The state of California is seen by many as the model to follow when it comes to climate action and clean energy. Now, it’s taken this a step even further by announcing it will replace more than 200 diesel school buses with new, all-electric school buses.
The California Energy Commission has awarded nearly $70 million to state schools to replace their buses, which will eliminate nearly 57,000 pounds of nitrogen oxides and nearly 550 pounds of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) emissions annually.
“School buses are by far the safest way for kids to get to school. But diesel-powered buses are not safe for kids’ developing lungs, which are particularly vulnerable to harmful air pollution,” says Patty Monahan, energy commissioner.
“Making the transition to electric school buses that don’t emit pollution provides children and their communities with cleaner air and numerous public health benefits,” she added.
Owing to a recent law, the state will have a zero-carbon electricity matrix by 2045 and Governor Brown issued an executive order to totally decarbonize economy by the same date. It’s a huge challenge considering that between 2006 and 2016 the economy grew 16%, the population expanded 9% and emissions were only reduced by 11%, according to a recent report.
California still has to face big challenges and one of the biggest is in the transportation sector, which accounts for 41% of the state’s emissions. According to official statistics, there are 32 million vehicles in operation for a population of 40 million, of which only 400,000 are electric.
Emissions from transportation have increased in the past four years, due to residents traveling further as a result of increasing property cost in the major cities. In addition, the number of public transport users has decreased in four out of five of the state’s biggest metropolitan areas.
Encouraging the use of electric vehicles instead of diesel-based ones could help point the state in a better direction. With that goal in mind, a California lawmaker, Phil Ting, recently introduced a bill that would increase state-funded electric car rebates up to as much as US$7,500, rising from today’s top rebate of US$2,500.
E-cars don’t emit climate-damaging greenhouse gases or health-harming nitrogen oxide and are quiet and easy to operate, leading governments to encourage the transition to them. But while they may seem like it, they are not the perfect solution to our environmental challenges.
If they are running on electricity produced by burning dirty fossil fuels, climate benefits are limited. Because of the complex batteries they use, it currently takes more energy to produce an electric car than a conventional one. And, disposing of those batteries creates an environmental hazard.
Under present conditions, the overall carbon footprint of a battery-powered car “is similar to that of a conventional car with a combustion engine, regardless of its size.” That’s the conclusion of a 2011 study by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IFEU) in Heidelberg.
According to a study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, it takes more than twice the amount of energy to produce an electric car than a conventional one, largely due to the production of the battery. However, in the long run, that can be easily compensated through clean energy, which makes up for the production costs and makes electric buses extremely attractive.