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We begin in Michigan, where the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt is getting a boost in production to meet rising demand, providing some good news for a model that has a ways to go to live up to the initial hype that it would transform the market. 

And we go to California, where there's a promising development in its deep decarbonization agenda. 

I'm Dan Gearino, providing you with news and analysis about the clean energy economy. Send me questions and comments at Thanks for reading!

— Dan 

The Chevrolet Bolt Rises, but Is It Enough?

Defining success is a challenge when sizing up the Chevrolet Bolt, an electric vehicle whose rave reviews have not translated into category-leading sales.

So I took notice last week when GM said that global sales of the all-electric car are rising so much that the company is going to increase production by 20 percent before year-end.

The Bolt is made at the Orion Assembly Plant, which is about 30 miles north of Detroit and has about 1,000 workers. Any production increase is good news for the home plant.

But the surge in sales is less impressive when you look at the broader market.

The Bolt was introduced with fanfare, with GM's CEO, Mary Barra, saying it was a "game changer." It has a range of more than 200 miles per charge and a sticker price in the $35,000 range. Analysts saw the model as a challenger to Tesla for supremacy in the all-electric market.

In 2017, the first full year of sales, the Bolt was the second-leading all-electric car in the U.S., with 23,297 units, trailing only the Tesla Model S, which had 27,060.

The Bolt has continued to advance in 2018, with 7,858 units sold in the first half of the year, an increase of 3.5 percent from the prior-year period. ( tracks sales here.)

But its growth is not keeping pace with Tesla, which now has three models that have sold more units. The Tesla Model 3, a mid-price sedan that is most comparable to the Bolt, has sold three times as many units.

I asked Jeremy Acevedo, an auto analyst for, whether he sees the Bolt as a sales success.

"With the sales that we've seen, it really seems like it has not panned out. It's kind of another failure to launch for the EV industry," he said.

One issue may be that Chevrolet is mainly known as a truck and SUV brand, which means an electric vehicle is not on the shopping list of most people who come through the door, he said. At the same time, he gives GM and Chevrolet credit for being early developers of EVs and for releasing vehicles that are acclaimed by critics, even if they aren’t top sellers.

Jim Cain, a GM spokesman, strongly disagrees with the idea that the Bolt isn't living up to expectations.

"We take exception to any statement that Bolt EV sales are a disappointment because it's patently not true," he said in an email. "That said, it's understandable that people compare Tesla deliveries and Chevrolet Bolt EV sales, since our companies are the clear leaders in electrification. But we have our own strategy to grow EV sales and make them profitable."

He said the Bolt's U.S. sales have been held back because dealers didn't have enough cars to sell for much of this year, which is one reason for the production increase.

Some perspective: All-electric vehicles make up less than 2 percent of the country's fleet of cars and light trucks. The numbers are growing, but the pace means we are still years away from the kind of mass-market appeal that would transform the industry.

GM's performance with electric vehicles is a crucial part of the larger market. The company is the U.S. leader in market share. If EVs are going to go mainstream, GM needs to be a big part of it.

Here's Why EV Adoption Is Important

The pace at which Americans switch to EVs is one of the greatest unknowns in the broader transition to a clean energy economy, and the stakes couldn't be much higher.

This week the National Renewable Energy Lab issued a report on the factors that will affect the country's electricity demand through 2050.

Most of the major categories of electricity consumption are projected to have modest but steady growth. Then there is transportation, the ultimate wild card. The report shows that EVs would become 11 percent of the vehicle fleet under a base scenario, and range all the way to 84 percent of the fleet under a high-adoption scenario.

Everyone should care about this, because a high-electrification scenario means the country is swiftly moving away from gasoline and its harmful emissions, a vital strategy in slowing climate change (provided, of course, the cars are increasingly being fueled by renewables and other low-carbon sources of power). 

