Pew's Greenwald says efficiency improvements could lead to significant emission cuts

The U.S. transportation sector accounts for 27 percent of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions. What can be done to significantly lower transit and vehicle emissions? During today's OnPoint, Judi Greenwald, vice president of innovative solutions at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, discusses a new report that lays out the greatest opportunities for emissions reductions in the transportation sector.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Judi Greenwald, vice president of Innovative Solutions at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Judi, thanks for coming on the show.

Judi Greenwald: Thanks so much for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: Judi, the transportation sector accounts for 27 percent of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions and Pew has just released a report on how to reduce those emissions. Where do the biggest opportunities lie in the transportation sector for increased efficiency?

Judi Greenwald: Probably in the light-duty vehicle sector. This is the cars and light trucks, which we refer to as light-duty vehicles. That's about 60 percent of the emissions, so that's where most of the reductions can occur. There are opportunities throughout the transportation sector in trucking, in airplanes, in trains, and in all manner of transportation. But the chunk of the reductions or the biggest chunk of reductions come from the part of the sector where there's the biggest emissions, and that would be the light-duty vehicle sector.

Monica Trauzzi: It seems like a lot is being done though on the transportation front in terms of increasing fuel efficiency standards and the automakers are trying to put out cleaner vehicles. But is it still lacking? Is it not enough?

Judi Greenwald: We think that what EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy, sorry, the U.S. Department of Transportation are doing with setting these new fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards is right on track. That's exactly what is needed. They've already recently set some standards and they're in the process of setting new ones and that is one of the core recommendations in the report, is that we keep the pressure on to have steady improvement in fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for those vehicles. In addition, EPA and DOT are going to be jointly issuing standards for medium and heavy duty trucks for their fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions. And that hasn't been done before. They've proposed those standards and they're going to be promulgating standards this year and that will be important as well.

Monica Trauzzi: Do we essentially risk outgrowing the current EPA standards because we might have more vehicles on the road, increased demand?

Judi Greenwald: Yeah, if you look at the base case that we started from, the Energy Information Administration has a base case. It shows that if we just stick with the current standards that we have, the ones that EPA recently promulgated, then we still, even though we're getting efficiency improvement, the increase in travel outpaces that. So we really need to go deeper on the efficiency side in order to offset that. Now, we also can do things on the vehicle miles traveled side. We can make our transportation system more efficient. We can have more carpooling. We can have more eco driving, where people are more careful about how they drive. We can use intelligent transportation systems, better route mapping, there are lots of things that you can do, but the bulk of the reductions are sort of the biggest bang for the buck or if you can make progress on the efficiency side.

Monica Trauzzi: So, is policy the real driving force here and if so, specifically what kind of policy do we need implemented?

Judi Greenwald: Again, one of the main mechanisms or one of the most important mechanisms are these fuel efficiency standards. Again, pricing would be helpful, that will help with the demand side, and there's different kinds of pricing. There's the carbon pricing that is perhaps looking a little pessimistic right now, that can make a big difference. But there's also other kinds of pricing mechanisms that we might be able to do, like congestion pricing. There's some innovative approaches. For example, pay as you drive auto insurance which what that does is it changes the price that the consumer experiences so that they actually are more sensitive to how much they drive. And that can actually have a big effect on driving.

Monica Trauzzi: Technology plays a huge role in all of this. What emerging technologies show the most promise that we can use down the line to improve efficiency?

Judi Greenwald: Well, a lot of the technology that we can do right away is a little bit-sort of the usual stuff, just getting better at it, so incremental improvements in existing engine technology. And there's actually quite a bit more we can do on that. And we're seeing a lot of that happening already in response to the recent set of EPA and DOT standards. The other things that are important that are going on are more and more vehicle-hybrid electric vehicles. And these are the hybrids, not the plug-ins, although that also ultimately could make a big difference. But these hybrid vehicles really do make a difference. They're much more efficient and to the extent that they penetrate more and more into the market, that matters a lot. In the long run, we probably need to move off of gasoline fueled vehicles. And the three main choices for that are biofuels, hydrogen, and electric vehicles. And I would say at the moment there's a lot of excitement about electric vehicles. At other moments in the past there's been more excitement about hydrogen, more excitement about biofuels. This seems to change a bit over time. But one of those really needs to work, at least one or some combination in the long run for us to get the really deep reductions that we want to get. The scenarios that we talk about in the report, which show a range of reductions in greenhouse gases and in oil savings over the next four decades, show that at some point you really do need to shift to another kind of fuel.

Monica Trauzzi: On electric vehicles specifically though, it seems like the infrastructure hasn't really caught up to the technology itself. What are some of the key hurdles that need to be overcome on the infrastructure front in order to make electric vehicles work on a broader scale.

Judi Greenwald: There are infrastructure issues. There's also issues of cost for the vehicles that we have to work on. It's really very exciting that these vehicles are coming out now, because we're going to learn a lot. They're not yet going to take over the market and they may not. And we'll have to see how it goes. But these experiments essentially that we're doing, we're going to see how much infrastructure do you actually need? Do people actually charge at home? So what you mostly need is infrastructure at the home and we have electricity in our homes, but maybe we need some upgrades. Do people want to be able to charge away from home? In which case, you need charging stations. And we're going to learn some of this as we see how people actually use these vehicles. We're also going to see how important range is because the range of the vehicle is a big limitation for electric vehicles. But there are a lot of drivers who don't need a very broad range and who can get back to a place where they can recharge. And so we're going to have to actually see and learn and there's a lot of experiments going on. At the same time, the electric utility sector and regulators are looking at how do we make sure that we have enough electricity, that people charge at times when it's good for the grid and it doesn't create more burden on the grid, particularly if you can encourage charging off-peak. That makes a big difference as opposed to people charging at the same time that we're having a big electricity demand. So a lot of these issues are coming up, but I think that they're all being discussed and dealt with in tandem, on both the vehicle side and the infrastructure side.

Monica Trauzzi: So, how big of a factor then is the public's attitude in all of this and how do you get the public on board with these recommendations?

Judi Greenwald: Well, what we do in our report is we set up three scenarios for what might happen over the long run. And one of the key variables in those scenarios is what's the public thinking? What are the public attitudes? We also have the other two key factors are how does technology go? And that can vary, depending on a lot of other things and also what happens with policy. So depending on policy, depending on technology, and depending on whether the public likes these vehicles and whether they care about the issues, which are the reason why you're shifting to these other vehicles, that's all going to matter. And they interact, because of the extent that you have policy forcing more innovation, then the technology is more likely to get better. And to the extent that the technology works well, the public likes it better. And then to the extent that the public demands policy to deal with things like oil security and climate change, then we're more likely to succeed.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show.

Judi Greenwald: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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