California State Capitol Building

Policy Institute Takes on the News

Check here for our weekly take on what’s happening in the news and the policy implications in California and beyond.

Week of October 19, 2020

What’s Happening (1 of 1)

Nearly one million Californians lost power in the span of two days in mid-August in a series of rolling blackouts, and additional public safety power shut offs were scheduled in 24 targeted counties as a result of red flag weather conditions. Rolling blackouts are a rare occurrence in our modern electrical system, and haven’t occurred in nearly two decades since the last energy crisis. The State of California released a report last week, which found three preliminary root causes of why these rolling blackouts happened. The first of the three was a “climate-change induced heat storm”, which the resource planning process was not prepared for. Second, there was insufficient integration of renewable sources of energy, like wind and solar, which caused lowered available energy capacity during evening hours. Lastly, there were issues with the complex day-ahead market in the state, which allowed operators to sell energy to other states even with a looming crisis.

Here’s Our Take

Extreme weather resulting from climate change was clearly a major contributor to the rolling blackouts, but this report also highlights that the electrical grid is a big part of the problem. As California transitions toward more clean energy sources, such as solar and wind, we need to plan for a grid that is reliable, clean, and resilient. We need to collectively push for more grid flexibility and integration of new resources like demand response, electric vehicles, and adequate storage capacity. Policy-wise, this will mean being prepared to value these services, including from novel options like microgrids.


Week of October 12, 2020

What’s Happening (1 of 2)

China recently announced plans to reach carbon neutrality by 2060. This is a significant step beyond their previous goal, which was to peak their carbon emissions by 2030 as part of an agreement with the Obama administration prior to the Paris Climate Accord in 2015. This new carbon neutrality goal exemplifies a recurring trend of leadership being taken by countries around the world to address climate change, and is particularly important because the UN Conference of the Parties was set to meet this year but was canceled due to COVID-19 precautions. The postponement of the UN climate meeting may result in the delay of agreements that need to be made on carbon emissions reduction targets.

Here’s Our Take

As the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, and a growing economy, China’s commitment is a significant announcement toward reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. In the past, China has also worked with California to develop a New Energy Vehicles program which will support both economies in lowering their carbon emissions. However, despite China’s progress, the country still relies heavily on fossil fuels and continues to construct new coal-fired power plants to meet demand in a developing economy. Coal would need to be retired in favor of more renewable energy sources to reach the stated carbon neutrality goal. Policymakers, scientists, and many others will be watching to see how China’s commitment plays out in their next five year plan, and how they will translate the goal into near-term policy, as called out by John Podesta and David Sandelow in the Financial Times. Now that China has made a commitment to carbon neutrality, the proverbial ball is in the United States’ court.

What’s Happening (2 of 2)

Waymo, a company owned by Google, is introducing the very first publicly available driverless taxi service. After roughly two-years of a strictly controlled trial period, the company is launching service of over 300 minivans through its app, Waymo One, in Arizona. However, they are prioritizing these first rides to already existing customers. Because this transportation alternative didn’t have drivers who could potentially be a risk for covid exposure, it was among the few shared mobility options that weren’t severely affected at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak back in March. Before that, the driverless cars were only a 5-10% of their rides, but now this fleet of minivans are fully operational within a 50 mile radius in Phoenix, Arizona. Close on their heels is an announcement by Cruise that they are now approved to test fully driverless vehicles in San Francisco.

Here’s Our Take

There has been much speculation over the timing of deployment of completely driverless, or self-driving, vehicles. With technology that could result in life or death consequences, it is of utmost importance that caution and safety measures are prioritized. Waymo and most other driverless technology companies are taking a slow and cautious approach to ensure that their technology is safe and secure for riders. As the development of automated vehicles continues to progress, this technology has the potential to completely reshape the world of transportation. These and other recent announcements give a sense that the pace of deployment may speed up soon. Even with the slow roll out so far, policy lags behind. Researchers at UC Davis have proposed guidelines for states to enact safe, equitable, and sustainable AV policy.

Developed by the Policy Institute in partnership with the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis.


Week of October 5, 2020

What’s Happening (1 of 1)

In a new report by Consumer Reports, researchers have found that owners of EVs are spending half as much on repairs and maintenance costs compared to those with gas-powered vehicles. This analysis confirms the long-held expectation that because EVs have fewer parts than traditional gas-powered cars, the maintenance costs would be significantly less. According to one of the authors of the study, senior transportation policy analyst Chris Harto, the savings for the EV owners are “going a long way to offset the upfront costs”, which is often a monetary obstacle that many consumers consider.

Here’s Our Take

As the deployment of EVs has gone forward and we learn more, each year the consensus estimates the benefits of electrifying transportation, reduced vehicle cost, and lowered battery price. Owners of EVs enjoy the advantages of saving money on both fuel and maintenance, in addition to the more general benefits that EVs have in reducing harmful pollution than conventional cars emit. This study also shows how EVs can benefit lower-income households who may be struggling with unexpected car repair bills and any others who are seeking greater reliability in a vehicle. So far, cost-benefit analysis of policies hasn’t included the potential benefits of cheaper maintenance — hopefully future iterations can do so.

Developed by the Policy Institute in partnership with the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis.

 

Posted in News.