The Top 5: It Only Takes a Few Countries to Kick-Start Decarbonization

04.20.17 | Blog | By:

Happy Thursday friends!  Here’s my weekly take on the five most interesting developments in future fuels and vehicles trends over the last week:

  1. It Only Takes a Few Countries to Kick-Start Decarbonization: According to a study from Climate Action Tracker, all the signs are there for the decarbonization of the transport sector to take off. The only transport decarbonization option considered though were EVs.
  2. LCFS Court Case: The latest case concerns NOx emissions from biodiesel and whether CARB failed to follow the state’s Environmental Quality Act assessment procedures. The real issue is whether it could derail the program.
  3. Toyota Heavy-Duty Fuel Cell Truck: Tesla wasn’t the only company revealing a potential game-changer in heavy-duty trucking this past week. Toyota also unveiled “Project Portal,” a hydrogen fuel cell system designed for heavy-duty trucks applied in a Class 8 truck for use at the Port of Los Angeles. Biodiesel and renewable diesel (and of course, conventional diesel) could end up with some competition down the road.
  4. EIA Autonomous Vehicle Study: Autonomous vehicles, according to EIA, could reduce fuel consumption by as much as 44% for passenger vehicles and 18%for trucks by 2050.
  5. Second-Hand Cars: 90 countries met this past week to discuss the trade in used, second-hand vehicles as a major contributor to air pollution, and how this should be regulated in and among countries.

1. Climate Action Tracker: Faster and Cleaner 2: It Only Takes a Few Countries to Kick-Start Energy System Decarbonisation

According to a new study from Climate Action Tracker, it only takes a handful of countries to kick-start decarbonization globally. The report based its investigation on the fact that to meet the Paris Agreement’s long-term temperature limit, and the global energy system must completely decarbonise by mid-century. The report examined the trends driving decarbonisation in three key sectors of the global energy system: power, transportation, and buildings—and looked at what can drive rapid transitions in these areas.

With respect to transportation, and, pointedly, EVs were the only decarbonization option considered in the study for transport. The study authors say, “all the signs are there for the decarbonisation of this sector to take off” driven by the policies put into place in just a few countries, including Norway, the Netherlands, California and China. The type of successful policy packages that kick-started the sector often include a focus on targets for takeup, campaigns on behavioral change,  infrastructure investment—especially important for EVs—and research and development.

The report makes a number of recommendations as to how decarbonisation in those sectors can meet the Paris Agreement challenge, such as increasing flexibility in power systems to integrate larger shares of renewable energy, and more countries adopting policies in the electric vehicle market and on building standards.  “[T]o accelerate EDV penetration of the global car market in line with 2°C- or 1.5°C-compatible pathways, countries should learn from one another, identifying and pursuing the most successful policy packages” that could include the following measures:

  • Tax rebates for EV drivers and financial support for EV purchases.
  • Behavioral incentives for EDV drivers, such as access to EV-only road lanes until EVs make up a certain percentage of EVs in the car fleet.
  • Support for continued expansion of EV charging infrastructure.
  • Support for basic research into EV batteries in order to improve EVs’ energy efficiency and performance.
  • Governmental targets and laws that guide policymaking and exert compliance pressure on industry—for example, zero emission vehicle requirements for manufacturers and increasingly stringent CO2 emission standards.

The report notes that “working together in a formal transformative coalition, countries and regions could combine successful financial and behavioral incentives with continued support for RD&D and internal markets large enough to influence global demand for EVs. A supportive policy environment in the participating countries could then drive investment in technology, leading to higher performance standards and lower prices worldwide, thereby accelerating global uptake.”  The process would look something like the figure below.

Climate Tracker notes if these transformative coalitions were to implement policy packages in a coordinated manner, they would boost demand and accelerate investment and technological improvements. Such coalitions would push the global EV market toward an “tipping point” beyond which the cost decreases are large enough to have a cascading influence on the rest of the world.

