Climate group sees ‘inevitable’ shift to electric vehicles in Sonoma County
Meeting Sonoma County’s climate protection goals will require putting 138,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2030 and effectively ending sales of fuel-burning cars, a local environmental group said in a report due for release this week.
“We must now begin to create a future beyond combustion,” said the report by the Santa Rosa-based Center for Climate Protection.
Advocating a dramatic shift in consumer preferences and current automobile industry sales, the report said electric vehicle (EV) sales must grow by 30 percent a year for the next 13 years to meet the county’s goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Sonoma County has an estimated 4,500 EVs rolling now, the center said in its report, “Beyond Combustion: Electric Vehicle Trends, Goals and Recommendations for Sonoma County.”
Sales of plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars, both considered in the EV category, accounted for nearly 5 percent of the state’s new car market during the first three months of this year, according to the California New Car Dealers Association’s latest report.
EV sales have grown steadily from 2.5 percent of the market in 2013 to 3.6 percent last year, the association said.
Statewide plug-in hybrid and electric car sales have risen steadily from 42,545 in 2013 to 75,165 last year.
The association’s president said Sonoma County has a “long way to go” to meet the report’s goal.
Calling for a virtual phase-out of fossil fuel-burning vehicles “seems radical” and perhaps “impossible or undesirable,” said Doron Amiran, electric vehicle program manager for the Center for Climate Protection and author of the 28-page report.
But the conversion from internal combustion, which powered the nation’s and the world’s economies through the 20th century, to electric transportation is “not only possible, it’s almost inevitable,” he said.
His study cited a Bloomberg report in May that said that falling battery costs will make EVs cheaper to buy in the U.S. and Europe as soon as 2025.
EVs seem like a “niche” commodity now, but by 2030 internal combustion “will be the oddity,” Amiran said, noting Volvo’s announcement last month that every new model starting in 2019 will have an electric motor.
Norway has said it will have all EVs on its roads by 2025; France and Britain plan to end sales of gas and diesel cars and vans by 2040.
In California, Gov. Jerry Brown has set a target of 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025.
The state’s EV numbers seem small now, Amiran said, but new technologies - such as refrigerators, light bulbs, personal computers and smartphones - follow a “hockey-stick growth curve” that starts modestly and then skyrockets.
Brian Maas, president of the car dealers association, said Sonoma County’s goal is ambitious and depends on a “significant change” in consumer habits.
“I don’t know if it’s going to happen or not, but they’ve got a long way to go,” he said, noting that California dealers have sold 308,174 EVs since 2011.
There’s a lot of “excitement and enthusiasm” over EVs by automobile manufacturers and dealers, but the conversion to electric transportation depends on consumers, Maas said.
Auto dealers are “happy to sell whatever the public wants,” he said.
Local EV drivers, meanwhile, are reaping large rewards, the climate center’s report said.
Owners of the approximately 4,500 EVs in Sonoma County are saving more than $5 million in gasoline costs a year, a windfall that would swell to more than $150 million if the goal of ?138,000 EVs was realized, the report said.
Amiran said his organization is not advocating any government mandate to go electric, but is counting on “technology and market forces” to boost EV sales, along with government rebates and tax credits that can cut the cost of a new EV by as much as $10,000.
Used EVs coming off leases by the original buyer are now selling for $7,000 to $10,000, he said.
The California Air Resources Board reported last year that transportation accounts for 36 percent - the largest portion - of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, which totaled more than 440 million metric tons in 2014.
Sonoma County’s greenhouse gas emissions that year were 3.6 million metric tons, and transportation accounted for about two-thirds of it, the center’s report said.
If EV sales achieve the 30 percent annual growth rate, they would outstrip the sale of fuel-burning cars by 2025 and by 2030 “the sale of new combustion cars would essentially end,” the report said.
The report will be available online this week at climateprotection.org.
You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @guykovner.