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Five Key Takeaways from the Green Transportation Panel at the US and UK Climate Change Business Forum

On September 22, 2021, partner Edward Zaelke moderated a panel on green transportation at the US Embassy in London during the US and UK Climate Change Business Forum, Winning the Race to Zero: Journey to COP26. Panel guests included Richard Currie, Senior Director of Public Affairs for UPS; Jamie Heywood, Regional General Manager, Northern & Eastern Europe for Uber, a representative from a large e-commerce company and Lilli Matson, Chief Safety Health & Environment Officer for Transport for London. The discussion provided remarkable insights into how these three major companies and a forward-looking transportation agency of one of the world’s largest cities are approaching the climate challenge before them. A challenge that Philip T. Reeker, former ambassador of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, noted in his closing remarks, quoting a proverb, “If you don’t change course, you will likely get to where you are heading.” Steps to change course was the focus of this invitation-only conference and, in the area of green transportation, this panel left the audience with a number of key takeaways.

  1. What’s abundantly clear is that UPS, Uber and many e-commerce companies are fully committed and have set aggressive goals to have their operations reach net zero carbon or carbon neutrality. For example, Uber seeks to electrify its fleet of vehicles in London by 2025 and in the United States by 2030. The e-commerce company on the panel is a significant purchaser of green power and seeks to achieve net zero carbon by 2040. UPS, which operates delivery vehicles and also runs a fleet of long haul trucks and its own airplanes, has set near-term goals of carbon reduction and a target of being carbon neutral by 2050.
  2. London is demonstrating a local commitment to climate change that can serve as an example for other cities around the world. Transport for London, which operates the “Tube” subway system (among its other duties), is the largest user of power in London and currently in negotiation for power purchase agreements for renewable power for its operations. In addition to encouraging use of its rapid transit system, the city bought electric buses, required that all new licensed cabs be electric, created clean air zones and congestion zones to encourage electric vehicles and greatly expanded the bike lanes on roadways throughout London.
  3. Uber, UPS and many e-commerce companies view vehicle electrification for local routes as a key to meeting their climate goals. Uber, with more than 45,000 private commercial drivers in the London area alone, is aggressively meeting the challenge. It has developed an “electric vehicle bank” for each of its drivers, where a portion of each fare goes into a savings account to help the driver replace its present vehicle with an electric vehicle. Uber customers can also request Uber Green at no additional charge. Additionally, since many of its drivers live in the suburbs where less than a third of them have off-street parking, Uber is working with the local government to create [...]

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President Biden Raises the Bar on Electrification of the Auto Industry through Executive Order

On August 5, 2021, US President Joe Biden announced and signed an executive order that sets a new target to make half of all new vehicles sold in 2030 zero-emissions vehicles, including battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric and fuel cell electric vehicles. This executive order is consistent with President Biden’s goal of building more than 500,000 electric vehicle (EV) chargers throughout the United States, which will provide manufacturing opportunities for charging infrastructure and battery technology. These new actions announced by President Biden—paired with investments in the Build Back Better agenda—aim to build up American leadership in clean cars and trucks “by accelerating innovation and manufacturing in the auto sector, bolstering the auto sector domestic supply chain, and growing auto jobs with good pay and benefits.” The executive order will commence “development of long-term fuel efficiency and emissions standards to save consumers money, cut pollution, boost public health, advance environmental justice, and tackle the climate crisis.” It also directs agencies to:

  • Consult with the US Secretaries of Commerce, Labor and Energy on ways to accelerate innovation and manufacturing in the automotive sector, strengthen the domestic supply chain for that sector and grow jobs that provide good pay and benefits, as well as,
  • Secure input from a diverse range of stakeholders, including representatives from labor unions, industry, environmental justice organizations and public health experts.

Concurrently with President Biden’s announcement, American automakers Ford, GM and Stellantis, along with the United Auto Workers (UAW), released statements saying they look forward to working with the Biden Administration to enact policies that will enable President Biden’s 2030 target to be reached. In a joint statement, Ford, GM and Stellantis also recognized that the United States’ transition to electric vehicles “represents a dramatic shift from the U.S. market today that can be achieved only with the timely deployment of the full suite of electrification policies committed to by the Administration in the Build Back Better Plan, including purchase incentives, a comprehensive charging network of sufficient density to support the millions of vehicles these targets represent, investments in R&D, and incentives to expand the electric vehicle manufacturing and supply chains in the United States.” Similarly, in a joint statement from BMW, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and Volvo, the automakers state that, “bold action from our partners in the federal government is crucial to build consumer demand for electric vehicles….” It is expected that government agencies will announce policies, procedures and regulations that will advance President Biden’s target of electric vehicles representing 50% of auto sales in 2030.




Biden Administration Continues to Shift National Infrastructure and Transportation Networks to Pave the Way for Electric Vehicles

On Tuesday, US National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy publicly underscored President Joe Biden’s commitment to supporting the electric vehicle (EV) industry and other industries aimed at tackling the climate crisis. She noted the administration’s goal is to build more than 500,000 EV chargers. The electric vehicle charging station market size is projected to surpass around USD $39.2 billion by 2027 and witness a compound annual growth rate of 40.7% from 2020 to 2027.

McCarthy made her comments during a meeting with key stakeholders and influential policymakers in the EV and EV charging industries, including senior staff of the Department of Transportation, chief executive officers of companies producing electric vehicle charging infrastructures, the National Economic Council and the Council of Environmental Quality.

This is a further demonstration by the administration that it will rely upon the insight of renewable energy leaders to produce, navigate and accelerate the production of national renewable energy infrastructure. The administration also sees the modification of our national renewable energy infrastructure as a means to strengthen American manufacturing, create new employment opportunities and speed economic recovery through the pandemic crisis.

