California is synonymous with individualism and car culture. But it is also closely associated with environmentalism. These qualities don’t always go together.
The most recent clash between the two mindsets was in November’s election when Californians faced a choice: Set aside AB-32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, until the economy picks up. Or leave AB-32 in place and hope its limits on greenhouse gas emissions and emission reduction measures did not worsen the state’s 12.4% unemployment rate.
The legislation to set aside AB-32 didn’t pass. The reason why might be more complex than the economic arguments of the legislation’s sponsors. To begin, AB-32 wasn’t the first California legislation targeting specific aspects of green house gas emissions. AB-118, passed in 2007, began to deal with the transportation related emissions. Its objective is to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels by 10% and to boost the proportion of alternative and renewable fuels to 20% in California by the year 2020. It has three parts:
First, an "Enhanced Fleet Modernization Program” establishes a fund to retire high polluting cars and trucks. Administered by the Bureau of Automotive Repair, it is funded by a $3 bump in vehicle registration fees and an $8 rise in smog certificate fees. Second, AB-118 creates an “Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Fund” given $120 million annually and administered by the California Energy Commission. This fund provides for research into efficiency improvements in vehicles and low carbon fuels. These fuels may include ethanol, biodiesel, methane, hydrogen, or electricity. It also supports commercialization and workforce training programs. Importantly, it demands that the entire fuel cycle be considered in emissions calculations, including feedstock production and transportation, vehicle operation, refueling, and incidental fuel evaporation.
Third, AB-118 instructs the California Air Resources Board to do a variety of things: Develop an air quality improvement program, grant funds for competitively selected proposals that mitigate emissions from both on- and off-road sources, develop feedstocks, and promote “green” equipment such as electric-powered lawn equipment, low-emission school buses, hybrid electric heavy-duty vehicles.
Perhaps the U.S. Dept. of Energy considered leverage from AB-118 programs when it decided to award up to $122 million over five years to the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, led by the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) in collaboration with Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and a number of U-Calif. campuses. The goal of this Center, one of three Energy Innovation Hubs funded this year through the ARPA-E program, is to develop an integrated solar-energyto- chemical-fuel conversion system and move it from the benchtop to a commercial scale.
There’s more: AB-118 dealt with two areas of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions by making vehicles more efficient and reducing the carbon intensity of fuels. SB-375 aims to reduce vehicle miles traveled by instructing metropolitan planning organizations to develop plans for how communities will enhance non-polluting travel modes, including walking, bicycling, and greater use of transit.
Of all of the implications of these plans, one of the most interesting is the electrification of transportation. Pure electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles present a promising near-term approach to reducing transportationrelated carbon emissions. California is blessed with relatively abundant sources of low-carbon electric power, from existing nuclear power to wind. Most of the charging for electric vehicles can happen at night, though the details of this will require a much smarter distribution system than what we have at present, to properly schedule the loads.
The Demand Response Research Center at Lawrence Berkeley Lab has developed a data system called Open Automated Demand Response, designed for matching supply-side resources to power demand. Plug-in hybrids may need an even more sophisticated implementation, because demand balancing of the large loads of 10 to 30 kW will have to happen within areas sharing the same low voltage transformers. Some form of arbitration, probably based on costs, will be needed to most effectively balance requests for charging.
Perhaps the seeming incongruity of an individualistic automobile-centric culture and an uncompromising environmental ethic can find resolution through that third California characteristic: its culture of high-tech innovation.