Drive Electric Maine- Love It’s What Makes an EV, an EV.

 

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New England, particularly northern New England states like Maine, has been late to the party called “electric vehicles”.  As a native New Englander, I can think of many reasons for this tentativeness. We tend to be cautious, wary of new ideas. Given our economy we aren’t prone to fads.  We just don’t throw money at a product because it enhances our status.  It has to prove itself.   EVs are still considered new.  They cost a bit more, up front.  We can’t determine whether they are a real, or something worth serious interest. The media doesn’t help much in offering objective analysis (probably the case for media anywhere nowadays).  We have concerns over cold-weather impacts on their batteries.  We have concerns about their range.  We just don’t see many of them in the wild so we don’t’ personally know many people who drive them. We wonder how we’re supposed to keep them charged- we don’t see much public charging station infrastructure.  In truth, these are all reasonable concerns.  However, once any new technology proves itself here, we become true believers and it becomes part of our lives.  Think about how the Suburu brand has captured New Englander’s loyalty. Love- it’s what makes a Suburu, a Suburu.

Last week was a watershed moment in Maine’s journey toward transportation electrification. We convened a large group of energized stakeholders from all walks interested in putting more cars on the road.  The group included our largest electric utilities (Central Maine Power, Emera Maine), public health folks (American Lung Association of the Northeast), large employers (Delhaize/Hannaford), Maine Innkeepers Association, Green Campuses, local governments, including Portland and South Portland, and, perhaps most importantly, the Governor’s Energy Office and critical state agencies interested in growing opportunities to electrify Maine’s major travel corridors.  These are folks who drive EVs, who have a specific interest in their benefits, who see the potential for transforming Maine’s economy, environment and communities by weaning us off oil.

We will be focusing on impactful projects that raise visibility and consumer deployment of this technology.   In particular, we want to grow workplace charging, create charging opportunities for tourists and commercial businesses, and assist utilities in pilot projects and outreach.  By keeping the emphasis on projects, not policy, we want to thread the political needle and leverage private investment as much as we can to show this technology can stand on its feet and meet the needs of consumers while helping our communities breathe cleaner air, save money, and keep Maine’s environmental beautiful for future generations.  While these are lofty aspirations, Maine has great people who care about each other and our natural beauty- these are really our best assets.

Here is our current list of stakeholders:

Acadia Center

American Lung Association of the Northeast

Avangrid Foundation

Central Maine Power

City of Portland

City of South Portland

E2Tech

Conservation Law Foundation

Delhaize/Hannaford

Electric Mobility NE

Emera Maine

Governor’s Energy Office

Greater Portland Council of GOvernments

Greater Portland Convention & Visitors Bureau

Green Campuses

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

Maine Auto Dealers Association

Maine Clean Communtiies

Maine Department of Environmental Protection

Maine Department of Transportation

Maine Innkeepers Association

Maine Turnpike Authority

Natural Resources Council of MAine

ReVision Energy

Sierra Club

Sunrun, Inc.

University of Maine

What will be our definition of success? Getting 10,000 cars with plugs on our roads by 2020? Electrifying our I-95 corridor with DC Fast Chargers for our local communities and visiting tourists ?  Creating a dynamic public charging space in our major cities?  Focusing on helping our large employer workplaces get chargers?

Or perhaps our success will be achieved when we re-define what our love of transportation means.  Love, what makes an EV, an EV.  No smoke, no gas, no irreversible climate change.  Does your Suburu do that? Then maybe you should ask them what love really means.

Dirty Electricity; The New Oxymoron

A recent Headline from the NYT Sunday paper-How Green are Electric Cars? Depends on Where You Plug In.  suggests that EVs may not be the cleanest form of transportation available and cites a soon to be published Union of Concerned Scientists study.   As an example of the tone- “[W]here generators are powered by burning a high percentage of coal, electric cars may not be even as good as the latest gasoline models — and far short of the thriftiest hybrids.”

(Portland General Electric’s Boardman Coal Fired Plant, now slated to close.)

I re-raise this issue of whether an EV from well to wheel is the greenest transportation alternative because we are now parsing it down region by region, yielding some very interesting variations. See the national graphic found at Carbon In, Carbon Out, Sorting out the Power Grid. For example, Buffalo, NY’s electricity has THE highest per mile equivalency of any region in the country, which means that its kWh generation is the cleanest in terms of carbon emissions and it would take an ICE vehicle having 86 mpg to equal the carbon emission of a Nissan Leaf charging in that region. (Thank you, Niagara Falls) Which zipcode(s) are the worst? Hmm. Think Red States- a swath that cuts from the Dakotas to the midwest to the Southeast.  These are regions heavily reliant on coal generation.  Perhaps most interestingly, Hawaii had one of the worst carbon equivalencies- it would only take a 37 mpg vehicle to equal the carbon emission of a Leaf in Hilo, HI.  Apparently Hawaii needs to accelerate its transition away from non-renewable, imported oil and coal if it is to truly benefit from BEV’s zero emission potential.  And I believe that will happen, as it has adopted several progressive laws incentivizing consumers to buy EVs and landowners to get charging infrastructure in place.  [Note- Denver apparently has a coal problem and is the dirtiest electricity in the country, needing only a 33 mpg vehicle to equal a Leaf.]

