US transportation transitions in a low-oil-price world


Marshall Miller

Additional Researchers 

Lew Fulton, Postdoctoral Researcher 


During 2017/2018, STEPS undertook a detailed transition modeling project for road transportation in California.  This study found that while LDV transitions to ZEVs could reasonably be accomplished by 2050, and possibly and low net cost, the situation for trucks is different.  Starting much later, it would take a very rapid transition to achieve a similar 2050 target, and would likely occur at higher net cost than for cars.  The use of biofuels as a bridge to slow down the transition rate, or provide much of the final system GHG reductions, indicated that this pathway also could be fairly high cost. 

This new analysis will consider the costs and policy requirements of low carbon transitions at a US level, and taking into account the possibility of a future with consistently low oil prices – which could be the environment that a successful transition must occur in.  The study will review literature on recent US transition studies, and on costs of oil production to understand what prices, in a weak demand, highly competitive oil market, may occur as demand declines into the future. It will then develop a US transition model and scenarios, using the same framework developed for the CA scenarios in 2018.  The model construction process should not be cumbersome, using a “what-if” spreadsheet approach.  The scenarios will be calibrated to a BAU using EIA projections.  The development of low CO2 scenarios will be where most of the effort goes, and will probably include a “High ZEV” and “ZEV + Biofuels” scenario. The pathways will be articulated in terms of ZEV and biofuels sales levels and costs into the future, with costs compared to a low-oil-price BAU.  Results will include consideration of the challenges in hitting low CO2 targets, costs of doing so, and policies that could help achieve them, and what these policies may require in terms of their effective net taxes/subsidies on different types of vehicles/fuels (even if regulatory).