Thursday, June 18, 2009
California’s aggressive climate change legislation calls for a reduction of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020. Hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs) have the potential to cut emissions from passenger vehicles, which make up about a third of the total greenhouse gas emissions in California. However, the logistics of plugging in a vehicle are a major obstacle for the 50 percent of Americans who don’t have a garage or a place to charge overnight.
The Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Charging Network (groups.google.com/group/plug-in-get-ready-monterey-bay) aims to fix this. The group, a collaboration of local government, higher education institutions and businesses, formed earlier this year to determine how to establish charging stations in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties. The network grew out of the idea for an on-campus plug-in site at the Monterey College of Law – something the school considered, but ultimately decided against, as it works towards LEED certification of its Community Justice Center.
The partnership’s members hope to collaborate with the Rocky Mountain Institute, an alternative-energy think tank, to become a Project Get Ready partner city by establishing a five-year, EV-friendly plan for the tri-county area. (Other Project Get Ready partner cities include Portland, Ore., Raleigh, N.C., greater Denver and Indianapolis.)
The group is applying to the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District for a grant to fund a pilot project intended to ascertain what type of plug-in charging stations would work best and where they would go.
Mitch Winick, dean at Monterey College of Law, says developing partnerships and studying the situation are two important steps, but they beg the question of whether demand will follow.
“The third step requires all citizens to get behind the concept of moving from gasoline-powered to electrically-powered cars,” Winick says. “The real challenge is that, like a lot of community infrastructure, there’s a leap of faith that this is the right direction.”
Sharon Sarris of Greenfuse Energy worked with the College of Law on its LEED certification and has facilitated the initial stakeholder meetings. She also launched General Motor’s EV1 in the mid-1990s, and says consumer acceptance will largely determine the network’s success. “It’s a chicken-or-egg thing,” she says. “Because it takes more understanding from a consumer to purchase or lease an electric vehicle, we think it’s worth an extra effort.”
Still, creating an electric plug-in network means overcoming a long list of systemic challenges. Automakers have no standard in conductive technology, so even if a car reaches a plug-in station it may not be able to hook up to the charger. The local partnership is also tasked with determining how users will pay for the charging station in a way that won’t hinder consumer acceptance, says Jay Friedland of Plug In America, an advocacy group.
“Electricity is cheap,” Friedland says. “If consumers have to pay $10 to charge, that would be a disincentive.”
A final challenge, according to Sarris, is establishing policy that complements the switch to hybrids and EVs.
“We need to look at planning processes for these charging systems and examine local government incentives and how to reduce barriers,” she says. “The next two or three years are the critical time to get the region involved in getting a system in place.”