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California aims to address widespread ZEV adoption challenges

Aug. 3, 2020
California is pushing for transportation emissions reductions via the Advanced Clean Trucks regulation. However, zero-emission vehicles, which are more costly than diesel and gas-powered trucks, lack the needed infrastructure.

Transportation is the largest contributor to air pollutants and carbon emissions in California, according to the California Air Resources Board (CARB). As the state moves ahead to reach its zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) goals, the biggest challenges will be achieving widespread adoption of ZEV technologies across all classes of vehicles, as well as implementing the necessary infrastructure to keep those vehicles up and running.

In San Diego and across the state, significant progress has been made in the light-duty electric vehicle (EV) space, with more than 700,000 light-duty and passenger EVs sold statewide. But when it comes to medium- and heavy-duty ZEV deployment, the state has a long way to go, noted Kevin Wood, coalition coordinator for San Diego Regional Clean Cities. Statewide, roughly 2,000 medium- and heavy-duty ZEVs have been deployed to date, Wood pointed out during a July 29 Advanced Clean Tech webinar.

“The progress we have made on light duty is a great thing for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and we have a lot more to do in the light-duty space to make sure those vehicles are deployed as much as possible,” Wood explained. “But when we look at NOx emissions, one of the primary pollutants behind smog that is affecting public health, the medium- and heavy-duty vehicles—even though they only make up a small portion of the vehicles on the road—count for more than half of our smog-forming emissions in the region.”

Air quality standards in the federal Clean Air Act call for a drop in NOx emissions of 30% by 2026 and 40% by 2032. CARB is pushing for these emissions reductions through its newly adopted Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) regulation.

“Fleets have been down this road before with the truck and bus regulation that has converted almost all older diesel trucks to newer model year diesel engines,” Wood explained. “But moving to a cleaner diesel vehicle didn’t require a whole new set of infrastructure like we’re seeing with medium- and heavy-duty electric and zero-emission vehicles.” 

During a webinar breaking down California’s ACT rule, Cristiano Façanha, global director of CALSTART, explained that in the next five years, the goal is for zero-emission commercial vehicles to be cost competitive. Furthermore, by 2040, the goal is for zero-emission technology to dominate commercial vehicle sales.

ACT follows a strategy in which zero-emission technology will be adopted in waves. The first wave is for transit buses because of their predictable routes and their ability to charge overnight, followed by the delivery segment and medium-duty freight vehicles, heavy regional freight vehicles, and ending with long-haul heavy trucks.

“ACT was adopted within the context of increasing model availability for zero-emission commercial vehicles,” explained Façanha. “Commercial trucks and buses are on the verge of a major increase in the U.S. and Canada. The number of available zero-emission models are on track to increase to almost 80% by the end of this year compared to last year. We expect it to double by 2023.”

Sydney Vergis, CARB’s assistant division chief for the mobile source division, reiterated that transportation is the largest contributor to air pollutants and carbon emissions in the state. CARB sees zero-emission trucks and vehicles—both battery-electric and hydrogen—in the passenger, medium- and heavy-duty space as the solution to public and economic health, she added.

“The challenge is to achieve widespread adoption of zero-emission technologies across all classes of vehicles,” Vergis said. “For us, truck electrification is really important for a variety of economic and public health reasons. Trucks are responsible for 50% of greenhouse gas emissions and more than 95% of toxic diesel particulate emissions.”

The ACT regulation, which was adopted by CARB in June 2020, aims to help the state reach its goals. The rule requires medium- and heavy-duty manufacturers to sell zero-emission trucks as a portion of their annual sales—starting in 2024.

The regulation is intended to award manufacturers for early admission into the zero-emission truck market and provide flexibilities, including credits for the sale of ZETs and plug-in credits for hybrid-electric vehicles.

The regulation applies to manufacturers, specifically large manufacturers that sell more than 500 medium- and heavy-duty trucks in California. The proposed regulation uses a credit and deficit in which ZETs will generate credits, while internal combustion trucks sold in California will generate deficits. 

California, however, isn’t alone in the push for ZEV adoption. The governors of 15 states, as well as the mayor of Washington D.C., recently agreed to a pact called the Multi-State Medium- and Heavy-Duty Zero-Emission Vehicle Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which calls for only new medium- and heavy-duty zero-emission trucks and buses to be sold in their jurisdiction by 2050. They set a 30% goal of zero emission commercial vehicles by 2030, which will be reassessed in 2025 as new data comes in.

The MOU has been signed by the governors of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, as well as the mayor of Washington, D.C.

Over the next six months, the signatories will develop a multi-state action plan to increase the feasibility of zero-emission vehicles, such as battery-electric trucks, which are more costly than diesel and gasoline-powered trucks and lack comprehensive fueling/charging infrastructure. According to the MOU, a Multi-State ZEV Task Force will address financial and non-financial incentives related to vehicles and infrastructure, deployment strategies, outreach and education, how to work with utilities, weight restrictions, data standards and more.

About the Author

Cristina Commendatore

Cristina Commendatore was previously the Editor-in-chief of FleetOwner magazine. She reported on the transportation industry since 2015, covering topics such as business operational challenges, driver and technician shortages, truck safety, and new vehicle technologies. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.

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