“If a breakthrough coalition could also help novel technologies develop further such that they could spread to other parts of the transport sector (such as electric buses and electrified freight transport), emissions from the sector would reduce rapidly, provided that the power sector also decarbonizes in line with Paris Agreement goals. Bringing the transport sector in line with those goals should set the benchmark for the coalition’s ambition.”

2. Latham’s Clean Energy Law Report: California Court Rules Against Air Resources Board over LCFS but Preserves 2017 Status Quo

This report provides a straightforward, relatively simple review of a court case decided last week by California’s Court of Appeal for the Fifth Appellate District. The case (known as “POET I”) essentially concerns the question of whether CARB violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it originally promulgated the Low Carbon Fuels Standard (LCFS) program. The court found that CARB had failed to comply with CEQA’s requirement that it analyze the degree to which NOx emissions from biodiesel fuels had been and would be impacted by the implementation of the LCFS rules and that its analysis for deficient under CEQA. Read more about it here.

3. Green Car Congress: Toyota North America Unveils Hydrogen-Fuel-Cell Heavy-Duty Truck Proof-Of-Concept

Tesla wasn’t the only company revealing a potential game-changer in heavy-duty trucking this past week. Toyota also unveiled “Project Portal,” a hydrogen fuel cell system designed for heavy-duty trucks applied in a Class 8 truck for use at the Port of Los Angeles. According to the company, the zero-emission truck proof-of-concept will take part in a feasibility study examining the potential of fuel cell technology in heavy duty applications. The study will begin this summer and contribute to the Port’s Clean Air Action Plan. The truck is a fully functioning heavy-duty truck with the power and torque capacity to conduct port drayage operations while emitting nothing but water vapor.

Both the Tesla and the Toyota heavy-duty trucks could be game changers with respect to decarbonizing the heavy-duty trucking sector while improving fuel economy and reducing air pollution. First, and to recall an earlier post, oil demand for heavy-duty trucking (freight) is one of the fastest growing sectors, according to IEA (and the figure below). And, there’s no “easy” alternative to decarbonizing this sector.

Second, recall another recent post which discussed findings from an International Transport Forum and OECD study, which, among other findings, noted that if no additional measures are taken, CO2 emissions from global freight alone could increase by 160%, as international freight volumes grow threefold in their baseline scenario. This is largely due to increased use of road transport, especially for short distances and in regions that lack rail links, such as South-East Asia, according to OECD/ITF. CO2 emissions by freight mode in 2015, 2030 and 2050 are shown in the figure below.

Third, and to put the foregoing analysis on fuel demand and CO2 emissions into perspective, following is a graphic from another post that shows heavy-duty trucking in a single day in the U.S.

4. EIA: Study of the Potential Energy Consumption Impacts of Connected and Automated Vehicles

How much could connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs) disrupt fuel demand? That’s one of the questions EIA (through contractors Z, Inc. and Energetics, Inc.) tried to provide insight on in this study, and this is an issue EIA will continue to study.  Read more about it here.

5. Devex: Geneva Meeting on Used Cars Exporting Pollution to Developing Countries

This past week transport leaders from around the world met for the first time to discuss the non-fuel efficient and unsafe secondhand vehicles into developing countries, and have taken the first steps toward agreeing voluntary regulations and standards. Delegates from 90 nations, including approximately 30 developing countries, gathered to share information, and much of the discussion focused on how to regulate the flow of cars from one country to another. According to the article, experts predict the number of vehicles in developing countries will increase four- or five-fold by 2050. The majority of these will be second hand — the trade in used cars grew by an estimated 14.4% between 1997 and 2007, from 1.24 million to 4.7 million.


Tammy Klein is a consultant and strategic advisor providing market and policy intelligence and analysis on transportation fuels to the auto and oil industries, governments, and NGOs. She writes and advises on petroleum fuels, biofuels, alternative fuels, automotive fuels, and fuels policy.

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