Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

The Electric Road

By Karl Kemnitzer

We are in the process of changing how we use our roads. After decades of using technology to move faster, we are starting to look at the quality of our transportation. No longer are “throughput” and “level of service” adequate measures of success, we are now expecting our roads to “multifunction” like the Internet. Online car, bike, and ride-sharing programs, improved buses with arrival status available on cellphones, better walking and biking infrastructure, and better rail service with carry-on bikes are being built for the increasing number of people who don’t wish to own a car.

VT Gas Emissions by Sector VT 2011 National Emissions Inventory_VN

Most rural people feel they must have a car. The best pollution solution is simply reducing trips with one person driving alone. The VTrans Go!Vermont program has several options to help you with doing this. Another option is an electric car. EVs are becoming very capable — two of the world’s fastest cars, the Porsche 918 Spyder and the McLaren P1- are plug in hybrids, not to mention the all-electric Tesla. Car heating and charging systems are improving, and car manufacturers are working on 200-mile-range batteries. (The batteries I’m using to build my electric bikes have become 40% smaller and 30% cheaper in just five years.)

Oftentimes it seems like EVs are only slowly gaining acceptance, but there has actually been a tremendous amount of support work happening. At the federal level there are the EV Everywhere program, and the Northeast Electric Vehicle Network. One of the first regional programs is the five-year-old Transportation and Climate Initiative (signed by CT, DE, DC, MD, MA, ME, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT), which just released the report “Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Transportation in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic”. It found that clean transportation strategies funded by a market-based program or pricing policy would create large benefits for the region. Depending on how strong the programs are, businesses would save $29 to $55 billion over 15 years, and consumers would save $4 to $18 billion. The cost savings from reduced fuel consumption and traffic congestion, better health, and consumer incentives would more than offset increased vehicle costs and fees. Such changes would increase the gross regional product by $12 to $18 billion, increase personal disposable income by $10 to $14 billion, and create 91,000 to 125,000 new jobs.

Another regional effort was the 2013 Zero Emissions Vehicle Memorandum of Understanding (ZEV MOU), signed by eight states (CA, CT, MD, MA, NY, OR, RI, VT), with the goal of putting 3.3 million ZEVs on the road by 2025 (about 15% of new vehicle sales). Although Vermont has the highest per capita EV ownership with 943 EVs, we need 34,898 by 2025 to meet goals. At the recent COP21 talks in Paris, this MOU became the International ZEV Alliance when Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Quebec, and the UK signed on.

The Sierra Club, Conservation Law Foundation, and Acadia Institute released an October 2015 report “Charging Up: The Role of States, Utilities, and the Auto Industry in Dramatically Accelerating Electric Vehicle Adoption in Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States.” This report is based on the 3.3 million ZEV target, but Sierra Club’s January 2016 report “The RGGI Opportunity” found that 10 million EVs (one third of all cars) will be needed by 2030 to meet climate goals. They also noted that it is important to have strong RGGI caps in place, to prevent EVs from, in effect, running on coal and under the bridge natural gas fuels.

EV charging is usually done at night, at home, but Drive Electric Vermont and GMP have been working to install a charging station network for travelers, and at businesses through the “Drive the Dream” program. A major problem is that dealers are not motivated to sell EVs, and buyers must often take the lead. VTrans and ANR are currently working on an EV incentive program to remedy this and other smaller barriers to a cleaner transportation system.

At the recent “What Does a 100% Renewable Energy Future Look Like?” Dartmouth forum, author Mark Jacobson noted that a 40 kW solar array could provide an efficient person with all of their energy needs, including transportation. What do you think of making your own fuel?

Karl Kemnitzer is a member of the Upper Valley Sierra Club, and prefers riding his Solar Electric Cargo Bike.

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