But back to the point.  I see that even a 37 mpg ICE is a high efficiency engine compared to the national average, which in 2008 was 25 mpg.  So, even in a region hosting the most dirty electricity out there, in order to beat the emission savings of a Nissan Leaf,  a consumer would still have to buy a small economy car capable of very high mileage.  In most other jurisdictions, few mass marketed vehicles exist (other than a hybrid Prius perhaps 53/46 city and highway mpg) that are capable of attaining the 50 mpg range equivalency.

The transition to renewable energy and away from coal burning plants will continue to raise the mpg equivalencies, region by region. It will also mean that EVs will get cleaner the longer you drive them.  Consider the other benefits.  All the money we spend on electricity, in even the dirtiest jurisdiction, stays in the United States and gets fed into a virtuous loop of economic activity.  Electricity  is domestically produced, comes from diverse and renewable resources and has traditionally been viewed as a quasi-public resource such that it’s pricing structure is extremely stable.  Charging station infrastructure uses an existing electric grid and utilities already have built in excess capacity to meet the load demands of millions of EVs.

We just need consumers (and National newspapers) to start recognizing that clean coal and dirty electricity are both oxymorons.

 

 

 

Energy and Transportation- Oregon Provides Fuel for Thought

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in Oregon’s Ten Year Future Energy Task Force as part of its Transport Design team. Oregon’s  Governor Kitzhaber is endeavoring to make a coherent vision going forward that promotes decreased petroleum consumption and increased economic activity.  This was my first serious task force and I found the exercise both stimulating and daunting.

As a state, Oregon has in place carbon emission reduction policies that require us to reduce our GHG emissions to below 1990 levels by the year 2050.  One way to visualize how we get there is to pick this number and then, using the tools we have, work backwards to see what will get us there.  Which of these tools must we use to reach the goal we have set?   The short answer is that there are a number of tools  we can use  to reach this goal… and we must use all of them .

Enter transportation electrification.  Oregon spends more than $2b per year for transportation fuels. Transportation relies on fossil fuel for 99% of its energy.  As a sector, efficiency and alternative fuel choices have dramatic effects on GHG.  In addition, all the fuel use we displace through these efforts gets translated into money spent domestically and locally.  We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by aligning energy policy behind electric vehicles.

What is the future for Oregon in this? We have four recommendations pending:

  1. Build Oregon into a Center of Excellence for Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS).  We have all the pieces to improve vehicle and freight movement through advanced technology, from the universities and research centers to information technology companies.  Encourage businesses to test new ITS products in Oregon.
  2. Accelerate vehicle and fleet turnover by building the needed alternative fuel vehicle infrastructure with charging stations at home, at work, in public areas and for commercial fleets.  Follow that up with making energy efficient vehicles more visible and more attractive to purchase at the point-of-sale.  This includes the right mix of financial and non-cash incentives to get the older, more polluting vehicles off the road and into the junkyard.
  3. Resolve financing and funding barriers that inhibit the market growth of highly efficient vehicles.  As federal CAFÉ standard increase, zero emission vehicles hit the road and fuel use decreases, there will be challenges to a transportation system funded by gas taxes.  Flexible revenue and financing models will help the state achieve its energy and emission goals.  Current plans such as Complete Streets also need to be funded.
  4. Develop complete communities and re-affirm the benefits of Oregon’s land use system.  Oregon’s transportation and land use strategies have evolved over the last 40 years into a model for strategic planning, community-centered decision­-making and efficient outcomes.  The next 10-to-20 years will require renewed efforts to keep a focus on community development within urban growth boundaries.
These are recommendations, at present, and we await the final draft which then goes out to public comment.  I introduce them to you to get YOU thinking about what matters  during the next ten years- because you will be asked to contribute those thoughts during the spring.  This is, after all,  a process, and not intended only for a select few to issue dictum as part of a “secret cabal”.
So, as you commute from home to work or school and back, as you consider what changes in transportation would make the most difference in your life, make your opinion known.
This is an opportunity to touch the future of transportation, here in Oregon, which is what sustainability-conscious people must do (and I say “must” because our children will have no choice but to live in the world we leave them; wouldn’t it be nice if they had some faith that we considered them in our decisions?)

