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New electric technologies help harbor officials lead the charge in reducing emissions.
Los Angeles is a car city. A daily commute here means crossing bridges seen in Hollywood movies, gripping pavement on winding roads featured in car commercials, and yes, sitting in stop-and-go traffic. Whether you are lucky enough to have Audi adaptive cruise assist[1] or not, when you drive in L.A., every inch of the commute is paved with history. It might surprise you to learn that the history of transport in the City of Angels starts behind a corporate business park in Canoga Park.
There, beneath an unadorned stretch of two-lane blacktop, the Los Angeles River emerges at the quiet meeting of Bell Creek and Arroyo Calabasas. It is the city’s name sake—and its original raison d’être—and for over 12,000 years, it has flowed south, connecting streams in the rolling chaparrals at the foot of the Santa Susanna Mountains with the Los Angeles basin and to its delta in the Los Angeles Harbor. Here, at its other end, another long journey comes to an end: Container ships dock at the Port of Los Angeles after days or weeks at sea from Xiamen, or Soma, or Kitimat. It’s an ice age river mouth with modern challenges.
The Port of Los Angeles is the No. 1 container port in North America, and it is moving more cargo today than ever in its 110-year history. But amidst all this growth, some key numbers are actually shrinking. I was happy to talk with Chris Cannon, Director of Environmental Management for the Port of Los Angeles, to learn how they are reducing emissions while increasing cargo operations and power demands.
Sitting in a conference room in his office in San Pedro, and with the port in motion behind him past the window, Cannon spoke about a plug-in electric solution not so different from applications designed by Audi engineers. He was talking about shore power—aka Alternative Marine Power (AMP)—and the powerful impact of a simple idea that started in L.A. in 2004.
“Take a look at this ship sitting here,” Cannon said. “While it is being unloaded and then loaded with exports, the ship still has to have the auxiliary engines run, because that runs a generator. The generator creates electricity, which runs the air conditioning, the lights, because there’s a crew and other kinds of equipment that are necessary to keep the ship going.
“These ships are usually sitting for two or three days, and those engines are just running,” he said. “If you can turn that off and plug in to shore power, you’ve now done away with all those emissions. We pioneered that. We were the first to do that with container ships anywhere in the world.”
Cannon spoke about a plug-in electric solution not so different from applications designed by Audi engineers.
More than just plugging in ships to dockside electrified hookups, Cannon said that since the port developed the Clean Air Action Plan in coordination with neighboring Port of Long Beach in 2006, they’ve been making incredible reductions in emissions by cleaning certain elements of shipping like crane operations. They’re also making simple upgrades, like getting companies to replace their 15-year-old semi-trailer trucks. He also showed me where the port tested the world’s first hybrid tugboat, the Carolyn Dorothy, in 2009.
While Cannon and his colleagues at the port feel pleased with their accomplishments, he said they see the need to continue reducing air quality impacts from one of the largest groupings of heavy industrial activity in Southern California.
“The last two to three years, we’ve had record cargo volumes here at the port, some of the largest in its history,” Cannon said. “We’re very proud that we’ve had such large increases in cargo and still had very large reductions year on year in emissions.
“And we think it’s in large part due to efficiencies—handling cargo less frequently, moving cargo in and out of the port faster—and then obviously, a lot of clean equipment,” he said. “All of that is to say, we’re pretty excited about what’s happened thus far, and we know we got a lot more to go.”
A rendering of the proposed LAX elevated train system, expected to open in March 2023. Courtesy of Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA).
Los Angeles has plans to get out of a jam.
Cities around the globe are rethinking how to use public space. From more green space to car-less city centers, city planners aim to balance the need for space efficiency with quality of life. Transportation systems are being re-imagined because time spent commuting affects not just drivers’ quality of life but environmental issues such as pollution and energy use. The cities of the future also point the way to the future of mobility.
As a city famed for its traffic congestion, where drivers spend on average 81 hours a year in traffic, Los Angeles may not be the first city you associate with “the future of mobility.” The urban sprawl of L.A. County is home to 10.2 million residents and expected to grow by 2.3 million by 2040. It’s also home to freeways such as the 405, consistently ranked as the most congested in the country. How does a city that seems destined for eternal gridlock plan to address its transportation future?
We spoke with Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office about the challenges that Los Angeles faces and the solutions currently in the works.
Los Angeles is in the midst of a once-in-a-generation infrastructure moment, and our end goal is to create a healthier, less congested, and more prosperous city. The passage of Measure M—the largest transportation initiative in American history, times two—is an opportunity to build new rail lines, fix our roads, and create hundreds of thousands of good-paying careers throughout our region.
One of the stated goals of Measure M is to “embrace technology and innovation; incorporate modern technology, new advancements, and emerging innovations into the local transportation system.” Without saying “smart city,” this goal of incorporating tech innovation into the transportation system reads like a reference to using big data analytics, artificial intelligence and Internet/cloud connectivity to improve the efficiency of bus and train schedules, traffic signal timing, and other areas of the transportation system.