Electricity utilities should be especially interested in the report's findings. The gap between the low and high scenarios are the difference between prosperity and stagnation for businesses that produce and sell electricity. 
"Electric vehicles are the biggest opportunity we see right now," said Hans Kobler, CEO of Energy Impact Partners, a utility-backed firm that invests in clean-energy technology, quoted in a Utility Dive report about the NREL study.

"When the transportation sector is fully electrified, it will result in around $6 trillion in investment," he said. "Half of that is on the infrastructure side of the utility." 

Already, many utilities are providing incentives for establishing EV charging stations and even offering vehicle rebates. There is a clear business case for utilities to be the chief promoters of EVs. And the pace of the vehicles' adoption will depend in part on how aggressively the companies can nudge the public to give up gasoline.

Huzzah! California Hits Emissions Target 4 Years Early

California officials reported on Wednesday that they hit their 2020 target for emissions reductions in 2016, four years ahead of schedule. 

The state adopted its targets back in 2006, requiring it to cut emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The goal was to get below 431 million metric tons of carbon equivalent; the 2016 figure was 429 million. 

The legislation passed despite opposition from business groups and others who said the requirements would harm the economy.

Those skeptics were wrong. The state's gross domestic product grew by 3 percent while the carbon intensity of its economy declined by 6 percent in 2016 compared to the prior year, according to the California Air Resources Board. That's in line with what happened in previous years.

"It creates a sense of hope and certainly makes me enthusiastic to share the word with other places," said Chris Busch, research director for Energy Innovation, a San Francisco-based research firm that focuses on clean energy policies, in an interview. He was part of the 2006 debate, working as an economist for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Now, Busch and others are looking ahead to much more ambitious goals, with California aiming to cut emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030.

As the targets increase, so does the degree of difficulty—meaning, policymakers have some big challenges ahead. But for just a few minutes, they can pause for a round of high fives.

"It's easy to be overwhelmed with everything that's not going right, so to have some good news is certainly energizing," he said.

Rooftop Solar Gets (Small) Boost in N.C.

Starting this week, North Carolina residents and businesses can apply for rebates to help cover the costs of rooftop solar systems. Duke Energy, the state's largest utility, is providing $62 million worth of rebates spread over five years.

In May, I wrote for ICN about how North Carolina is a national leader in utility-scale solar but is nowhere near that level of development for rooftop solar. Clean energy advocates say the imbalance is partly a result of policies set by Duke and other utilities that are hostile to rooftop solar.
The rebates are part of a larger package of energy legislation that gave utilities much of what they wanted. Yet advocates have said the rebates are tiny compared with the resources available to the state and its energy companies.

That said, solar installers told me that they have already seen a big increase in inquiries. The rebates are up to $6,000 for a household, $50,000 for a business and $75,000 for a nonprofit. For a household, that would cover about half the cost of a typical system.

"The launch of this program and its existence for the next five years should go a long way towards really jump-starting that rooftop, particularly residential, solar market," said Dave Rogers, a North Carolina spokesman for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, as quoted in this story about the rebates.

I'll be watching to see how quickly the $62 million is spent, and whether there is a push to continue and expand the program after that.

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U.S. Wind Investment at Breakneck Pace

The U.S. wind industry is booming, with $17.5 billion in investment in the first half of this year, an increase of 121 percent from the comparable period in 2017.

That's just one of many figures that jumped out at me in a new report on global clean-energy spending by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The increase in U.S. wind investment is partly because developers are rushing to take full advantage of federal tax credits that are set to decrease.

While wind energy is growing, solar is facing challenges on several fronts. The report says solar investment is projected to decrease this year, largely because of a pullback in China.

The Trump administration's solar tariffs are just a blip compared with the effects of China reducing state support for solar projects. China's solar spending was $35.1 billion in the first half of this year, down 29 percent.

It will take months for China's policy changes to reverberate through the market. If this leads to a year-over-year decrease in global solar spending, it would be a first, and underscore how China has become the center of gravity for the clean-energy economy.
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