Navigant Research Blog

Colorado Moves to Increase EV Adoption

— December 2, 2015

When it comes to supporting and selling plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs), California exceeds expectations. The state is expected to represent 48% of all PEV sales in the United States in 2015, and has far outspent any other state in supporting electric vehicles (EVs) while also creating a highly favorable regulatory environment. The recently enacted Senate Bill 350 is a legislative U-turn for the state, which went from preventing utilities from owning EV charging stations to requiring them to participate in and support EV charging.

Many states that want to clean their skies and reduce fuel imports envy California and are looking for ways to copy its success with EVs. Public and private sector organizations in northern Colorado are accelerating efforts to move the state from the middle of the pack toward becoming an EV leader.

In a recent study, the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) evaluated 30 activities that states, cities, and utilities can do to support EVs. Denver is in the middle of the pack, ranking 13th out of the 25 cities evaluated by ICCT, while San Francisco ranked first. According to ICCT, Denver’s primary utility, Xcel Energy, is participating in two of the six recommended utility activities.

EV Promotion Actions

John Blog Chart - Nov 11(Source: International Council on Clean Transportation)

Denver ranks 11th among metropolitan statistical areas in Navigant Research’s PEV Index, which evaluates populations for the likelihood of purchasing PEVs according to a variety of demographic characteristics including age, education level, and economic factors. According to Navigant Research’s Electric Vehicle Geographic Forecasts report, nearly 45,000 PEVs will be in use in the Denver metro area by 2024, a tenfold increase from 2014. In addition, Colorado is expected to rank 13th among states in PEV sales as a percentage of new light duty vehicle sales in 2015, and PEVs are projected to reach 4% of new vehicle sales in 2024.

To make EV charging more readily available, non-profit Drive Electric Northern Colorado (DENC) has been encouraging organizations to join the U.S. Department of Energy’s Workplace Charging Challenge. According to Annie Freyschlag, deployment community associate at DENC, 17 employers have joined the Challenge initiative, adding that residents of northern Colorado are within 6 miles of an EV charging station at any given time.

Colorado has strong financial incentives to purchase PEVs and charging equipment that should help the state pass others in PEV adoption. The state offers up to $6,000 for a PEV purchase, which uniquely includes used PEVs brought in from other states, and the Charge Ahead Colorado program can reimburse up to 80% of the incremental cost of purchasing a PEV or EV charging equipment.

Groups within the state are currently lobbying the legislature to provide high-occupancy vehicle lane access to PEVs as a stress and time-reducing incentive. The Denver Metro Clean Cities Coalition, in partnership with the American Lung Association, also has several initiatives to encourage PEV adoption, including Project Fever.

To enable PEV owners to fill their batteries with clean power, Boulder, Adams, and Denver counties joined together in the fall of 2015 to facilitate discounts for rooftop solar and EV purchases. As reported by the Daily Camera, the Solar Benefits Colorado program offered homeowners an estimated 15% discount on solar rooftop systems and roughly $8,300 off the cost of a Nissan LEAF.

Freyschlag says the biggest barrier to EV adoption in Colorado continues to be lack of direct consumer experiences, as the majority of the public still have never driven a PEV. Also, most people do not think about the financial cost of owning and operating a vehicle over longer than a 3-5 year span.


Volkswagen Scandal Deflates Clean Diesel Image

— October 5, 2015

We finally have a more important scandal to discuss than air pressure in footballs. On September 18, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) laid out a case for a notice of violation against Volkswagen. The issue? Computer software within Volkswagen clean diesel vehicles that allows the cars to sense an emissions test and activate emissions controls. The vehicles then could easily pass stringent U.S. Tier 2, Bin 5 emissions standards. A Tier 2 vehicle must meet an average nitrogen oxide (NOx) emission slimit of 0.07 grams per mile. However, when the programmed vehicles were not under emissions testing, emissions controls were disabled and Volkswagen vehicles spewed up to 40 times that level of NOx emissions.

Immediate Impacts

In a matter of days, Volkswagen lost $17 billion in shareholder value as the company’s stock plummeted over 30%. Volkswagen recently became the largest car seller in the world, selling nearly 10 million vehicles globally in 2014. The automaker will face up to $18 billion in fines from the U.S. government and has also committed $7.3 billion toward recalling nearly 500,000 vehicles for the reprogramming necessary to comply with pollution standards. Volkswagen has also halted sales of affected 2015 models, and the EPA will not certify the company’s 2016 models.

While the U.S. market accounts for 6% of Volkswagen sales, the damage to the company’s environmentally responsible image is significant. Diesel vehicles account for over half of vehicle sales in Europe, and European government policies have made diesel fuels cheaper than gasoline. Emissions standards for diesels are also less strict in Europe compared to in the United States.

The U.S. Clean Diesel Market

Volkswagen TDIs represented nearly 30% of diesel sales in the U.S. market. Effective greenwashing campaigns by diesel automakers have created a reputation for diesel as a clean fuel source for our vehicles. Diesel has a higher energy density than fuel and diesel engines also operate more efficiently, so higher miles per gallon can be achieved. A clean image and a high fuel efficiency greatly increased the popularity of diesel models in the United States.

