Based on the analysis in my previous post, if we are going to achieve our greenhouse gas reduction goals, drivers need to shift to electric vehicles. Converting drivers who drive a lot each day will help the most. At the same time, our power grid needs to become greener.
Roughly, one-quarter or more of new vehicle sales in the state need to be electric over the next decade. That’s a big increase in market share — currently, only two or three percent of sales are electric.
Technology improvements and public policies favoring decarbonization have come together to create a lot of momentum towards electric vehicles. The major automakers are all promising electric vehicles for rollout over the next decade. Some analysts project that electric vehicle sales will grow nationally at a rate sufficient to support Massachusetts’ goals, but others project slower national adoption.
Strong national policy favoring electric vehicles is probably necessary to assure that Massachusetts is able to achieve its goals. Electric vehicles are still more expensive and less convenient to refuel than conventional vehicles, although the gap is closing fast.
We should elect federal legislators who support the strong emission regulations, including the special authority for more stringent regulations in California. Under a decades-old federal-state split of authority, California is the only state that can set its own auto emission standards and other states have the option of enforcing California standards.
California recently announced it will require all new passenger vehicles sold in the state to have zero emissions by 2035. Massachusetts was the first state to announce it would follow California’s lead. Our state law requires that Massachusetts adopt California standards where they are more stringent than federal standards, except in special circumstances.
Many European governments have already set a more aggressive target, banning internal combustion engine sales after 2030. Massachusetts leaders should advocate adoption of this more aggressive target by the federal government and/or by California.
We should also continue to invest in rebates and other incentives that make electric vehicles attractive for dealers to sell and attractive for consumers to buy. Our approach to incentives needs to be bolder and perhaps also more intelligently targeted.
Currently, Massachusetts offers a blanket $2,500 incentive for zero emission vehicles. This may not be enough to influence buying decisions — it may be an after-the-fact giveaway. Some argue that even the $7,500 federal tax credit does not much difference in buying decisions: It is only available for the first 200,000 vehicles sold by the manufacturer. Yet nationally, most electric vehicles sold come from the market leaders, Tesla and General Motors who have long ago sold enough vehicles to lose the incentive.
Certainly, there is some level at which incentives can start to make a large difference on consumer decisions and we should be willing to consider greater investment in incentives. President Biden’s “American Jobs Plan” will include substantial new incentives. Once those are defined, Massachusetts should re-examine its own incentives to determine how to supplement the national incentives. We should carefully consider how investments in incentives compare with other possible investments in reducing emissions and pollution.
We should also look for ways to target those investments to heavily-used vehicles. Since the carbon emissions in the lifecycle of a battery electric vehicle are more concentrated in the manufacture of the battery, a battery electric vehicle that is very lightly driven could actually be a carbon negative choice. (See the note on life cycle costs below.)
It also makes sense to target the fleets that cause pollution in urban areas, like delivery fleets, taxi fleets and Uber/Lyft drivers. Incentives to electrify taxi and Uber/Lyft vehicles could be conditioned on improved coordination of rider/share with public transit, so that trips could more easily include both modes.
I recently heard from a constituent a new suggestion: Massachusetts could help market electric vehicles to high emission households (taking care to protect privacy) using vehicle mileage and efficiency data from the registry of motor vehicles. This could turn out to be a low cost measure to effectively reduce emissions.
For equity and cost-effectiveness, we should consider means-testing the incentives. The easiest way to means-test incentives is to use tax credits instead of point-of-sale rebates, but this is less attractive for consumers than point-of-sale rebates.
The other big barrier to electric vehicle adoption is the charging network. At the gas pump, one can load in a minute or two enough fuel to travel three or four hundred miles. Typical household chargers only add 4-5 miles of range per hour of charging. Tesla’s 240V home charger takes ten or fifteen hours to give a range of 250 miles. The fastest Tesla supercharging stations take 15 minutes to give enough charge to drive 200 miles.
President Biden’s “American Jobs Plan” contemplates investing in 500,000 charging stations by 2030. This substantial public investment will allow consumers to buy electric vehicles with more confidence as to the availability of charging on the road. It remains to be seen what kind of charging speed the new public charging network will offer and what standards will govern its interaction with the rapidly evolving assortment of batteries offered by different manufacturers. Massachusetts may need to have its own initiative to complement the federal initiative and assure that all areas of the state are well served.
