Author: David Funk

David Funk is the Director of Transportation Decarbonization where he oversees new product development and commercial expansion in clean transportation services.

Transportation: a key pillar for just transition. Takeaways from Forth ’22

At the end of June, professionals, community leaders, and other stakeholders gathered in Portland, Oregon for the annual Forth Roadmap conference to discuss the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead as we course our path toward deep transportation decarbonization. Session topics ranged from the practical to the political, with some conversations centering on the impacts of redlining and how highway construction continues to connect predominantly rich white suburbs to economic centers—driving an even wider wealth gap, and leaving communities of color isolated, divided, and burdened by pollution. Many fear this issue will remain unaddressed and exacerbated with the Supreme Court ruling in West Virginia vs. EPA. This recent decision which leaves environmental regulation in the hands of a divided congress likely means that these same overlooked and underrepresented communities will continue to bear the brunt of vehicular pollution and the current and future impacts of the climate crisis. Progress is not guaranteed.

As we face these difficult truths, optimism can be scarce but in regards to transportation, we face a historic opportunity to right some of our past wrongs. Electrified transportation has the potential to make our communities cleaner and quieter while also lowering the cost of transportation. We are starting to see leadership from the Federal government in setting standards, allocating infrastructure funds, and improving coordination between OEMs, utility companies, the Dept. of Energy and the Dept. of Transportation. We applaud the governmental leadership to align these efforts as it results in a more mature industry and consistent experience.

Attendees gather for the “Building an Equity Community of Practice” session as part of the Impact Track at the 2022 Forth Roadmap Conference. “We really need radical vision that spans across sectors and political frameworks. Let’s put dollars in the hands of communities,” said panelist Queen Shabazz, Coordinator of the Virginia Environmental Justice Collaborative.

Building an inclusive clean transportation future

Many conference panelists and speakers encouraged those responsible for facilitating the shift to electric to engage the community to fully understand the transportation needs of residents of every cultural and socioeconomic status. Our communities face wide-ranging challenges and the tunnel vision focus on electric vehicles insults what makes our communities unique. Our cities are too highly dependent on passenger cars and don’t prioritize human-powered transportation or bus rapid transit which serve a critical need of inner-city communities. Residents in rural areas encounter EV range anxiety, increased highway travel, longer electric outages, and a lack of suitable vehicles that make EVs difficult to integrate. The pleas from experts such as Erika Meyers, executive director at CharIN North America, are to take the time to understand the problems and to follow Avoid, Shift, Improve (ASI) principles to address them. After all, the most decarbonized mile is the one not driven and to be successful within a community, you must slow down so you can go fast.

Fresh from the ACTExpo from a few weeks ago, a conference with a focus on shiny new chrome trucks, and seamless technological solutions, powered by big and small companies ready to change the world, I found myself wanting more. I felt a real absence of a just transition-centered conversation at ACTExpo. I was looking toward businesses to lead the conversation, to question the conventional wisdom from automakers and EV charging companies, and to search for deeper value than just “Total Cost of Ownership.”

“We really need radical vision that spans across sectors and political frameworks. Let’s put dollars in the hands of communities,” said panelist Queen Shabazz, Coordinator of the Virginia Environmental Justice Collaborative. 

The 2022 Forth Roadmap Conference was held at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

As I consider these many complex challenges, I reflected on my own transition from working for a big energy company to 3Degrees, a mission-oriented B Corp. One of the primary reasons for making this shift was to work with passionate people and clients that are unsatisfied with doing the bare minimum—who question the status quo. My hope coming out of this conference is that I can learn from these experts and bring some of these questions to our clients that are looking to decarbonize. Through candid conversations and deep introspection, we can help our customers understand their role in their communities, engage local leaders and stakeholders, and choose to pursue solutions that strive to address multiple problems rather than just one. Importantly, it’s about building relationships that result in lasting change and continued progress.

