Green Vehicle Initiatives: Creating a More Eco-Friendly World

Automobiles account for over 27 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). What kind of green vehicle initiatives are federal, state, local and global leaders presenting to address this world-changing issue?

relationship of green vehicle to the environment
sketch of eco-friendly solutions

When President Obama took to U.S. streets in 2010 to promote eco-friendly solutions to the climate issues facing the nation, he shared his goal of having 1 million plug-in hybrids on highways by 2015. Due to lower than anticipated fuel prices, only ¼ of the objective has been met. However, more green vehicle initiatives are being proposed and implemented around the world as well as more fuel efficient models being introduced.

What exactly is a green vehicle?

lowering the carbon footprint with green vehicle initiatives
creating a smaller carbon footprint with environmentally responsible cars

A green vehicle is any mode of transportation – automobile, truck, train, etc. – that emits low to no carbon dioxide. Replacing cars that burn fossil fuels with those that run on clean energy positively impacts the environment.

Here are 7 common acronyms and the type of “green vehicle” they describe:

  • ZEV (Zero Emissions Vehicle): The power source doesn’t produce pollutants emitted from the tailpipe.
  • ULEV (Ultra Low Emission Vehicle): Extremely small amounts of harmful gases are emitted.
  • PZEV (Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle): These meet the U.S. federal Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle standards (SULEV), have zero evaporative emissions from its fuel system and a 15 year/150,000 mile warranty on their emission control components.
  • PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle): Just as in conventional hybrids, this combines a gas or diesel engine with an electric motor. However, these vehicles feature a large plug-in battery rechargeable from an outlet.
  • ER-EV (Extended Range Electric Vehicle): Includes an electric motor, a plug-in battery pack and an internal combustion engine (ICE), just like the PHEV. The unique feature is that the electric motor always powers the wheels while the ICE acts as a generator to recharge the battery when needed.
  • EV (electric vehicle): The overarching identifier for all vehicles that either run partially or completely on electricity.
  • BEV (battery electric vehicle): Runs off of the chemical energy that is stored in rechargeable battery packs – all electric, no ICE.

Governments all over the world are promoting more ecologically-friendly transport, whether privately owned or in municipal fleets. Unfortunately, green vehicles tend to be expensive and have certain performance issues that make it difficult for many consumers to embrace. These hurdles are leading to some intriguing ways decision makers are introducing more eco-friendly transportation onto the road.

Attracting more eco-friendly automobile ownership

Governments encourage green vehicle ownership by offering various incentives to the public, not the least of which is financial. Some propose subsidies – actual cash in your pocket – while others give tax credits. These programs are gaining global traction in spite of requirements, deadlines or the red-tape invariably involved.

Cash may be a great motivator, but it doesn’t guarantee EV growth. The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) conducted a global comparison on fiscal incentives in 2014. They discovered that while the U.S. and UK offer rather substantial rewards for purchasing a green car, they have a fairly low rate of return compared to other countries offering less. It’s clear that there are far more factors at work and ICCT hopes to dig deeper to better understand what drives (pun definitely intended) eco-conscious automobile sales.

Local lawmakers understand the need to diversify rewards for green vehicle purchases. At least 37 states and the District of Columbia offer a variety of incentives. While financial incentives are among them, compensation also includes high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane access, emissions test exemptions, parking incentives and utility rate reductions.

Probably one of the most far-reaching incentive programs for green vehicle adoption is EV Everywhere. The plan is part of several Clean Energy Grand Challenges launched by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and announced by President Obama in March 2012. Its purpose is to make EVs as comparable in price and convenience as gas models by 2022, thereby prompting more Americans to embrace and purchase them.

However, these incentives and the adoption of the green vehicles aren’t limited to private citizens and their cars.

Translating “clean air” to fleet vehicles

The EPA created the Clean Diesel Program to offer Diesel Emissions Reduction Act of 2016 (DERA) funding for qualifying fleet vehicles. This encompasses rebates and grants for such things as school buses, and construction and agriculture transport that have retrofitted or replaced their conventional diesel engines with those that burn cleaner fuel.

DERA was included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which outlined tax incentives and loan guarantees for various types of energy production. One of these is clean diesel. In June, the 2016 DERA was reauthorized and extended to 2021, which allows the immense benefits already gained from the grants and rebates already rewarded to continue. The EPA shared a report in March that listed the final results of grants funded in fiscal years 2009-2011 and estimates for 2011-2013. These include the reduction of over 4 million tons of carbon dioxide, 312,500 tons of nitrogen oxides, and 58,700 tons of carbon monoxide, to name a few. In addition, 431 million gallons of fuel have been saved and up to 1,700 premature deaths were prevented.

But municipalities are embracing more than just biodiesel and innovative technologies to turn their fleet engines green. Electric battery buses have been successfully introduced into the public transportation systems of 19 countries and 66 nations offer electric trolleys. The implementation of these green vehicles is a collaboration between local, state and federal governments as well as the private sector.

The legacy and future of “going green”

As more auto legislation and general regulations are introduced that impact the environment, new innovations will continue to be unveiled with the purpose of saving the planet. A clean, emissions-free planet may not happen tomorrow, but with all of the green vehicle and alternative fuel options currently being researched and implemented, we’re getting closer every day.