Peninsula Family Service, a nonprofit serving local families in four Bay Area Counties – including San Mateo County – organized “The Future of Transportation: Clean Energy & Transformation” event as part of its Thought Leader Series.  The May 15, 2019 event was co-sponsored by Sustainable San Mateo County (SSMC) along with Peninsula Clean Energy (PCE) and Thrive.  It included 3 keynote speakers and a panel discussion.  There were over 50 guests attending.

The discussion revolved around issues of increasing carbon emissions from conventional transportation and pathways to switch to alternative options for transportation, including Electric Vehicles (EVs).  The speakers also discussed the need to establish a clean energy infrastructure to address this challenge.  Scenarios of rapid glacial melting due to global warming, changing mobility requirements and the need to establish a “new normal” for charging vehicles instead of filling them with gas were all addressed.  Later, the panel discussed challenges and possible solutions towards cleaner transportation from policy, planning, and financial perspectives.  Lastly, there was a discussion of available EV and hybrid EV options, as well as financial incentives for existing and future EV owners.

The event opened with introductory remarks from San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine who highlighted the extreme vulnerability and exposure of San Mateo County to rising sea levels and the significant contribution of the transportation sector to overall carbon emissions in California, close to 40%.

Jenny Suckale, Assistant Professor of Geophysics from Stanford University, enlightened the audience about the scale of glacial melting across time and space.  Ice sheets the size of cities and states are melting in a matter of hours.  Glacial movement initially estimated to be in the range of a few cm/year has now been shown to happen at a scale of a few km/year – the difference between a snail and a racing car!  This has proven all predicted climate change models wrong.  Jenny stated that the uncertainty, complexity, and unpredictability of glacial movements and consequential sea level rise underlines the magnitude of the problem at hand and demands our immediate attention.

Within the Bay Area, sea level rise scenarios range from 3 inches to 3 feet.  This likely will cause floods leading to traffic disruptions and making it harder for people to reach their workplaces.  Those not having the option of working remotely will spend more time commuting and will be exposed to the risk of losing their jobs due to delays and absences.  The burden will most certainly fall on the lower income populations, those least prepared for it.  Financial losses due to natural hazards have been steadily increasing over the past few years.  This trend is expected to continue and will range from $530 to $1600 million by 2040.  Collaborative solutions will be key to successfully address this issue.  Traffic systems must become more resilient to sudden disruptions due to climate change and solutions must be socially equitable.

Stephen Zoepf, Executive Director, Center for Automotive Research at Stanford University, followed up Jenny by emphasized how profoundly transportation affects all aspects of our daily lives.  The key emphasis of his presentation was on integrating transportation and communications and to establish vehicle charging as the “new normal”.  Businesses have been adapting to growing transportation demands and have profoundly changed our mobility patterns.  Stephen also noted the importance of providing equitable access to all in the new, clean energy transportation ecosystem.  Aspects of equitable access include the difficulties faced by those with disabilities, the elderly, and racial as well as socio-economic discriminations in getting rides.

Stephen suggested actionable solutions including adding more EVs into ride-sharing services, favoring taxis that use green fuel and installing more charging stations.  To solve the second owner issue, Stephen suggested putting old EVs to use as shared vehicles.  Coincidentally, this also solves the “early adopter” issue.

Jan Pepper, CEO of PCE, was the last speaker.  She highlighted the economic impact of going electric and utilizing cleaner energy for individuals and communities.  Jan then shared PCE’s roadmap towards the same.  PCE’s goal is to take the number of EVs from 19,113 to 45,000 by 2025 and to add 3500 charging points to the existing 2200.  PCE also plans to increase clean energy uptake and optimization through demand-side management.  This includes charging EVs during the day when solar energy can be harnessed.  The PCE roadmap also lists several innovative solutions, such as mobile energy storage to allow EV batteries to feed surplus energy back into the grid and low-power EV charging infrastructure, especially in the context of multi-unit dwellings (MUDs).  It is predicted that through incentives and technological measures, almost 300 million pounds of carbon dioxide can be reduced.

This session was followed by a panel discussion on the present and future of clean, affordable transportation in San Mateo County.  The discussion was facilitated by Danielle Lee, Deputy Director, San Mateo County Office of Sustainability.  Panelists included Stuart Cohen, Strategy Consultant and Founder of Transform; Carlos Romero, Council Member, City of East Palo Alto; Donna Colson, Mayor of Burlingame and Jasneet Sharma, Senior Climate Resiliency Specialist, San Mateo County Office of Sustainability.

The panelists discussed multiple challenges, including the difficulty of solving the issue of transportation in isolation, changes in land-use patterns, the importance of establishing housing near public transportation, and the need for a cultural shift in city-planning.  The discussion centered around re-envisioning spatial layouts of cities, designing infrastructure that is resilient to blackouts, wildfires, floods etc., increasing tree canopies, incorporating social equity in the planning process and access to clean transportation infrastructure.  Panelists noted that key stakeholders can participate by providing input to their cities’ climate action plans, engaging in dialogue with their local environmental council, sitting on PCE’s Advisory Committee, and reaching out to school boards.

To conclude the event, Ariane Erickson, Acterra’s Karl Knapp GoEV program manager, summarized the range of current EV options and financial incentives available to EV or hybrid EV owners.  She provided a treasure trove of resources, including a consumer guide to plug-in EVs, information about upcoming workshops and events, and available financial incentives to get started!

SSMC Staff