Friday, October 31, 2008

CAFE standards are so 20th century

While we in the USA struggle with CAFE standards, those regulations that limit the minimum average fuel efficiency of cars and light trucks, others are moving forward. The Europeans are considering a 120 gm / km CO2 limit on automoble emissions.

Thanks to Ralf Lippold for the tip via a Tweet. Check out his 120g/km-Campaign wiki.

(I'll let someone else translate 120 gm / km CO2 into "English" units; I'd rather we just adopt metric.)

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Blogger Bill Harris said...

I tried finding typical emissions numbers on cars in the USA; the best I found quickly was from the City of Seattle. While the "Tail Pipe Tally" site seems to be gone, their other links give some information. Converting pounds per mile into grams per km is left as an exercise for the reader. :-)

31 October, 2008 08:02  
Blogger Ralf Lippold said...


Thanks for making the connection.

Changing the entire car fleets of economies over the next decades starts with offering low-emission cars and will start slow.

...eventually leading into new ways of transportation.



31 October, 2008 08:36  
Blogger Tom Fiddaman said...

I think the whole idea of vehicle fuel economy standards is an obsolete 20thC regulatory approach with perverse effects.

Increasing fuel economy without a price signal on emissions increases the incentive to drive. In the long run, in the US, that rebound effect has eaten up much of CAFE's gains.

Also, an intensity standard is inherently inefficient in the sense that it forces automakers to impose an implicit internal tax/subsidy system, where high-carbon vehicles pay for low-carbon ones. That makes no sense.

Pushing all vehicles toward the same standard also fails to account for usage patterns. A big SUV is horribly inefficient, until you put eight people in it, at which point it becomes twice as efficient as a single-driver Prius. A carbon tax accounts for that; an efficiency standard doesn't.

The new US CAFE approach is even crazier, because it sets the standard according to vehicle footprint. Is wheelbase x track a sensible basis for allocating ownership in the global commons?

31 October, 2008 10:14  
Blogger Tom Fiddaman said...

One other problem with an efficiency standard is that it doesn't permit all possible tradeoffs. How do you know what the implicit price of carbon in the standard is, and that it's similar to the explicit price of carbon elsewhere (e.g., in the ETS)? Is it cheaper to reduce emissions through efficiency, or mode substitution, or something else? It's hard to answer these questions for a standard.

31 October, 2008 10:35  
Blogger Bill Harris said...

Tom, thanks for the thoughtful comments. I noticed some of what you said in my own thinking when gas prices were high. I think I'm pretty frugal in the amount of driving I do, and gas prices near $4 only made me more careful. Then we got a discount from a store that cut the price per gallon by $0.80. When I drove out of the station, I was wondering for a moment where I could go just for fun on this cheap gasoline.

I like the idea of a carbon tax, but I wonder about possible perverse effects. It seems we have two related problems: climate change and limited petroleum. We seem to be trying to regulate both based on fuel efficiency standards (perhaps slowly and with some interesting craziness, as you note), and you point out problems with that approach. If we switch to a carbon tax as the primary lever we pull, do other problems crop up involving the future availability of petroleum?

Just curious: what did you think about the idea floated last summer that we put a (perhaps increasing) floor under the price of gasoline?

31 October, 2008 10:57  
Blogger Tom Fiddaman said...

One possible perverse effect is that natural gas might be underpriced, in which case the carbon tax causes a rush to gas, which accelerates a "peak gas" problem on top of peak oil.

I think it's too bad we didn't put a floor under the price of gasoline in 1980. It might be a bit late now, but generally I think the idea of adaptive taxes that ensure goals get met is useful.

31 October, 2008 11:44  
Blogger Bill Harris said...

That seems like a valid concern. From what I gather (the best reference I can find quickly is page 8 of a talk by Matt Simmons), we're at serious risk on gas, and peak gas is harder to manage since it's not as easy to transport long distances.

Does it make any sense to have both a carbon and a depletion tax? It might depend upon estimates of how much is left, and that's problematic, I know.

Perhaps think of it this way: if we had a grainery in a small, isolated commune, and its limited contents had to last until next summer's crops came in, how might we manage the use of the existing grain to feed ourselves in a way that keeps us alive now and doesn't let us starve when we need all our energy to harvest next summer's crop?

By analogy, the remaining grain is the remaining oil and gas. The commune is the planet. Next year's crop is the next energy technology, and we don't know how good it will be. (It's perhaps worse than that. We have reason to believe next year's crop will come in next summer; we don't yet have knowledge when the next energy technology will be ready.) We need food to power our muscles to harvest next summer's crop; we need petroleum energy to power the development of and transition to the next form of energy.

In such a situation, how does one manage the grainery? To relate to a recent posting on your blog, when does one start to manage it?

31 October, 2008 16:21  
Blogger Wayne said...

Wouldn't a larger fuel tax be the simplest approach, since we already have the infrastructure in place? My impression is the emissions are closely tied to fuel consumption, although I have not researched this. The taxes could be used to improve transportation infrastructure (mass transit, road maint.), buy offsets, etc. --Wayne Wakeland

01 November, 2008 09:07  
Blogger Ralf Lippold said...

Hi Wayne,

Higher fuel tax, yeah this sounds like a "good" idea.

Actually we have that here in Germany and still cars are well over the 120 g CO2/km (which is pretty much, as for 10 km this is already 1 kg!).

Looking forward to more combined effort into public transport (this starts with small steps, like Métro a freeware routeplanner,



PS.: Métro, sounds a bit off-topic and yet this can be a major leverage point to bring public transport into focus (providing consistent data,

02 November, 2008 11:17  
Blogger Bill Harris said...

Wayne, thanks for chiming in. I agree it sounds simple, although increasing taxes never seems too simple politically. I wonder if part of the challenge is providing equal emphasis to the tax and to the reason for the tax. That is, do most people need to understand both that we're increasing taxes to reduce oil consumption and GHG emissions and that it will cost more to drive because of the tax?

Incidentally (and this speaks to your comment, too, Ralf), there was an article in the local paper about a Dan Burden having been hired to help Marysville (a local) city look at ways to make that city more friendly to pedestrians (and thus relatively less friendly to auto traffic). It says, "Burden challenged the city staff's emphasis on trying to move as many cars through the city as quickly and efficiently as possible.

"Staff members have said traffic is the No. 1 complaint they receive, and they scramble to find money to widen streets to move cars through. This, however, just invites more congestion, Burden said during the walk on Thursday.

"'Once you dedicate your town to the car, all you get is a town full of cars,' he said."

02 November, 2008 11:59  
Blogger Tom Fiddaman said...

An increased fuel tax works mechanically, but I think a dedicated carbon tax would be better, because it would coordinate the price of carbon in all fuels (not just on-road motor fuel). Also, it's logistically easier to impose the tax upstream - in California there are something like 400 fuel importers, refiners, etc. and >30,000 service stations.

03 November, 2008 08:59  
Blogger Bill Harris said...

I like the carbon tax, too, and the logistics sound decent the way you describe it.

The problem I would see is that there are two problems. If a carbon tax also had the effect of slowing the consumption of petroleum so we could develop alternatives, then that seems like a simple solution. If it's not sufficient to accomplish both ends, do we need another lever?

I recall hearing someone years ago in the utility business in Austin, Texas, note that they had one of the few hydroelectric generators in the country that could start on its own from a standing start; most need external sources of power to run the pumps that provide lubrication. That reminded me that even renewable sources of energy may need petroleum or one of its replacements to start up and continue running.

03 November, 2008 22:11  

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