What could four Master of Public Policy (M.P.P.) candidates be doing presenting to thirty representatives from several different California government agencies at the Governor’s Office in Sacramento two weeks ago?
Esteban Guerrero, Jillian Kilby, Matthew McCue, and I recently had the tremendous honor of presenting the findings from our Practicum project to our client, the California Governor’s Office on Planning and Research (OPR). The focus of our presentation, and the project itself, was on whether California would reach its stated goal of 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) on the road by 2025, and to offer policy proposals that could accelerate adoption.
The presentation took place on April 14th in Sacramento. The four of us arrived at 11 AM to a room full of thirty representatives from several different California government agencies including the California Air Resources Board, the California Energy Commission, the California Independent System Operator, the California Public Utilities Commission, the Department of General Services, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and of course OPR. We presented in front of the group for about forty minutes on ZEV (which include battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric, and fuel-cell vehicle) adoption trends, potential policy levers to increase adoption, and the impact of the Tesla Model 3 on our analysis, and then ended with another thirty minutes of formal questions and answers. We left thrilled that so many agencies were interested in hearing about our project—we ended up staying in the conference room talking about our findings for well beyond our allotted time.
Our trip to the Governor’s Office to present the findings represented a culmination of nearly nine months of research, literature review, interviews, and writing. The Practicum findings have the potential to immediately and positively impact California as ZEVs (especially with the release of the Model 3) become more salient. In 2012 Governor Jerry Brown issued Executive Order B-16-2012, requiring that by 2025 over 1.5 million ZEVs be on California roads. This mandate was made largely to help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—the current emissions from light-duty vehicles (of which ZEVs are a subset) in California account for 26% of the entire State’s GHG emissions. Increasing ZEV usage is critical if the State is to make its long-term climate goals.
However, the current ZEV adoption trends and predictive models paint a fairly muddy picture. Our group performed analysis using the yearly growth rates of hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs) from 1999 to 2014 as a proxy for ZEV growth rate from 2010 to 2025, and found that if ZEVs follow the same trend as HEVs then California will far surpass its goal, likely around 2023. Given that ZEVs embody several of the primary characteristics that early HEV adopters cited as reasons they ultimately purchased their HEV, this is a good trend for California. Yet the current adoption trends are at a historic low in California. The year-over-year growth rate has declined annually since ZEVs were first introduced, and the current growth rate of 4.5% is nearly three times below the necessary 13.2% annual growth rate to reach the 1.5 million ZEV goal.
Our above analysis suggests that California must continue to explore ways to increase ZEV adoption rates in order to meet the mandate. From September to March we conducted interviews with twenty-five experts on ZEVs, including government employees, researchers, and car manufacturers. We concluded that there were several policies the government should explore implementing in order to reach the goal:
- Offer consumer incentives, such as financial incentives specifically targeted towards low-income households, point-of-sale discounts instead of rebates, 100% depreciation of ZEVs purchased by a business, and continued carpool lane access for ZEV owners.
- Accelerate fleet turnover by encouraging State departments to immediately trade in their vehicles for ZEVs, and incentive commercial fleets to purchase ZEVs.
- Motivate developers and utilities to invest in EV charging infrastructure, and co-fund infrastructure where developers cannot.
- Establish a public-private ZEV awareness campaign, partly to address the fact that a majority of Californians cannot name a single ZEV.
The results from our interviews suggested that these four policy themes can directly increase the adoption rate of ZEVs.
Esteban, Jillian, Matthew, and I very much enjoyed presenting our findings to so many policymakers in Sacramento on a topic that ultimately became one of our passions. From the positive feedback we received we are optimistic that our policies will be incorporated in the latest version of California’s ZEV Action Plan, which outlines how the State will reach its 1.5 million ZEV goal. Our sincere gratitude to our clients, Ken Alex and Randall Winston at the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, our Practicum Director Dr. Joe Nation, and our advisor Dr. Stephen Comello for a fantastic experience. We learned a great deal about ZEVs and California’s climate legislation and can only imagine the positive outcomes that this work may bring. We greatly value this kind of opportunity only afforded to us through Stanford’s Public Policy program.