Electric cars: coming soon(er) to a driveway near you?

The blogpost is co-authored by John Bonitz and Anne Gilliam Blair.

edison-electric-carTransportation choices made a century ago continue to impact our energy security, economic security and our environmental and public health every day. Our infatuation with gasoline-powered motorcars invented by Karl Friedrich Benz and mass produced by Henry T. Ford made the United States a nation addicted to oil, as former President George W. Bush famously confessed in his 2006 State of the Union speech.

We know that addicts don’t have to stay addicted, but the only way we can truly break from oil’s high costs to our pocketbooks, our security and our health is to reduce the amount of oil we use.  One way to do that is through more sustainable transportation choices, including electric cars.

The Age of the Electric Car may finally be dawning, and the newly-introduced Promoting Electric Vehicle Act, offered by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), is one policy tool that may speed us along. “Electric vehicles are the best way to use less oil,” testified Sen. Alexander in last week’s Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee hearing, allowing nissanleafdrivers “to tap into unused electricity overnight, reducing demand for overseas oil and insulating against $4 a gallon gas.”

Similar to a bill these leaders introduced last year, this legislation (S. 948) would jump-start the market penetration of electric vehicles through a Department of Energy grant competition to create “deployment communities” for those with plans to deploy at least 400,000 electric vehicles. The bill would also create a competitive grant process for companies to electrify their fleets, set aside $25 million to electrify the federal fleet and put $235 million into research and development for EV batteries and infrastructure.  Importantly, the sponsors maintain they can work with appropriators to enact this legislation without increasing the national debt.

If designed the right way, policies like these could go a long way in helping the U.S. break free of an oil addiction and power our vehicles instead with clean, renewable energy.  The road to widespread consumer penetration will take some time, but this oldelectriccarlegislation and current efforts are a start to making it reality. We’ve seen first-hand how new electric vehicles are gaining market share in Denmark and we have test driven the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt right here in the Southeast. We are cheering as Southeastern communities like Atlanta, Chattanooga-Knoxville-Nashville, and Raleigh-Durham begin deploying charging infrastructure to facilitate new fleets of electric vehicles.

In fact, electric vehicle deployment may be a classic example of how “everything old is new again.” The earliest vehicles built in the 1890s and 1900s, such as the 1918 Detroit Electric Car (at left) owned and displayed by Duke Energy, were powered by electricity, not gas. SACE is supportive of these and other well-crafted policy efforts that will keep our energy dollars at home, create well-paying jobs, incentivize clean energy sources and lessen our impact on human and environmental health.

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Great blog. An interesting point…the US Postal Service has been using electric vehicles for a very long time. This technology has been tested and successfully implemented within one of the workhorse arms of our government. Check out this information in their own words: http://www.usps.com/green/vehicles.htm

Comment by Toni on June 1, 2011 9:47 pm

Electric vehicles gaining market share in Denmark? You mean like all 10 of them? I have yet to see a decent EV/Hybrid like the Leaf or Volt here in CPH. A couple of secondhand Prius’ sure but nothing that indicates we’re all electric here. The Danish government is delaying electric cars here as much as possible. Why? Because the state demands 180% tax on the price of every new car on the road, with the exception of course for electric and hybrids which are much lower. Electric cars will result in a huge hole in the states tax revenue. So the solution for the Danish government is to bullshit the rest of the world about how green we are, we’re all driving EVs, “look at our windmills” and at the same time burying the fact that Danes have the highest carbon footprint per individual than any other EU nation. Nations such as China, South Korea, France and maybe the UK will be much further along the EV curve in a couple of years than you might expect. DK not so much.

Comment by Vic on June 2, 2011 5:34 am

Thanks for the comment Toni – you make a good point that battery-operated EV are not completely new and unknown, but there have been considerable barriers to widespread acceptance and market penetration. A somewhat recent documentary (2006) that I didn’t acknowledge in my original post – Who Killed the Electric Car – provides a look at the birth and death of commercial electric vehicles in the US, specifically the General Motors EV1 of the mid 1990s. http://www.whokilledtheelectriccar.com/

Comment by Jennifer Rennicks on June 2, 2011 9:50 am

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