Project aims to make communities plug-in ready

You need a strategy to get plug-in electric vehicles to take off, says Project Get Ready, which plans to get 20 communities ready for electric transportation.

A coalition dedicated to paving the way for plug-in electric cars in communities launched on Tuesday, highlighting the technical and economic challenges to electric transportation.

Project Get Ready is spearheaded by think tank the Rocky Mountain Institute and includes a few municipalities, utilities, and nonprofits as members. It counts automakers, including General Motors, and technology companies as advisers.

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The group's goal is to accelerate plug-in electric car adoption by helping communities create multi-year plans for adoption. It will initially work with three communities--Raleigh, N.C.; Portland, Ore.; and Indianapolis, Ind.--and convene with over 20 communities later this year to share information.

Electric vehicles were a major theme at this year's North American International Auto Show and there's been a great deal of interest in electric cars, like the Chevy Volt, years before their release.

But communities need to actively prepare for the new technology in order to meet President Obama's goal of getting 1 million plug-in electric cars on the road by 2015--one-half of one percent of the U.S. auto fleet.

Consumers need to get accustomed to daily charging and many areas, such as cities, will need to have public charging stations. Initially, plug-in electric cars will be more expensive than gas-only cars. Also, there is some concern over how much the additional load of plug-in electric cars will bring to the power grid.

"Our hypothesis is that the challenges can best be overcome by focusing on city and community readiness," said Laura Schewel, project manager and consultant with the Rocky Mountain Institute. The plan is to create a "menu" of techniques for addressing common barriers, such as high upfront cost, and to demonstrate that there is consumer demand, she said.

Mayor Charles Meeker of Raleigh said that plug-in electric vehicles tie into the company's economic development plans and goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce imports of oil.

The city has one plug-in electric vehicle and intends to increase that number to 15 or 20 within a year. It hopes to build eight charging stations in the downtown area, funded through parking fees and by partnering with utilities. It is also applying for federal government loans, according to city officials.

The Indianapolis area is eager to test plug-in electric vehicles because the region's auto companies intend to manufacture batteries and components for electric vehicles, said Paul Mitchell, a representative with the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership.

"We believe this can create jobs and investments," he said. "This is part of our stimulus strategy by taking advantage of this new paradigm."

The region is working with two utilities to test smart-grid technology to control when and how quickly plug-in cars are charged so that they don't stress the grid, Mitchell said. One of the challenges to adoption is developing a regulatory model that allows utilities to invest in smart-grid technology, he said.

Charging a plug-in electric vehicle takes about as much electricity as three plasma TVs and set-top boxes, according Joe Barra, director of customer energy resources at Portland General Electric. He said that since most vehicle charging will happen at night at off-peak times, the utility won't need to substantially change its power generation.

 

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