I revised this text on April 15 to incorporate the points related to life cycle cost and am still looking for more comments and critique.
Note on Life Cycle Carbon Costs of BEVs (4/14)
The analysis below suggests that the life cycle carbon emissions from a battery electric vehicle (if manufactured and charged on a very green grid) are approximately 83% below a comparably sized conventional vehicle. At Massachusetts current grid carbon intensity (see note below), the emissions savings are more modest — a reduction of 57% as compared to a conventional vehicle. The carbon savings on the Massachusetts grid would be reduced to approximately 30% if the battery has to replaced once in the full life of the vehicle. Carbon savings decline for people who drive less. Carbon savings from owning and driving an electric vehicle instead of a traditional or hybrid vehicle decline to zero or below if a person drives less than 2000 miles per year. Carbon savings are not very sensitive to the grid carbon intensity where the vehicle battery is manufactured, because much of the carbon emitted in manufacture is from manufacturing processes themselves, not from electric power used.
MIT did a great report on the future of mobility, which included some careful analysis of life cycle carbon emissions from battery electric vehicles. It was funded by oil companies and the auto industry, who do have an interest in pointing out the carbon costs of batteries, but it appears to be a comprehensive, thoughtful, objective, academic study. The study condensed the analysis into the following chart :
The chart compares the relative emissions per mile traveled for several different power trains in vehicles of roughly the same size. The Camry HEV (Hybrid Electric) is the baseline of 1.0. On a full life cycle basis, the emissions from a battery electric vehicle (Honda Clarity BEV) are 25% below that of the base line HEV, assuming that the grid is only as green as the US average.
As the following chart from the MIT report shows, the relative efficiency of the BEV gets much better as the grid gets greener. With a “much ‘greener'” grid, the BEV has only 23% of the life cycle emissions of the hybrid.
To one commenters point below, yes: It is striking how much the battery adds to the life cycle emissions of the BEV. Most of the incremental vehicle production costs of the BEV over the ICEV (internal combustion engine vehicle) are the battery. If the battery is manufactured in China, where the grid power from coal plants is dirtier than the average US grid power, the carbon costs of manufacturing go up from what is shown above. However, the effect of adjusting the grid power to Chinese emission levels only raises the US average scenario to .79 from .75. See note below.
The life cycle analysis highlights the importance of targeting support for battery electric vehicles for those who drive a lot. The person who is already using public transportation or cycling to meet much of their needs does not necessarily benefit the environment by keeping an electric car in their garage.
Note: The sensitivity analysis in MIT chart 4.5 reproduced above shows a drop from .75 to .71 by substituting Washington grid carbon for manufacturing. That adjustment (436-101 = 335) is roughly the same as the adjustment to Chinese grid carbon but in the other direction (774-436 = 338), in other words an increase to .79. To get to the exact same result in a more elaborate way, one can back out the underlying model’s values for key parameters by solving simple linear questions using the model variations in Table 4.4. With these parameters, one can estimate values for the Massachusetts grid as in the text. See computations here.
Note on Battery Production Constraints (4/13)
A couple of commenters raised the issue of battery production constraints, specifically supply of lithium. I spoke with Professor Bill Green of MIT about this. The general gist of opinion seems to be that the supply of lithium is widespread around the world and that while production may occasionally lag needs, there is no long-term supply constraint. Same answer for necessary “rare earth” minerals. Cobalt is a riskier component — current supply is concentrated in the Congo where political stability is an issue. But even for cobalt, there is an expectation that world supply will respond to demand and/or that technology will evolve around the constraint. Supply of raw materials will, however, set a floor on the ongoing reduction of battery prices and recycling of battery metals will become economically important.
Here are several articles on the point. I welcome additional information on this:
- Lithium-Ion Battery Supply Chain Considerations: Analysis of Potential Bottlenecks in Critical Metals (2017)
- Perspectives on Cobalt Supply through 2030 in the Face of Changing Demand (2020)
- Transition to electric vehicles in China: Implications for private motorization rate and battery market (2020)
- Transition to Electric Vehicles in China: Implications for Total Cost of Ownership and Cost to Society (2020)
- Learning only buys you so much: Practical limits on battery price reduction (2019)