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How can cities plan for electric vehicles?

Unlike most of my classmates in Energy Technology and Policy this semester – most of whom are from the Engineering, Public Affairs or Business schools – I am fortunate to have the opportunity to join this course coming from the School of Architecture as a Community & Regional Planning student. With over half of the world’s population now living in urbanized areas, I believe it is important to have a good understanding of the ways in which cities consume energy and how we can plan for new energy technologies.

One area where I see a natural role for city planners to aid in the transition to a clean energy society is in the electrification of our transportation systems, especially with electric vehicle adoption likely to increase substantially over the next decade. (1)  From a planning perspective, the mass adoption of electric vehicles represents a classic “chicken and egg” dilemma. On one hand, it is believed that many consumers are unwilling to adopt EVs without a robust charging infrastructure. On the other hand, private stakeholders are hesitant to build the necessary charging infrastructure without the assurance of strong consumer demand.(2)

In order to spur demand for EVs in the short term, forward-thinking cities have begun to develop public charging station networks. The following three case studies outline some of citing criteria that cities are using to plan for their public charging networks based on their unique land use patterns, demographic makeup and built environment.

Denver, Colorado metropolitan area

In 2010 the City of Denver, Colorado partnered with the Clean Cities Coalition and other local governments to identify 100 potential sites for public charging stations as part of a five-year plan to promote EV use in the region. The first siting criterion used by the city was to only consider off-street parking lots and structures owned by the city in order to minimize acquisition costs and other complications that might arise with private partners. Once city-owned parking facilities were identified, they were narrowed down to focus on major venues where people park for long periods of time (performing arts complex, zoo, etc.). Next, the city worked with the Library and Parks and Recreation Department to identify facilities that 1.) had excess parking spaces, 2.) were near popular private attractions (shopping/dining districts), and 3.) were geographically distributed in as many neighborhoods as possible. (3)

 

Seattle / Central Puget Sound, Washington

According to the City of Seattle, Washington’s Office of Sustainability and Environment, promoting electric vehicles is “an important part of the City’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gases from cars and trucks on Seattle’s roads”. While its first priority is to promote alternative transportation choices (walking, bike and transit), the city is focusing on promoting EVs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the street level. The consulting firm ECOtality partnered with the City of Seattle to release an infrastructure planning study outlining citing considerations for public charging stations in the Central Puget Sound area. The study determined that the most important citing consideration is that public charging stations be placed at locations where drivers will be parked from between 1-3 hours in order to get an appreciable recharge for their car. Such facilities include museums, government facilities, public parks and libraries. The plan stresses the importance of installing the charging stations near building entrances in order to maximize visibility. In addition to city-owned parking facilities, curbside charging offers a great potential for public charging stations. Through a grant from the Puget Sound Clean Cities Coalition the city is currently in the process of installing 50 public charging stations in the Seattle metro area. (4)

London, England

In 2009 the mayor of London released the EV Delivery Plan as part of a larger strategy to reduce carbon emissions in transport and improve the city’s air quality. The plan calls for the installation of 2,000 public access charging stations by 2015. High priority areas for charging stations identified in the plan include on-street parking bays in dense residential areas and in visible town centers. Special emphasis was placed on placing charging stations at or near public transit stations, including the London Underground rapid transit system and the Network Rail systems, in order to promote intermodal transportation and allow EV drivers to charge while parked for the day. As of December, 2011, 238 public charging points had been installed throughout the city. (5)

 

Conclusion

Cities that promote the early adoption of EVs stand to benefit by securing federal funds for infrastructure projects, building a “green” reputation, and attracting investment from EV automakers (6). Whatever the motivation may be, it is becoming increasingly clear that cities will play a role in the electric vehicle revolution. It is crucial for those of us in the planning field to develop an understanding of how energy technology and policy will affect the cities we serve, and what role the public sector should play in planning for the changes taking place in the energy sector.

