Speeding toward plug-in vehicles
The Bay Area in recent years has been a hotbed of activity around electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, and now things are really heating up. The mayors of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose have declared their intention to make the Bay Area the electric-vehicle capital of the United States and formed the Bay Area Regional Electric Vehicle Initiative. Five new charging stations by Coulomb Technologies were installed in San Jose as a demonstration project. San Francisco took the next step, creating a Green Vehicles Showcase in front of City Hall with three more Coulomb chargers installed in record time. Seven city agencies and departments got all the approvals and scheduling done in a month.
The San Francisco chargers serve three converted plug-in Prius hybrids - one owned by the city, and two belonging to car-share services City CarShare and ZipCar. City CarShare also planned to add a second plug-in Prius conversion to its fleet in Berkeley.
The Bay Area Regional Electric Vehicle Initiative gathered major stakeholders for a productive half-day meeting on "Preparing the Bay Area for Plug-in Vehicles". The event drew around 100 representatives from the nine-county Bay Area including fleet managers, local and regional agencies and coordinating groups, utilities, companies, and non-profit organizations. Representatives from six major automakers attended: BMW, Ford, GM, Mercedes, Nissan, and Toyota. The Initiative laid plans to create three working groups to generate policy and funding that will focus on government, the private sector, and advocacy.
San Francisco and the non-profit group Plug In America are planning a public Next-Car Expo, tentatively scheduled for the fall, to showcase plug-in vehicles now or soon to be on the market.
Cities that want to get ready for the new generation of plug-in vehicles can tap a new resource from the Rocky Mountain Institute, the esteemed non-profit organization known best for its work around energy efficiency. The Institute tapped the knowledge of major stakeholders and created Project Get Ready which features a dynamic "menu" of actions that communities can take to accelerate the shift to electric drive, and includes the "business case" for each. The Project is partnering with Portland OR, Indianapolis IN, and Raleigh NC as demonstrations, and hopes to attract 20 cities for regular discussions.
The federal economic stimulus bill includes major funding for all aspects of plug-in vehicles, including significant incentives to buy them. Consumers can get a $2,500 to $7,500 tax credit for buying vehicles equipped with 4 to 16 kilowatt hours of battery energy. The legislation expands the number of vehicles eligible for the tax credits from 250,000 from the entire auto industry to 200,000 vehicles per manufacturer. At least eight car companies have announced plans to put plug-in vehicles on the road in the next few years, which could mean 1.6 million plug-in vehicles qualifying for the credits.
The stimulus bill also, for the first time, included smaller tax credits for consumers who purchase two- and three-wheeled plug-in vehicles (e.g. electric motorcycles or the three-wheeled Aptera), plug-in hybrid conversions, and neighborhood electric vehicles. Other funds in the bill will boost battery manufacturing, charging infrastructure, and more. Funds for plug-ins and related industries could potentially total $14.1 billion:
$6 billion loan guarantees for innovative technology
$2 billion plug-in-vehicle tax credits
$2 billion advanced-battery manufacturing grant
$1.7 billion automobile-purchase sales-tax credits
$1.7 billion advanced energy investment manufacturing tax credits
$400 million deployment of vehicles and infrastructure
$300 million federal purchase of high-efficiency vehicles
$54 million tax credits for alternative refueling property
$10 million loans for manufacturers of advanced-technology vehicles
President Obama pledged during his campaign for the presidency to put one million plug-in hybrids on the road by 2015. The efforts described in this article could lead to even more.
The main thing that's still missing is the cars. So far major automakers have given only promises. The only plug-in vehicles available today are the high-end Tesla Roadster sportscar; electric bikes, scooters, and motorcycles; and low-speed neighborhood electric vehicles. All are good options, but they are not enough to make more than a tiny dent in the greenhouse gases coming out of America's vehicles.
For more information on plug-ins, including ways to encourage automakers to produce them, see www.pluginamerica.org