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Determining Marginal Electricity for Near-term Plug-in and Fuel Cell Vehicle Demands in California: Impacts on Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions

UCD-ITS-RP-09-29

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Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (STEPS)

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Suggested Citation:
McCarthy, Ryan W. and Christopher Yang (2009) Determining Marginal Electricity for Near-term Plug-in and Fuel Cell Vehicle Demands in California: Impacts on Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Journal of Power Sources 195 (7), 2099 - 2109

California has taken steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. One example is the recent adoption of the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which aims to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. To effectively implement this and similar policies, it is necessary to understand well-to-wheels emissions associated with distinct vehicle and fuel platforms, including those using electricity. This analysis uses an hourly electricity dispatch model to simulate and investigate operation of the current California grid and its response to added vehicle and fuel-related electricity demands in the near term. The model identifies the “marginal electricity mix” – the mix of power plants that is used to supply the incremental electricity demand from vehicles and fuels – and calculates greenhouse gas emissions from those plants. It also quantifies the contribution from electricity to well-to-wheels greenhouse gas emissions from battery-electric, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell vehicles and explores sensitivities of electricity supply and emissions to hydro-power availability, timing of electricity demand (including vehicle recharging), and demand location within the state. The results suggest that the near-term marginal electricity mix for vehicles and fuels in California will come from natural gas-fired power plants, including a significant fraction (likely as much as 40%) from relatively inefficient steam- and combustion-turbine plants. The marginal electricity emissions rate will be higher than the average rate from all generation – likely to exceed 600 gCO2 equiv. kWh−1 during most hours of the day and months of the year – and will likely be more than 60% higher than the value estimated in the Low Carbon Fuel Standard. But despite the relatively high fuel carbon intensity of marginal electricity in California, alternative vehicle and fuel platforms still reduce emissions compared to conventional gasoline vehicles and hybrids, through improved vehicle efficiency.