Whether arguing for or against diesel as a clean fuel source, it is important to discuss the emissions contents of diesel versus traditional fuel. Traditional fuel-burning vehicles give off higher yields of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions than diesel vehicles. These emissions are minimized by improved catalytic converter designs. Diesel vehicles emit more NOx, which in turn creates smog (ozone). The EPA is likely to take final action on stronger smog standards before the end of 2015. While diesel automakers utilize a variety of treatment systems to reduce NOx emissions, the Volkswagen scandal has significantly squashed the idea of diesel as a clean fuel source. How the public will respond to this breach of trust is yet to be seen.

Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Market growth

As the smog clears on the Volkswagen scandal, what opportunity is presented to hybrid and electric vehicles? As the image of clean diesel fades, the growing consumer base for fuel efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles is expected to turn toward hybrid and electric vehicles. With the disgrace of the country’s most popular diesel model and growing interest in electrification, the auto industry may soon see a significant restructuring.


Autonomous E-Bikes May Grow Ranks of Cycling Commuters

— September 3, 2015

Bicycling safety seems to be gradually improving, as the number of people cycling to work in the United States is growing significantly while fatalities have remained relatively unchanged.

According to the latest American Community Survey executed by the Census Bureau, the number of workers who cycle to work grew from 488,000 in 2000 to about 786,000 in the years 2008–2012, for a 60.8% increase. Cycling as the primary means of transportation grew to 0.6%, while travel by private motor vehicle remained dominant at 86%.

Unsurprisingly, bicycling to work is most popular in larger cities, with Portland, Oregon retaining its spot at the top in the United States with 6.1% of all commutes done by bike. The United States trails bicycle commuting in Europe, where cities such as Hamburg are pushing to have 25% of all city trips completed by bike. The survey also found that men bike to work (0.8%) at more than twice the rate of women (0.3%).

Biking blog graphic

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), cycling deaths in crashes with motorized vehicles have been increasing over the past few years but haven’t kept pace with the increase in commuting. Approximately 743 cyclist fatalities occurred in 2013, which is up 1% from the year prior and is disappointing for safety advocates. Many cities are addressing safety by adding bike lanes and increasing outreach to drivers.

Electric Bicycles Keeping Pace

Electric bicycles (e-bikes) are expected to be part of the continued growth of cycling commuting trips. According to Navigant Research’s Electric Bicycles report, annual e-bike sales will grow by 76% between 2014 and 2023 to nearly 270,000 units in the United States. E-bikes can extend two-wheeled urban commuting beyond the current average of 19.3 minutes, as they can take over for weary legs on hills and aid cyclists to arrive more quickly than via pedal power alone.

An e-bike that could increase safety was premiered at August’s Eurobike conference by startup company coModule, as reported by Electrive. The Estonian company modified a Veleon electric cargo bike with autonomous driving features that can be remotely controlled via a mobile phone app. In addition to increasing the ability of cyclists to anticipate dangerous situations, the three-wheeled bikes could be used someday to deliver medical supplies to remote areas without the need for a driver.


Carbon-Saving Innovation in the Airline Industry

— July 7, 2015

Relative to the rapidly changing automotive industry, which pumps out new models every year, the airplane industry has evolved at a considerably slower pace. This is not surprising, given that around 1,000 aircraft are made by Airbus and Boeing, the leading manufacturers. Unlike cars, changes in design and function take longer to incorporate into planes. For some time, the airline industry has been under pressure to increase its fuel efficiency and lower its greenhouse gas (GHG) impact. While airplanes contribute to 2%–3% of global GHG emissions annually, some posit that the high altitude of those emissions has a greater impact on climate change.  This past month, the U.S. airline industry has been put on notice to reduce the amount of GHG from air travel.

Citing the right to regulate emissions as part of the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that almost one-third of global aircraft emissions originated from U.S. aircraft. To address this, President Obama has charged the EPA to begin crafting rules similar to the draft Clean Power Plan (111(d)) that addresses power plants and utility energy use.  European carriers have been under similar pressure from the European Commission.

The Path toward Change

There are two fundamental ways that airplanes can reduce fuel use: they can use a lower GHG fuel source and they can make more efficient planes.

For airplanes, the lower GHG fuel source has been biofuel, either from biological sources or waste products. As discussed in Navigant Research’s Aviation and Marine Biofuels report, choosing biofuels also helps hedge against increases and variability in fuel costs. The volatility of aviation fuel cost over the last 5 years can be seen in the figure below.

Monthly Cost and Consumption: 2000-2015

carbon airlines

(Source: U.S. Department of Transportation)

It is interesting to note, however, how relatively flat U.S. and international fuel consumption has been over the past 15 years. The United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) projections have cited the rapid growth of European plane travel in forecasting that fuel demand for air travel could result in a 300% to 700% growth in emissions by 2050.

U.S.-based United Airlines just announced an unusual step in securing biofuels for its planes. In late June, it was announced that the company is investing $30 million in Fulcrum BioEnergy. Once production of the waste-to-jet fuel has matured, United will be able to purchase up to 90 million gallons of jet biofuel.  Fulcrum already has a deal with Cathay Pacific and has received funding from the U.S. Department of Defense with the aim of becoming another military jet fuel provider.  Yet, United is not putting all of its eggs in one basket; it already had a deal with AltAir Fuel, which began in 2009.


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