Kick the gasoline habit

Electric vehicles promise a future of nearly pollution-free transportation ... a promise we're hoping to see fulfilled sooner than later.

by Carolyn Chase
Consider. . . do you consume more gasoline or more water each week? Do you spend more cash on gas or water? Were you happy a month or so ago when big oil stuck it to us yet again, laughed on the way to the bank and laid it off on market conditions? While you're considering this, here are a few facts and alternatives for our gas consumption predicaments.
California's transportation system is vital to the state's economy, but our gasoline- and diesel-fueled cars, buses and trucks are also our greatest source of air pollution. As oil prices have dropped throughout the world, as the number of registered vehicles has increased, and because we often live farther away from our work, Californians are driving more today than we did just five years ago. Couple the increased use of petroleum products, the sheer number of vehicles on the road and California's geography and you have the perfect recipe for air pollution.
Using alternative fuels can reduce air pollution and help stop the outflow of jobs and dollars caused by buying oil produced outside of our state. California is nearly 100 percent dependent on petroleum in its transportation sector. This dependency makes the state vulnerable to petroleum supply disruptions and pricing uncertainties.
Nearly 75 percent of all the oil used in California goes to fuel the state's 23 million registered cars, trucks and motorcycles. California produces only 45 percent of the oil it consumes. About 51 percent comes from Alaskan oil fields; the remaining four percent comes from foreign sources (mostly Indonesia). This will change as California's and Alaska's oil production decreases. The California Energy Commission (CEC) 1993 Fuels Report estimates that Alaska's oil production will decline six percent between 1992 and the year 2000. Production from 2000 to 2015 will decline more sharply, 15 percent per year. California's production is also expected to shrink. Foreign sources of crude oil will be relied upon more heavily in the future unless alternatives are found to replace this loss of domestically-produced fuel.
To diversify California's transportation fuels, the CEC began to explore alternatives in 1978. As part of the state's Drive Clean California Campaign, the CEC is supporting demonstrations of various clean, alternative fuels (electricity, ethanol, methanol and natural gas) to be used in light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. Clean, alternative fuels offer ways to improve the state's air quality while reducing our dependence on petroleum.
Twenty-five years ago when the world celebrated the first Earth Day, there were only a handful of clean, alternatively fueled vehicles. Today, there are more than 55,000 powered by electricity, ethanol, methanol, propane and natural gas. The number will increase even further as transportation fuels diversify. The use of alternative fuels for transportation can have a tremendously positive impact on California - greater air quality improvements that are good for all Californians and job opportunities in the new and expanding field of advanced transportation technologies.

Electric vehicles charging up

Electric vehicles (EVs) have the lowest emissions of any clean, alternative fuel vehicle - zero tailpipe emissions. In 1990, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) passed regulations requiring production minimums for zero emission vehicles (ZEVs). In 1998, two percent of vehicles offered for sale by major auto companies were to be ZEVs. This number increased to five percent in 2001 and 2002. By 2003, the auto company sales were to be 10 percent ZEVs - a total of about 200,000 vehicles a year.
The regulations were changed in 1996. The ARB dropped the early year mandates in favor of a voluntary phase-in of ZEVs by the auto companies. However, they did retain the 10 percent mandate in 2003. But as of 1995, there were fewer than 2,000 EVs in California.
California's seven largest sellers of motor vehicles - General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Mazda - each agreed to the ARB's oversight committee during the March public hearing, as part of change in the 1990 rules.
The 1990 ZEV rules were contingent on commitments by the auto manufacturers to continue research programs that are expected to result in up to 3750 high-tech electric vehicles before 2003 built with state-of-the-art components and batteries. The new agreements also call for the development of marketing programs to promote ZEV technology and the early introduction of some electric vehicles to gain on-road experience about performance and durability characteristics. There are significant financial penalties for failure to comply with the agreement terms. The ARB retains the authority to reinstitute the original 1990 rules on any manufacturer that does not comply with the contractual agreements.

Indirect emissions by ZEVs

While a ZEV has zero tailpipe emissions, there is indirect pollution from the generation of electricity used to recharge them. However, even when California and out-of-state power plants are figured into the air pollution, ZEVs are expected to be 97 to 98 percent cleaner than gasoline-powered vehicles (depending on the type of emission). In other states that rely on coal and petroleum for their electricity, the vehicles may not be as "clean" as in California.
California's electricity production is diverse. More than one-quarter of our electricity comes from renewable resources - hydroelectric, wind, solar, geothermal and biomass - that produce little or no emissions. Most of the state's electricity comes from clean-burning natural gas.
Like our transportation sector is today, California's electricity production was once heavily dependent on petroleum. Twenty years ago, more than 50 percent of our electricity came from burning oil in power plants. However, California utility operators recognized the economic risk from fluctuations in the price and supply of oil. In addition, it became clear that oil-fired power plants were heavy air polluters. So, the electric utility industry converted to other cleaner (and at the time, less expensive) fuels. Today, less than one percent of our electricity comes from burning petroleum.
San Diego Electric Automobile Co. in Lakeside, offers sales and service of new and used electric cars; conversions of conventional autos and factory-built specialty electric autos. Since 1989 SDEA has helped many people with the at-home conversion of their vehicles and has aided various high schools and colleges with their EV projects. SDEA conversions are certified by the CA Energy Commission and are eligible for a $1,000 state tax credit. For more info contact SDEA: 443-3017.