McCarthy’s remarks are part of a growing trend to find executive and legislative avenues to addressing the climate crisis. Democrats in the US House of Representatives have introduced legislation that aims to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. This emphasis has similarly carried over into the realm of domestic infrastructure. The CLEAN Future Act aims to require all retail electric providers to generate 100% of their power from zero-emissions resources by 2035, and 80% by 2030.

The federal government is not the only actor racing to find ways to meet the anticipated demand for electric vehicles and the subsequent infrastructural changes that will be required. A conglomerate of utilities has committed to cooperating to create a “seamless network” of charging stations along major highways.

These efforts across industries and branches of government indicate the inevitability of growth in the renewable energy industry and that the desire for opportunities for electric vehicles across the country will continue to be fueled.




Granholm Confirmed as Energy Secretary

Today, Jennifer Granholm was confirmed as secretary of energy, winning US Senate approval by a 64–35 vote. Granholm’s confirmation serves as another boost to President Joe Biden’s plan to tackle climate change and develop clean energy across the United States. Granholm, who is an advocate for electric vehicles and other low-carbon technologies, will join Pete Buttigieg, the secretary of transportation, as a member of President Biden’s cabinet selected to further a green economy and green infrastructure.

Granholm, who served two terms as the governor of Michigan, worked with the automotive industry during her term to obtain more than $1 billion in federal funding for Michigan companies to manufacture electric vehicles and batteries. Under Granholm’s leadership, Michigan also adopted standards requiring utilities to utilize renewable energy sources. Granholm promoted the use of wind and solar technology during her confirmation hearing by telling senators, “We can buy electric car batteries from Asia or we can make them in America. We can install wind turbines from Denmark or we can make them in America.” She believes investing in renewable energy technologies will create more American jobs and boost the US economy.

Granholm’s confirmation will likely serve as encouragement for developers, lenders and investors in the renewable energy industry, as this will create more opportunities for renewable energy projects across the country and amplify the need for clean energy.




Buttigieg Confirmation Signals Increased Investment in Renewable Energy Infrastructure and Electric Vehicles

Today, Pete Buttigieg was sworn in as secretary of transportation after his nomination passed the US Senate 86-13. His confirmation means a likely boon for investment in US infrastructure, particularly for those investing in renewable energy infrastructure, electric vehicle infrastructure and electric vehicles. In an email distributed to his staff today, he advised them that “…we will break new ground: in ensuring that our economy recovers and rebuilds, in rising to the climate challenge and in making sure transportation is an engine for equity in this country.”

US President Joe Biden has made similar pledges about infrastructure. Last week he signed an Executive Order that took bold steps to combat the climate crisis both at home and throughout the world, creating a number of opportunities for developers, lenders and investors in the renewable energy space.

Buttigieg’s confirmation is noteworthy since it is another concrete step by the Biden-Harris administration to implement its climate change agenda. For instance, the Biden-Harris administration has committed to replacing all government cars and trucks, including the fleet of United States Postal Service vehicles, with clean zero-emission electric vehicles. This would require replacing more than 645,000 vehicles, which reflects the most recent amount of government vehicles reported by the General Services Administration in 2019.

Buttigieg will now be responsible for overseeing the nation’s transportation system and creating safer roadways. The 86-13 vote signals that rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure will receive cross-party support. Buttigieg’s former experience as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, will likely aid him in impacting the local levels.




$40 Billion Available through Biden’s Department of Energy’s Loan Program Office for Innovative Technologies

With Democrats taking over the White House and the Senate, many eyes are on climate change and the role that the federal government can take to combat it. A variety of proposals have been floated about the best way for Congress to enact legislation to help in the fight against climate change, but certain actions can be taken immediately. One such action is to deploy $40 billion in loan capacity that was previously allocated to the Department of Energy as part of the 2009 stimulus package. This money is already available to the Department of Energy’s Loan Program Office (the LPO”) to spend at any time as a loan or a loan guarantee for qualified projects.

Any new loans would follow $30 billion of loans and loan guarantees previously provided by the LPO under these same programs (most notably under the Obama administration and one large loan associated with a nuclear reactor project under the Trump administration). Under the Biden administration, there is strong optimism that the unallocated funds may be more readily available for qualifying projects. The LPO, recognizing some of the challenges with government credit support programs, has taken steps to better engage interested parties, including providing no-commitment preconsultations to walk potential applicants through the process to ensure that the LPO and the project will each be prepared when the LPO application process begins in earnest. Additionally, in light of the innovative projects that exist in 2021, the LPO is examining the opportunities for offshore wind and the offshore wind value chain as well as looking at vehicle solutions that might qualify under the LPO’s programs.

The $40 billion in loan capacity, including $4.5 billion for renewables alone, is available for applicants seeking financing for innovative fossil energy projects, nuclear energy projects or renewable energy and energy efficiency projects; for fuel-efficient, advanced technology vehicle manufacturers; or for Tribal energy development projects.

To qualify for the renewable energy or energy efficiency loans or loan guarantees, under Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a project must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Employ new or significantly improved technologies as compared to commercial technologies in service in the United States at the time the guarantee is issued.
  • Avoid, reduce or sequester anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases.
  • Be located in the United States (foreign ownership or sponsorship of the projects is permissible as long as the projects are located in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia or a US territory).
  • Provide a reasonable prospect of repayment.

Interested applicants should be aware that the timeline for LPO loan origination is typically longer than in the commercial financing market—roughly 90 days should be added to a typical project financing timeline for the LPO to diligence program eligibility and obtain internal approvals. However, for innovative projects that meet the other LPO eligibility requirements, the loans or loan guarantees available through the LPO may be a viable option. For instance, for offshore wind projects, long-duration energy storage, green [...]

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