 

Reality Check- Four Months in with the Nissan LEAF

I bought (actually leased) the Nissan LEAF on September 17, 2011.  I have had it for over 3900 miles and four months. So, how is it going?

Interestingly, today is the first time I ever walked away from the car in a parking lot leaving it on without realizing it. This may sound strange but the car is so silent, and if you are distracted, as I was because I misplaced the key fob while two friends waited for me to join them on a five mile run in the Arboreteum, you can just walk away from it without noticing.  When I came back an hour later and opened the door, I immediately realized something was wrong as the interior was hot and the fans were running. I could have at least shut off the climate control! That said I still had plenty of charge to get back.

So, other than this mishap, I have not run out of “gas” nor have I experienced any buyer’s remorse.  What are notable observations?  I have applied the brakes hard twice to avoid a collision, when another driver pulled out directly in front of me- it stopped without a problem.  I have run the battery down to four miles or less of range- which did provoke range consternation, though not anxiety.  I still enjoy driving it because the torque is striking and responsive.  I could try to snow you about the performance, but, when it is in its regular D mode, it really is fast– 0-60 in 7 seconds.  I have inadvertently squeaked its tires while accelerating in a curve.

I wish there were more far flung public charging stations so I could use the car for extended travel.  Those charging stations that are out there need MUCH better signage.  I literally drove around an entire multi-level parking structure in Salem looking for two level 2 chargers and never found them, later to be told they were there. Still I do 99% of my charging at my residence which is a function of my typical mile usage during the day.  I seldom neglect to connect the charger at night.  When I do charge downtown, I tend to use the same public charging locations.  I miss having the gas station attendant clean the front and rear windows; if you don’t have to gas up, you don’t get any personalized attention.    I also tend to average 75 miles per full charge if counting highway miles and use of climate control.

When I now drive a combustion vehicle I immediately have to recalibrate my foot pressure on the gas pedal because I notice the ICE is not as responsive as the EV and requires more finesse to keep from accelerating in a herky-jerky fashion. EVs accelerate cleanly and evenly with foot pressure.

I have had only one person, a pedestrian, notice the “Zero Emission” decal while I was driving (in this case stopped at a light) and actually engage me in conversation.  Otherwise people are completely oblivious to the car and its message.

I tend to shut off the noise manufacturing device as it irritates me.

I can’t imagine the car yet being suitable for colder climate states.  I lived in Maine for ten years and I can tell you that this vehicle is not ready for the trial of a long winter- activating the climate control taxes the battery and reduces the range by 10-15% immediately.  Even pre-heating it while it is attached to a charger does not offer much advantage as the car chills down quickly when used; windows offer little insulation and the car does not retain heat.

Perhaps the most interesting change of driving awareness dynamic arises from the “fuel” gauge, which ostensibly tells you how many miles  remain on your battery.   For those who are video-game-minded, the whole point is to maximize your mileage.  So, while driving up a hill saps the battery by 7 miles, tapping the brakes (did I tell you it uses regenerative braking?) on the downhill puts you up by 1.  Driving becomes a game of terra firma give and take.  My goal is to return home with more energy than I left with.  Driving the Nissan LEAF, I find myself much more conscious of the influence of terrain on my driving experience.   Have you ever thought in those terms driving a combustion engine?

 

 

 

 

Made in Oregon; EVs fit the Culture

Portland is the 23d largest Metro region in the country.  Yet we purchase more Toyota Priuses per capita than anywhere else. Why?

We seem bent on improving our urban lifestyle while trying to preserve our connection to more rural traditions.  We like our hazelnuts and wine country, but the Tram is rapidly becoming an iconic symbol of the new Portland. Our urban growth boundary draws a line between these desires and may be the most profound symbol of this unusual tension.  Add to this mix, the concept of sustainability and we see a lively regional ferment which expresses itself through revolutionary models for home energy performance scores, community solar purchasing projects, local farmer’s markets, and a bike culture experimenting with urban travel lanes.   Plus ca change plus c’est  la meme chose. We have a population that seems inherently curious and willing to try new ideas if they fit within this value system.  With the Prius, Toyota appeared to solve a question we did not know we were asking until we saw the solution.  I see the same phenomenon emerging as my family experiences living with the Nissan LEAF.

The question appears complex and the answer surprisingly elegant. Can we maintain a modern lifestyle that requires reliable mobile independence, does not destroy the environment for our children, saves us money and keeps energy local? When you push the drive button, you feel the simple but elegant solution as the car charges up.