California plans to require all new cars, trucks and SUVs to run on electricity or hydrogen by 2035 under a policy approved Thursday by regulators that calls for a drastic reduction in carbon emissions and an eventual end to gasoline-powered vehicles.
The decision by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) came two years after California Governor Gavin Newsom first directed regulators to consider such a policy. If the goal is reached, California would cut car emissions in half by 2040.
The measure gives the most populous state in the US the strictest regulations in the world for the transition to electric vehicles. It is hoped that it will prompt other states to follow California’s example and speed automakers’ production of zero-emission vehicles.
The policy still needs federal approval but is considered highly likely under the administration of Democratic US President Joe Biden.
“This is a historic moment for California, our partner states and the world as we set out on this path to a zero-emissions future,” CARB Chair Liane Randolph said during a public hearing before the vote.
taking the initiative
The policy allows Californians to continue to drive gasoline-powered vehicles and purchase used vehicles after 2035, but no new models will be sold in the state.
A fifth of automakers’ sales after 2035 could be plug-in hybrids, which run on batteries and gasoline, but the rest must run solely on electricity or hydrogen.
In June, the European Parliament backed a plan to effectively ban the sale of gasoline and diesel cars in the 27-nation European Union by 2035, with Canada mandating the sale of zero-emission cars by the same year.
California climate officials say the state’s new policy is the most ambitious in the world because it sets benchmarks for increasing electric vehicle sales over the next 13 years.
The first mandatory threshold comes in 2026, when a third of all vehicles sold in the state must be zero-emissions. Automakers could be fined US$20,000 for each vehicle sold below that target.
About 16 percent of cars sold in California in the first three months of this year were electric.
Washington state and Massachusetts have already said they will follow California’s lead, and many more are likely to do so: New York and Pennsylvania are among the 17 states that have adopted some or all of California’s tailpipe emissions standards. California that are more stringent than the federal standards.
The industry has concerns
Kia Corp.’s Laurie Holmes said the company plans to spend $25 billion by 2025 on electric vehicles and hopes to offer seven models by 2027. But she and several other auto company representatives said they are concerned about the state’s timeline, given factors like supply chain challenges and the high cost of materials to build electric cars.
“Automakers could have significant difficulty meeting this target, given elements outside of the industry’s control,” he said.
Switching from gasoline to electric vehicles will dramatically reduce emissions and air pollutants, but the transition will be painful for the state’s oil industry. California remains the seventh-largest oil-producing state, though its output is falling as it moves toward climate goals.
California shouldn’t wrap its entire transportation strategy around an electric-powered vehicle market, said Tanya DeRivi, vice president for climate policy at the Western States Petroleum Association, an oil industry group.
“Californians should be able to choose a vehicle technology, including electric vehicles, that best suits their needs based on availability, affordability and personal need,” he said.
California is the most populous state in the US, with around 39 million people. They make up 10 percent of the US car market, but hold 43 percent of the 2.6 million registered plug-in vehicles in the country, according to CARB.
About 16 percent of cars sold in California in the first three months of this year were electric; by 2026, the state wants the number to reach a third.
Reaching the 100 percent target by 2035 will mean overcoming very practical hurdles, notably enough reliable power and charging stations. California now has about 80,000 stations in public places, far short of the 250,000 it wants by 2025.
The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents many of the major automakers, pointed to lack of infrastructure, access to materials needed to make batteries, and supply chain issues as some of the challenges in meeting the state schedule.
The new commitment comes as California works to maintain reliable electricity while moving away from gas-fired power plants in favor of solar, wind and other cleaner energy sources. Earlier this year, top energy officials warned that the state could run out of power during the hottest days of summer, which happened briefly in August 2020.
That hasn’t happened yet this year. But Newsom, a Democrat, is pushing to keep the state’s last remaining nuclear plant open beyond its planned 2025 shutdown, and the state may turn to diesel generators or natural gas plants for backup when the grid is overloaded.
Adding more car chargers will put more demand on the power grid.
Ensuring access to charging stations is also key to increasing electric vehicle sales. The infrastructure bill passed by the US Congress last year provides $5 billion for states to build chargers every 50 miles along interstate highways. Meanwhile, Newsom has pledged to spend billions to boost sales of zero-emission vehicles, including adding chargers in low-income neighborhoods.
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