Zero-Emission Vehicles: Golden State Goes All In

an zero-emission vehicle getting charged up

Per a recent study of data collected between 2013-2015 by the American Lung Association, the Golden State is the dirtiest state in the union with six of the top ten worst cities on the list located on the west coast. With more cars per capita than some countries — approximately 749 automobiles per thousand residents — it’s no wonder that California consistently pushes to lower its carbon footprint. It was the impetus for former Governor Ronald Reagan and his administration to create the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in 1967. The legacy to further support the goal of clean air and healthy living in the region lives on as shown by Governor Jerry Brown recently signing 12 bills to further strengthen California’s near-zero and zero-emission vehicle or ZEV markets.

Strengthening the rules of the zero-emission on the road

These bills cover a broad, yet clean energy focused spectrum — dedicated, on-street public parking spaces for charging a parked electric car, extending access to high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes for certain clean alternative fuel vehicles, a clean-car program to help low-income residents replace their high-polluting cars with zero-emission vehicles, and more. A sweeping bill — SB 498 sponsored by Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) —  raises the requirement for the state’s light-duty vehicle fleet to become zero-emission from the current 25 percent by 2020 to 50 percent or more by 2025. Each one of the new bills pushes for more effective and active ZEV support to get the state to a cleaner, healthier place, and move it off of that list of being the dirtiest.

Assisting the greening of commercial fleets

heavy-duty trucks go zero-emission

Heavy-duty vehicles were also addressed in the bills. Commercial automobiles in general and the greenhouse gas they generate have been a subject of much discussion across the country for years. FedEx’s commitment to clean energy and utilizing alternative fuel cells in its heavy-duty trucks have been breakthroughs in support of battling climate change. This “new normal” the delivery giant has successfully established for itself is one that other commercial companies are starting to see as one they can embrace. Bills AB 739 and AB 1073 both support that transformation by specifically dealing with ways to reduce carbon emissions associated with heavy-duty trucks and vehicles. AB 739, drafted by Assemblymember Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park), will require that at least 15 percent of specific newly purchased state heavy-duty vehicles be ZEV starting in 2025 and 30 percent or more beginning in 2030. AB 1073, drafted by Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), extends a current requirement to fund the early deployment of clean heavy-duty trucks. This last is part of California’s existing Clean Truck, Bus, and Off-Road Vehicle program.

The bills intentionally do not call out any specific type of clean energy automobile, such as the plug-in hybrid or electric vehicle. By targeting the near-zero or full ZEV market, legislation is able to cover a broad range of alternative fuel cell cars that will help stem greenhouse gas issues on a variety of levels. These zero-emission options include the plug-in electric vehicle, the plug-in hybrid electric car, hydrogen fuel cells, natural gas — basically, anything that burns clean energy and won’t add to the greenhouse gas problem.

Governor Brown’s response to concerns about the effects on the state’s residents and environment from climate change came on the heels of the head of the EPA announcing the scrapping of the Clean Power Plan. California has long considered getting rid of its petroleum cars, with the local government putting together plans for all new cars to be zero-emission only by 2050. This total ban on gasoline engines joins remaining part of the Paris Agreement even as the current administration considers pulling out as clear signs of the state’s commitment to its near-zero and zero-emission future. These green vehicle initiatives are nothing new in California, as mentioned, but strengthening them joins support of autonomous car R&D as a way to make ground transport safer, cleaner and more efficient.

Self-driving not to be outdone

autonomous vehicles get comeuppance via DMV

Following the governor’s signing of new zero-emission initiatives, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) released revisions to its autonomous vehicle regulations. The move supports the recent Department of Transportation (DOT) announcement of the loosening of restrictions and requirements for driverless auto testing on public roads and development. There have been rules in place for autonomous vehicles since 2014 in the state with 42 companies currently allowed to test their cars on West Coast roads. This welcoming atmosphere is making California a haven for automakers seeking to test and expand their self-driving capabilities, and grow the technology into a viable business that can finally be put to practical use on the road.

