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Charging an electric vehicle  
Massachusetts has concluded that electric vehicles will have to be part of the mix in achieving the state’s ambitious climate targets.  With that in mind, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, in conjunction with Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and Environment Northeast (ENE) hosted a daylong conference on March 7 to discuss the current status of electric vehicle (EV) adoption in Massachusetts and to explore ideas to speed that adoption.

EVs role in meeting climate goals
Massachusetts has the legal obligation to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, and 80% by 2050.  Electricity sector emissions have been cut 40% since 2005, but vehicle travel continues to account for at least 35% of the state’s GHG emissions. EVs produce far fewer GHG emissions per mile than petroleum vehicles because generation of electricity is subject to RGGI caps, while vehicle petroleum use is not. The RGGI caps ensure that emissions from electricity generation will continue to be reduced and that renewables will continue to replace fossil fuels for electricity through at least 2020. Petroleum use is also responsible for other dangerous emissions such as NO2 and particulate matter (PM), which can cause serious health problems.  

Transition to EVs is potentially less difficult to achieve in the New England region than in other areas of the country because of the high population density, relatively high incomes, and short commutes.   The average commute in Massachusetts is 54 miles, and much shorter in the urban areas, allowing for potential economies of scale and convenience of access to charging stations.

Barriers to adoption
EV adoption has been hindered by a number of factors, especially the upfront costs. Even after the federal tax credit of $7,500, EVs are more expensive to purchase or lease than a comparable traditional vehicle.  Installation of charging equipment (if needed) is an additional expense.  Also, consumers lack familiarity with the technology, so they are unaware of its advantages.  

Sales are also held back by consumer fears regarding the length of charging times and the range between charges for all-electric models.  In fact, some EVs are currently capable of 300 miles between charges under ideal conditions, far more than is needed for the average commute.  Consumers also worry that charging stations are scarce and not conveniently located. Charging infrastructure is being developed, but is still limited, and sites such as multi-family buildings, densely populated urban neighborhoods and shopping districts present special difficulties.  

Benefits outweigh costs
EV owners save money on operating expenses.  Currently, the cost to drive an electric car 100 miles is $2.50 (25 kWh@ $0.10/kwh), while a gasoline car costs $16 to be driven the same distance (25 mpg @ $4/gal).  Maintenance costs are also much lower. In addition, EVs have better torque than fuel powered vehicles, so drivers experience better “pick-up”.  

The benefits of electricity for commercial fleets, especially as it replaces dirty diesel fuel, are high. However, despite lower operating and maintenance costs, the payback for a business purchasing EVs is quite long.  Special 3-phase power is required for charging, and the need to heat truck cabs for long periods of time without draining the battery needs to be addressed, perhaps with solar panels.  Thus, special incentive programs will need to be designed to encourage adoption.

Incentives can make the difference
Massachusetts is considering incentives including financial and convenience incentives such as being permitted to use the HOV lane and special parking preferences.  The state also plans to provide education and outreach initiatives, publicly available charging infrastructure, and reduced or no cost energy for charges.   Financial incentives under discussion include a rebate on EV purchases, a state income tax credit, sales and or excise tax exemptions, fast tracking of permitting for charger installations, and discounted electricity rates for charging the vehicles.  

Charging stations already up and running
There are currently 160 public charging sites available in Massachusetts and the MA Department of Energy Resources (DOER) has funded a program to provide charging stations at state office buildings and other community sites throughout Massachusetts.  DOER has signed MOUs with BMW and Nissan to support infrastructure development, and has brought in Clean Cities’ stakeholders as part of the process.  DOER is also working with the State licensing bureau, electricians, utilities, and with the National Fire Protection Association to develop standards and safety codes. The registry of motor vehicles is providing a special EV license plate and there are already several phone apps to help drivers find charging stations.

Utility rate structures currently stand in the way
Utility policy must be addressed to clarify who is permitted to charge for the electricity provided by privately owned charging stations.  Currently only utilities are permitted to do so.  When separate electric meters are required for EV charging, the costs can be prohibitive and discourage charger installation.  Permissible rates for private resellers may also need to be set.  Utility rate structures need to be examined to be sure they encourage EV use.  Rate structures set to charge more as usage increases, such as that in CA, discourage EV adoption. Impact on the grid of EV charging requirements and of various options for rate policy, such as reduced rates for off-peak charging, need to be studied.

The bottom line conclusion from the day’s event is that with proper policy initiatives, EVs have a bright future in Massachusetts.  

Member comments on this article

Maureen Blanc (Apr 1, 2013)Nice to see an article on EVs. However, you forgot one important factor - in addition to all the policy incentives, infrastructure issues, and utilities - EVs are FUN to drive!

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