This goal of incorporating tech innovation into the transportation system reads like a reference to using big data analytics, artificial intelligence and internet/cloud connectivity.
As for technology’s role in the future of mobility, Mayor Garcetti’s office said:
With the worst traffic in the country, our city is eager to leverage technological advancements that will help us ease congestion and improve mobility. To utilize these new technologies, the Los Angeles Transportation Technology Strategy was funded and developed in partnership with the Mayor’s Fund of Los Angeles to create Urban MOBILITY in a Digital Age, which outlines how Los Angeles can support this ecosystem of advanced technologies. The report lays a foundation that works to:
1. Build a solid data foundation
2. Leverage tech and design for a better transportation experience
3. Create partnerships for more shared devices
4. Establish feedback loops for service and infrastructure
5. Prepare for an automated future
The plan’s fifth step points to what the authors see as the increasing role that automated vehicles will play. This convergence of data, automation and interconnectivity will herald the beginning of what has been referred to as “Transportation 2.0” in the Los Angeles Department of Transportation’s Strategic Implementation Plan, released in June of 2018.
The city and LADOT plan to spur innovation by encouraging businesses and entities not usually associated with city planning and infrastructure to propose solutions. The report sees private-public partnerships between universities and companies in the tech and automotive sector as essential future contributors.
Although construction projects appear throughout the L.A. County freeway system, one of the first major tests is ten years away. Before the Olympic Games begin in 2028, the city expects to have 28 major upgrades to the light rail, bus and freeway system. If Los Angeles can solve or alleviate its traffic problems by then, then the city may become the symbol for traffic solutions instead of a city famous for its congestion.
Including this 2.21-megawatt solar array on the South Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center, this is the largest solar project on a city-owned convention center in the United States.
Sunshine empowers the Golden State’s largest city to embrace renewable energy that can fuel electric vehicles.
Typically, there are 284 days of sunshine in Los Angeles per year, according to government statistics—and 293, if you include just downtown Los Angeles, which is far enough from the ocean to miss out on the marine layer that can cover the coast. Either number you use makes the L.A. area sunnier than San Diego or Palm Springs.
In short, Los Angeles is one of the sunniest places in California—which makes it one of the sunniest places in the country. Although it’s bright and temperate, the surrounding mountains, the prevailing wind patterns and the infamous vehicle traffic also make it traditionally one of the most polluted cities.
Those conditions create a perfect laboratory for the revolution in solar power adoption, which will affect transportation, agriculture, housing and industrial sectors while “de-carbonizing” how we generate the electricity that powers the area.
As of now, the goals are ambitious and the stakes high. The utility companies that serve the Los Angeles area, such as Southern California Edison and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, have to adapt to very stringent renewable energy mandates, laid out by the state government. The city is on track to meet the state-mandated goal of 33 percent renewable energy by 2020 and 60 percent renewable energy by 2030, while actively studying how to achieve 100 percent from zero-carbon resources by 2045, with a cross-section of local stakeholders and experts.
The result is a revolutionary way to look at power generation that encompasses government investment, private enterprise and technological innovations in solar storage while reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to pollution and climate change.
California also set strict guidelines on GHG (greenhouse gas) reductions—40 percent from 1990 levels in 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. To help make these ambitious goals a reality, Los Angeles can expand access to renewable and solar energy to those who might not be able to afford a rooftop installation.
The Solar Rooftops program will give customers a fixed monthly lease credit totaling $360 annually for 20 years. The total cost of the pilot effort will amount to nearly $13 million, including construction, lease payments, administrative, operation and maintenance costs.
“Regardless of income level, customers can participate in the solar programs to save money on electric bills and be environmentally responsible,” said LADWP General Manager David Wright.
But that’s not the only government program changing the rooftop landscape or the power generation.
California could get up to 74 percent of all of its energy needs—up to 194,000 GIGAwatt hours per year—from rooftop solar panels.
In fact, a new code approved by the California Energy Commission requires renewable energy access for all new residential homes in the state starting in 2020. New buildings will need to install solar paneling to meet the state regulations.
The potential is there. According to a study from National Renewable Energy Laboratory, California could get up to 74 percent of all of its energy needs—up to 194,000 gigawatt hours per year—from rooftop solar panels.
Southern California Edison released a study of its own about its preferred pathway to meeting state emission numbers, relying heavily on solar, wind and other renewables. In this pathway, SCE sees that as utilities use more renewable energy sources, those buying electric vehicles like the Audi e-tron® will be increasingly charging off a “clean electric grid.”
To meet the 2030 GHG reduction goals, SCE is calling for more than 7 million electric vehicles to be on California roads. Along with helping an increasingly clean electric grid, this will help reduce the amount of tailpipe emissions from 169 million metric tons of CO2 a year to 111 MMT/year.
This, in turn, requires an investment from automotive companies to continue to produce more EVs and get them to market. Fortunately, we are.
It’s a sunny case for the future of power, pollution and driving in Los Angeles.