A focus on saving lives

Sacramento makes ZEV easier

Creating innovative legislation to further support stemming greenhouse gas emission, addressing climate change to establish a cleaner, healthier future in the state, and setting forth clearer laws to support the development and testing of autonomous vehicles on the roads are all part of California’s desire to make its state that much safer for its residents. The electric vehicle, plug-in hybrid, plug-in electric vehicle and other alternative fuel cell technologies are sought to be the norm, not the exception on West Coast roads sooner rather than later. This also includes incorporating a more equitable and accessible ground for testing and growing the autonomous vehicle market in the Golden State. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how fast the rest of the nation follows suit. California consistently sets a certain drumbeat for environmental and technological innovation, and these recent changes certainly continue that trend.

But no matter how the rest of the nation — or the world — reacts, California remains steadfast in its mission to clean up and innovate ground travel at home. Both the new zero-emission legislation and the DMV’s autonomous vehicle changes combine to move it out of the position of being the dirtiest state and among the most congested to one where California residents can breathe and move around easier, and are assured of a comfortable, efficient and safe journey in whatever form of transportation they choose.


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The State of Driverless Cars: Baidu Brings Testing to Google Territory

Baidu, the "Google of China," joins the internet giant to test driverless cars in California

Baidu, the “Google of China”

Getting driverless cars ready for the road is happening so fast that tech companies are projecting more aggressive dates for production and implementation. On September 1, 2016, Baidu, considered the Google of China, became the newest pioneering voice to join the fray. The internet giant announced its plan to put an autonomous fleet of public shuttle vehicles on the roads by 2018. Driverless cars for personal use follow soon after. In preparation for these upcoming events, California DMV issued Baidu a license that allows them to test their automobiles on West Coast roads in the coming months.

Serious competitor in the driverless cars race

This comes on the heels of Baidu’s setting up a research and development facility in Sunnyvale, California in March, putting itself in direct competition with Google. Road tests around the Golden State facility are already in the works. These are a follow-up to the company’s highly successful trials across different terrains and environments throughout China with an autonomously-outfitted BMW in December 2015.

Establishing a mutually-beneficial partnership

Baidu is partnering with Santa Clara, California-based visual computing company NVIDIA to create the optimal driverless car. NVIDIA, a leader in virtual reality, computer graphics hardware and software, is primarily known for designing graphics processing units (GPU) for the gaming industry. GPUs are the brains behind what makes beautiful computer generated images come to life on a screen – in video games, feature films and more. This capability is also being tapped by the automotive industry to enhance the user experience and interface in connected and autonomous/self-driving vehicles.

Baidu is the creator of a state-of-the-art mapping program and cloud capability that is also integral to advancing the development and manufacturing of driverless cars. It has joined forces with NVIDIA to build a cloud-based autonomous vehicle platform that combines both of their strengths. The capability incorporates artificial intelligence into an automobile’s engine. This enables the vehicle to drive on a range of road types and handle unique scenarios, such as automated parking, that will define and test safety and efficiency.

Welcome bonus to local economy

This ramping up of autonomous vehicle research and development in California has resulted in increased need for local engineers, project managers and other positions to advance innovation. This is opening up new West Coast employment opportunities as Google and Baidu work fast and furiously toward getting their driverless cars on the road.

Apple is also working on automotive innovation that is bringing more jobs to the area. Whether it’s building the next electric vehicle or one that is self-driving is still just a rumor, but its efforts are bringing opportunities to the Golden State as well.

Could driverless cars be the next Silicon Valley?

Baidu is just one of the newest players in this mass exodus away from human to digital control behind the steering wheel. As California gains more traction as a strong testing and development arena for pioneering automotive technology, is it possible more companies will be attracted to the area to set up self-driving research and manufacturing facilities?

The Golden State is already established as a technology center and consistently leads the pack when it comes to vehicle innovations (setting emissions standards for the rest of the country, for example). Baidu’s expansion into California goes that much further towards validating its already solid position as a tech-savvy enclave. What that means for the future of the area as well as that of autonomous vehicles deserves watching.

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