From the President, Tim Reeser
Developed nations around the world are stepping up their investment in technologies and regulations to address the increasingly apparent issues around the use of fossil fuels – air pollution and smog and the human health concerns surrounding them, and the basic fact that fossil fuels won’t last forever. Most major cities around the world experience increased incidence of smog, and the political pressure to clean up the air is on. In preparation for the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris later this year, nations are being required to come to the table with documented commitments regarding greenhouse gas reductions. The United States has already declared its intention of reducing economy-wide CO2 emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels before 2025. In parallel with addressing greenhouse gases, Europe and the USA are leading efforts to reduce transportation generated pollutants across all vehicles, with Euro VI vehicle regulations now in force in Europe, parts of Asia and Africa, and the White House’s Phase II rules due to be finalized next year for adoption in the US in 2018.
Such intentions are certainly laudable, and the increased attention on a sustainable environment is a good thing. Achieving these goals, however, is not simple as there are many moving parts to the economy of a nation, many stakeholders, and many political positions. For these initiatives to be successful will require wise use of a range of tools, including regulations and incentives. Above all, it’s important to avoid pitfalls which can set back progress and diminish political good will.
In the transportation industry, we’re seeing a proliferation of technologies and fuels as fleets look for ways to reduce fuel consumption and operational costs, while also controlling emissions to meet increasingly tight regulations. The US in particular has seen growth in natural gas (compressed and liquid), biodiesel, propane and fully electric vehicles and their associated infrastructures. Hybrids, whether hydraulic or electric also play in the mix, delivering both fuel savings and emissions reductions for applicable driving profiles. With all these contenders, how should a government nurture progress towards GHG and air quality goals?
There is certainly a temptation to jump on a particular technology to the exclusion of other candidates. For example, there’s been a strong push for fully electric vehicles, with US investment in companies such as China’s BYD to get electric buses on the roads. At first glance, electric seems like a great idea – no emissions on the road, quiet, comfortable and popular. However, while batteries make sense for light vehicles (ask Elon Musk), their benefits are outweighed by issues of weight, cost and lifetime as we look at heavier vehicles. Not to mention that the charging infrastructure is expensive, and the electricity is only as environmentally clean as the power station it came from. Unfortunately, the US government, whether at federal level or in individual states, has favored electric vehicles with incentives and regulations which have often left other technologies out in the cold. We know this as “picking the winners” and it often done quite naively, as most politicians aren’t experts in transportation, vehicle technologies, and energy science.
A better approach is for governments to adopt a technology-neutral approach and let the markets decide. I say “markets”, because different solutions will make sense for different users. Regulations should be designed to certify vehicles which meet emissions and fuel economy parameters regardless of the technology employed to achieve them (though of course, some details will be technology dependent). Most people I know respond better to carrots than to sticks, so incentive programs such as vouchers and rebates are a valuable tool in helping great technologies to get established – as long as the terms for these vouchers are inclusive enough to allow fleets to decide which specific technologies work best for their fleets and drive cycles.
Lightning Hybrids is actively engaged at state and federal levels to educate governments to understand that the best way to meet their aggressive GHG and air quality goals is to nurture all candidate technologies in the field. The ones that emerge on top will be the ones that make commercial and environmental sense – and, in the end, political sense too.