Climate protection: Electric vehicles growing 51% each year – natural gas down 10% last year

I got nice news from my son last week.  I was explaining that we’re headed towards electric cars and no more natural gas by about 2050.  He pointed out that the air in cities will be cleaner than it has ever been before. Ever.

There will be none of the fumes from cooking on natural gas.  I’ve seen folks say not to worry about the health damage of natural gas; just make sure you vent well when you’re cooking. 

That’s good advice, and when you vent, the fumes go outside so your neighbors can breathe them. It’s the same for the fumes from a gas furnace. Out they go. 

If you have a high-efficiency furnace, the fumes come out cool.  If you have a regular natural gas furnace, the fumes come out heated, because 20% of your natural gas heat is spent on heating the fumes coming out of your chimney. 

Heated fumes rise into the sky, so chances are you won’t induce an asthma attack with a low efficiency furnace. People cooking and heating with electricity don’t have even that low risk.

Fumes from gasoline cars and trucks will be gone too. Currently, folks take a health hit for living next to highways. That health hit will be reduced to just the particles that come off tires.

Before cars got popular around 1950, city air included coal smoke. Before coal heating took off in the 19th century, there was smoke from wood fireplaces. Ever since the very first cities appeared, winter in cities has been like campgrounds where every campsite has a fire going.

When all the cars and trucks are electric, there will be no gasoline pollution. When heat pumps heat all our homes and water, there will be no pollution from gas either. City air will be like countryside air.

Surveys have found that some young couples are holding off having kids or are planning to have no children because it seems unethical to bring new lives into our overheating world.

Some of my son’s friends talk that way. One couple explained they don’t believe things will get better because they don’t see people trying to make things better – especially their own parents.  My son is starting to realize that people are working on it and are making progress.

I was sharing our natural gas and gasoline progress with my son because every three months I report how things are going in Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace. Today’s column is my fourth quarterly report on our greenhouse gas emissions.

The United States and Washington state have both committed to nearly eliminating greenhouse gas pollution by 2050. For us on the Puget Sound, that includes stopping carbon dioxide emissions by stopping gasoline and natural gas.

The focus of my reports has been mostly on electric cars and trucks and how gasoline burning is going down. For Edmonds, I also report how much natural gas we burn. I haven’t seen data about natural gas in Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood. 

The new cars and trucks people buy now will become the used market for the next 20 years. That’s why Washington state has committed to getting electric cars and trucks up to 100% of new vehicles by 2030, and hasn’t made any commitments about used cars.

The chart below shows what portion of new cars and trucks were electric in Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace. Four years ago, at the start of 2020, we were below 5%. We’re now up to 20%.

This data is from the Washington State Department of Licensing.  The blue line with dots shows the actual EV percents for new-car and new-truck purchases. The orange line shows the overall trend: 51% growth each year.

When electric vehicles get closer to 100%, the growth will probably slow down. The current trend is probably heading towards something like the orange line in the chart below.

This trend looks like new-vehicle purchases will get to about 90% by 2030, and 99% by 2035.  

The chart above shows the actuals for new-vehicle purchases in dark blue on the lower left.  

The green line shows the estimated percent of cars on the road that will be electric. Because the cars on the road are the cars that were purchased new over the last 20 years, the estimated EV percents are lower for cars on the road than for new cars and trucks.

The current trend is that half of the vehicles on the road will be electric by mid-2035, and 100% by the end of 2050. That is hitting our commitments.

The light blue dots show the actual EV percents of the cars and trucks on the road over the last three years.

The chart below shows the total cubic feet of natural gas burned in Edmonds each 12 months. On the far left, where the line is just under 1.2 over January 2015, that’s reporting that Edmonds burned almost 1.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas from February 2014 to January 2015.

The last point on the right shows that Edmonds homes burned 1.3 billion cubic feet from December 2022 to November 2023.  That’s from just the homes that burn natural gas. Many homes already do not burn natural gas.

In 2023, natural gas burning dropped 10% in Edmonds. If that 10% reduction continues until 2050, we will almost completely eliminate natural gas.  

This natural gas drop is just one year so far. I can’t tell what will happen next. I’ll show you more about it in my next report, in May.

— By Nick Maxwell

Nick Maxwell is a certified climate action planner at Climate Protection NW; teaches about climate protection at the Creative Retirement Institute; and serves on the Edmonds Planning Board.

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