The keynote speaker at Forth Roadmap was Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr., president &CEO of Hip Hop Caucus, and he reiterated that racial and climate justice are inextricably linked with transportation. And as the famous quote goes, “In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity”. Our opportunity lies with rethinking transportation, including EVs. The EV industry is new, but with progress being eroded at the highest levels of government, it is critical to steer our collective future on a path toward equity.

For support in exploring decarbonized transportation options like LCFS, EVs, hydrogen, or what grant opportunities exist, please reach out to me and our team here at 3Degrees 

From CNG to Electrification: Takeaways from ACT Expo ‘22

To understand the future of clean transportation, it’s wise to reflect on how far it’s come. I recently flew to Long Beach, California to attend the Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo. In its 12th-year of existence, ACT Expo is the largest advanced transportation technology and clean fleet event. Thinking back a decade ago, this event, and the entire transportation industry, looked quite a bit different than today.

In those days, Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) was prominently displayed as the technology that would allow businesses and municipalities to decrease their fuel expenses, pollution, and CO2 emissions.  At the same time, California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) had just gone into effect as the first cap-and-trade program to attempt to decarbonize transportation fuel, and its prospects were still uncertain and Tesla had just started production on their Model S car—their first step into becoming the world’s most valuable automaker. 

10 years later, we can reflect on the gigantic technological leaps on display at the 2022 ACT Expo.  If there were any CNG displays, I couldn’t find them.  It was battery electric vehicles (EVs), from pick-ups to class 8 tractor trailers, standing squarely in the limelight.  As I looked across the showroom floor, with familiar (Peterbilt) and unfamiliar logos (OrangeEV) in attendance, I was met with a shiny chrome reality of how far technology has come in just a decade.

Drew Cullen, Penske Transportation Solutions, Carlos Maurer, Shell, and Mary Aufdemberg, Daimler Truck North America discussing the State of Sustainable Fleets

Conversations at the event focused on the unique implications of electrification and primarily consisted of the question, “How and when do I charge my new electric fleet?”  Utilities and EV charging companies roamed the expo floor offering hardware and software solutions to address this infrastructure limitation.

While it’s commonly accepted that the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is less for Light Duty EVs than their internal combustion peers, the heavy duty sector is not yet obviously electrifiable.  Vehicle prices are stubbornly high and scale is limited, however, there appears to be no shortage of companies shouldering the burden of electrifying the heaviest duty vehicles.  Companies like Sysco, UPS, and Pepsi should be applauded for their efforts to decarbonize this sector.  The good news is that despite supply chain challenges, there is plenty of low-hanging fruit that can leverage the limited vehicular supply to make electrification financially smart and sustainable.

We can also reflect on the successes of the past conferences and regulations.  The LCFS program, in concept but not name, has expanded into Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.  There is also definitive proof that this regulation has resulted in decreased carbon emissions from transportation while also spawning new business opportunities.  In 2021, the CNG fleet in California was powered 98% by renewable natural gas, mostly captured from landfills and dairy manure!  Recently, bio-diesel repurposed from lower value feedstock became the fastest growing decarbonized fuel in the LCFS market.

As we look towards the future, hydrogen fuel is attempting to be the next big thing. And this fuel, if produced by renewables, provides decarbonized fuel solutions without impacts in range and charging time. The catch, however, remains the severe lack of fueling stations to serve any notable demand.  In my conversations with fleet owners, skepticism abounds when exploring their options in the hydrogen space.  In the next 10 years we might see this fuel carve out a niche around the most demanding vehicular use cases but my prediction is that the combination of battery costs declining, battery energy density improving, and a rapidly maturing EV fueling infrastructure will keep hydrogen out of the mainstream.

Other good news relates to new sources of funding given the recent bipartisan infrastructure bill.  The figures presented at the ACT Expo are close to $20 billion a year for the next 5 years.  The furthest developed projects are most likely to receive funding and my opinion is that developing these pilot projects early will be rewarded. 

For support in exploring decarbonized transportation options like LCFS, EVs, hydrogen, or what grant opportunities exist, please reach out to me and our team here at 3Degrees I look forward to next year’s ACTExpo and another opportunity to reflect!