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May 04, 2016   |   Diesel Technology Forum

Policy Insider

You Can't Always Get What You Want: What the Rolling Stones and Emerging Technologies Have in Common

Efforts to develop and “commercialize” emerging technologies in the time horizons considered may not provide substantial air quality benefits if these technologies do not find their way into the fleet in substantial numbers.

California’s environmental leadership is not in question. For decades, the Golden State has taken enormous leaps to advance environmentally forward policies. Nowhere is this more true than in the transportation sector as California’s policies regarding cars, trucks and other things that move are designed to encourage clean air, fuel savings and greenhouse gas reduction benefits from emerging technologies. Yet, the policy focus on the benefits of technologies that are off in the distance ignores the benefits of technologies readily available today to meet the needs of customers while providing enormous clean air and climate benefits for everyone. Here, diesel technology plays an important role to deliver immediate term benefits to meet California’s clean air and climate goals. California’s policymakers should look to clean diesel to demonstrate valuable lessons about the uptake of new technology.

Short Term is Long Term
Whether it is electric cars or electric trucks, the policy debate in California is laser focused on the deployment schedule for emerging transportation technologies, many of which are not commercially available. From all-electric trucks to larger trucks deployed with as-yet-defined ultra-low emission standards for internal combustion engines, the benefits provided by these emerging commercial vehicle technologies are off in the distance. While these technologies are years away from generating any benefits, the greater adoption of existing clean technologies that are quite literally sitting on dealer lots today can provide significant and immediate term clean air and climate benefits.

Significant Benefits Accrue from A Tried and True Technology
In the commercial vehicle population, diesel engines power most of the vehicles seen moving freight and doing work. About 75 percent of the fuel consumed by commercial vehicles across the country including California is consumed by large Class 8 tractors. 97 percent of these large trucks are powered by diesel. Of these, about 19 percent are powered by a diesel engine that meets the most recent emissions requirement established by U.S. EPA and the California Air Resources Board for model year 2010 trucks. This strict near zero emissions requirement reduce emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOX) and particulate matter (PM) by 98 percent relative to the model year 1988 standard while also generating substantial fuel savings and C02 reduction benefits.  A model year 2010 compliant Class 8 tractor hauling freight on average 120,000 miles each year will eliminate over 1 ton of NOx, and save almost 9 tons of C02 and 875 gallons of fuel. The benefits to California grow quickly as more of these model year 2010 compliant trucks are added to the fleet each year.

For all of California’s forward leaning policies to encourage the adoption of emerging technologies, the state comes in almost dead last for the adoption of commercial vehicles that meet the latest emission standard for commercial vehicles established in 2010 – a standard that is now over six years old.  Nationwide, 26 percent of commercial vehicles meet the model year 2010 standard while only 18 percent meet the standard in California. Significant air quality and climate benefits are readily available if more of these vehicles meet this six year old engine standard. For example, an additional 30,000 tons of NOx can be eliminated if California’s clean diesel commercial vehicle fleet met the national average. An additional 90,000 tons of NOx could be eliminated immediately if California’s clean diesel fleet met the share of clean diesel in the top state – Indiana – at about 45 percent of the fleet. These are benefits that do not require investments in fueling infrastructure, significant research and development expenditures and other ancillary expenses to put equipment in the field.

Class 8 Heavy Duty Vehicles In Use In California in 2015

Clean Diesel Can Teach Valuable Lessons
While the air quality and fuel savings benefits attributable to clean diesel are significant, California’s adoption of the latest near zero emissions technology may demonstrate some valuable lessons to policymakers and thought leaders intent on developing emerging technologies. California’s fleets are slow adopters of the latest technology as evidenced by the relatively low share of commercial vehicles that meet the model year 2010 standard. Efforts to develop and “commercialize” emerging technologies in the time horizons considered may not provide substantial air quality benefits if these technologies do not find their way into the fleet in substantial numbers. 

California’s experience with existing program to incentivize emerging commercial vehicle technologies has provided very few benefits. Almost a decade ago, policymakers in California decided to encourage the adoption of alternative fuels and the vehicles powered by them as a clean air and climate.  Since 2007, funding provided to the California Energy Commission under AB 118 helped interested commercial vehicle owners purchase natural gas heavy-duty equipment. Even greater funding was allocated to help grow the nascent natural gas fueling infrastructure. According to the latest Integrated Energy Policy Report (IEPR) for 2015, over $70 million in AB 118 funding helped grow the natural gas fleet to just under two percent of the commercial vehicle fleet in California as of 2015. This funding does not include expenditures provided by individual air districts for natural gas vehicle purchase incentives. Very little air quality benefits have been generated for California from a technology that represents just under two percent of the commercial vehicle fleet.

Significant time is required to research, develop and test emerging technologies. Once a technology is ready for the market, even more time is needed for fleets to adopt the technology in substantial numbers to generate air quality benefits. Meanwhile, policymakers should consider the clean air and climate benefits from existing technologies that are ready to deliver immediately for California. In fact, you don’t have to look far, just far enough to a dealer’s lot.


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Ezra Finkin
Director, Policy

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