References:

1 http://theenergycollective.com/tomkonrad/62665/predicting-electric-vehicle-adoption-curve

2 Vaughan, Adam. “The chicken and egg challenge facing electric cars”. The Guardian online edition. 20 July 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/green-living-blog/2011/jul/20/chicken-eggelectric-carscharging [Nov. 2011

 3 Project Get Ready. “Citing Considerations for EVSE.” The Rocky Mountain Institute’s Project Get Ready website: http://projectgetready.com/resources/infrastructure/evse-siting-considertions%5BOct. 2011]

4 Electric Transportation Engineering Corporation. “Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Deployment Guidelines for the Central Puget Sound Area”. May 2010. Available online:http://www.theevproject.com/downloads/documents/Central%20Puget%20Sound%20%20EV%20Infrastructure%20Guidelines%20Ver%203-1.pdf [Oct. 2011]

 5 Mayor of London. “An Electric Vehicle Delivery Plan for London”. May 2009. http://legacy.london.gov.uk/mayor/publications/2009/docs/electric-vehicles-plan.pdf [Oct. 2010]

 6 Roland Berger Strategy Consultants. “PEV Readiness Study”. Fall 2010. Pg. 1

 

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GM Scheduled to Launch Chevy Volt in Novemeber

Currently, the Chevy Volt is undergoing cold weather testing in Kapuskasing Canada and is on track for the Nov 1, 2010 production date. The earliest consumers could take one home is estimated to be late November or early December. The release of this car is a very big deal for the automobile industry, consumers, and policy makers.

Aside from the luxurious Tesla roadster, the Chevy Volt will be the first mass-produced vehicle that uses an electric motor for its propulsion system. However, the Chevy Volt is still labeled as a hybrid-car by the Society of Automotive Engineers because it uses two energy storage systems to provide propulsion power. GM claims that this plug-in-car can travel an average of 40 miles without ever using a drop of gas in the car’s 1.4 liter 4-cyl flex-fuel (unleaded gasoline or E-85) engine. Unlike current hybrid vehicles, the internal combustion (IC) engine is only used when the battery is low. For the first time in the automobile industry the IC engine solely drives an electric generator that charges the batteries and powers the electric motor versus mechanically driving the wheels.

Why are the car companies switching from gas to hybrid-vehicles and now to electrically propelled vehicles? Improving fuel economy, improving emissions, and displacing dependency on petroleum are goals GM and other car companies are working to achieve. Above is a slide from a presentation by GMPT that describes the companies Advanced Propulsion Technology Strategy. The release of the Chevy Volt will represent a big shift up GM’s strategy curve. During the first 40 miles of operation the car will produce zero emissions because the IC engine will not be operating. Additionally, the possibility of completely displacing petroleum in the first 40 miles of operation exists depending on how the electricity the consumer used to charge the car was generated.

The next big question in everyone’s head should be cost. GM has not revealed a price but says it will be around $40,000. What would be the cost if you only drive the car less the 40 miles each day and charge it up overnight? The average U.S. electricity cost is 11 cents per kWh and the electricity needed to drive 1 mile would be 3 cents. This sounds very attractive but a price tag that is roughly twice that of the Toyota Prius does not make the Volt a good economic decision unless gas prices skyrocket. However, power companies and governments will be offering incentives to people who purchase these plug-in-vehicles. For example, buying this car would allow you to claim a $7,500 tax credit in the United States. Additionally,  Canada’s government has already committed to support GM and offset the cost of the car by purchasing 500 Volts which will be used as government-use vehicles and by giving Canadians rebates up to $10,000.

Finally, there is a lot of controversy of how to rate the fuel economy of this vehicle. GM claims the Volt has a 230 mpg rating in the city. However, this is very deceiving and will surely cause the EPA some headaches when they decide how to rate this car. Depending on how the accounting is done the fuel economy could be 1000 mpg. However here are two facts that you can use to decide what the miles per gallon rating is. On average after a full charge you will be able to drive 40 miles without the IC engine kicking in. After the IC engine kicks in you can expect 48 mpg. For example, if you drive 50 miles you will use approximately 0.2 gallons of gasoline, thus giving you a rating of 250 miles per gallon of gasoline. In other words the fuel economy will depend on the range of your drive and will decrease towards 48 mpg as the range you travel without plugging in increases.

Other source not linked:

General Motors Powertrain Headquarters

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