move from place to place. As we’ve mentioned before, switching from a gas-powered car to an electric vehicle (EV) currently cuts transportation-related emissions by about two thirds this year and more each year as the grid gets cleaner. In other words, we don’t reach our GHG reduction goals with a Prius; we need LEAFs and Bolts and other all-electric or plug-in cars.
Those who need a personal or family vehicle can own or lease affordable electric vehicles with long ranges and great safety features.But we should have fewer cars per family because great alternatives are becoming increasingly available.
Furthermore, the benefits of EVs are not reserved simply for those with the ability (or desire) to purchase a car, because electrifying transportation is not limited to car ownership. At Mass Energy and PP&L we are always thinking of ways to achieve our environmental imperative in a way that benefits everyone. As we see it, for those who cannot afford or don’t want another car for themselves, we should have better electric public transportation, electric car-sharing (think Zipcar and Maven), and electric ride-sharing (think Uber and Lyft).
The Good News
EV adoption is on the rise. Declining battery prices and other technological developments have made electric vehicles great choices for consumers while bringing down prices. Federal tax credits and state rebates have brought down prices further. Fortuitously, it costs less per mile to run on electricity than gasoline. Maintenance costs of an EV are less, too. As a result, the term “parity ” is coming up faster than most experts would have dreamed three years ago. Just this week, Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicted that EVs will account for 54% of global cars sales in 2040, not 35% as they predicted just one year ago!
For such a prediction for 2040 to come true, progress has to be made every day between now and then. The competitive pricing of our newly permanent Drive Green with Mass Energy and People’s Power & Light is helping drivers in MA and RI get new electric cars. Emerging technologies and markets will make it possible to get around even more easily, cleanly, and cheaply in years ahead. However, achieving the full potential of EVs will depend in large part on public policy, especially at the state level.
The Road Ahead
The Bay State and the Ocean State have set ambitious climate- and transportation-related goals that will require rapid electrification of transportation.
Goal #1: Both Massachusetts and Rhode Island have legislatively adopted goals of reducing GHG emissions 80% under 1990 levels by 2050. That’s the equivalent of reducing statewide GHG emissions 1% every six months. We don’t like kicking the can down the road, so we encourage steady progress. If we do 1% every six months, we will have less to do in 2049!
Goal #2: Massachusetts and Rhode Island are two of eight states that have signed onto a zero emission vehicles pledge, the “ZEV Program”, to put 3.3 million EVs on the road by 2025. Massachusetts has a goal of 300,000. Rhode Island has a goal of 43,000. Currently there are slightly more than 10,000 EVs registered in MA and fewer in RI. This means that in both cases, we have to pick up the pace quite a bit, by a factor of at least 30.
Achieving both of these goals will mean quickly transitioning from gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles to all-electric or plug-in hybrids.
How to Get Where We Need To Go
Briefly, here are some of the components we believe are necessary to fulfill the potential of electrification in Massachusetts and Rhode Island:
Car Ownership (and Leasing)
- State governments should continue to offer rebates for new electric cars that are priced for the middle class, meaning that might have a retail price of $50,000 or less. All over the world and in various parts of this country, rebates are key to building market demand.
- State government should offer rebates to low- and moderate-income consumers who buy or lease a used EV.
- Programs like ours, independent of government and for-profit interests, can speed up the adoption of EVs.
Car-sharing and ride-sharing
- Car-sharing providers like Zipcar and Maven need to go electric and so do ride-sharing companies like Lyft and Uber. Government should help facilitate their spread and offer specific support for programs serving low-income people. Los Angeles has a low-income electric car-sharing program worth replicating, at least to some extent, in cities like Boston and Providence. Done right, such programs get everyone where they need to be with less pollution and less congestion. Bringing a program like this up to scale might be hard, but when it does get to scale, there are huge rewards because when we share an EV and run it for more miles per day, we enjoy lower marginal costs than for a gasoline car.
- We need to get rid of dirty diesel buses and replace them with electric buses. Many cities have already adopted electric buses and companies like Proterra are building new factories to meet increasing demand. The MBTA in Greater Boston and RIPTA in Providence should make electric buses available to the inner city. School buses should also be electric. As with cars, an electric bus costs less money to operate than a diesel. And at the same time, it does not emit particulates and nitrogen oxides, both of which cause tremendous health problems to anyone breathing in the vicinity. We need the buses for sure, but without the fumes.
Creating a Win-Win Situation with the Utilities
- Utilities should be authorized and directed to offer incentives for customers that want to build out publicly available charging infrastructure. This means large employers, public agencies, apartment buildings, shopping malls, and other places with significant traffic volume. The buildout of this infrastructure needs to be commensurate to the states’ ZEV goals.
- Utilities should also be required to offer time-of-use rates so that drivers are given incentives to charge their cars off-peak. When this is done, the grid is used more efficiently and that benefits all ratepayers, not just EV drivers.
One Final Plug Because We’re Running Out of Gas
The benefits of electrification (clean air, quieter streets, better health and far less congestion) can and should be made accessible to all. This will require lots of planning, specific actions from this day forward, and the right mix of incentives. But the payoff will be huge. We can make mobility better, faster, cheaper, and cleaner than ever before. For everyone.