Time for Some Action on PEVs

It’s been over a year since we assembled the Plug-in Electric Vehicle (PEV) Dialogue to work on the major market barriers to PEVs nationwide. Yesterday, we released the first product of this diverse and important group – An Action Plan to Integrate Plug-in Electric Vehicles with the U.S. Electric Grid.

We’ve talked in the past about how policies like fuel economy standards and technologies like PEVs, fuel cells, and advanced internal combustion engines are the key to reducing oil consumption and the impact our travel has on our environment. PEVs could play an important role in that effort, but only if they’re given a fair shot.

C2ES’s Nick Nigro interviews PEV Dialogue members, Watson Collins of Northeast Utilities and Zoe Lipman of National Wildlife Federation, about the PEV Action Plan. Listen to the podcast now.

We started this work because we saw the introduction of the PEV in 2011 as a historic event –a mass-produced alternative to the internal combustion engine. We wanted to complement what was happening out there by bringing the right players to the table and identifying policies and actions that balance environmental concerns with economic growth. For example, several policies and groups exist to ease the introduction of these transformative vehicles, such as a sizeable federal tax credit to lower their upfront cost, the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Project Get Ready, and the California PEV Collaborative. We wanted to help connect the dots and identify the best thinking on PEV deployment so those not yet engaged would have a great place to start.

Specifically, we identified gaps in the existing work on vehicle charging infrastructure, the regulatory environment, and consumer awareness. We assembled the PEV Dialogue Group to lay out the actions necessary to enable a national PEV market.

Who’s in the PEV Dialogue Group?

The PEV Dialogue Group includes representation from across the PEV market, including automakers, electric utilities, charging infrastructure providers, battery manufacturers, state transportation agencies, state regulators, city government, federal agencies, non-profits, and researchers. This seriously long list of stakeholders exemplifies the complexity of enabling this market. Incidentally, it also helps explain why it took a year for all of us to put together the Action Plan.

Some thoughts on the Action Plan

The Action Plan is targeted at business, government, and NGOs. The plan is the first of its kind to look at market barriers to a national PEV market. It recommends specific actions in 4 areas (1) utility regulation, (2) charging infrastructure, (3) consumer experience, and (4) consumer education.

The plan goes to different lengths in recommending action depending on what we know now and what we need to know to make better decisions. For instance, we know now that the existing electrical grid has the capacity to support millions of PEVs so long as they’re charged when electricity demand is low. Through policy mechanisms like time-variant rates, charging then can also save consumers money as the price better reflects the cost to the whole electricity system. We also know that a common standard for all kinds of vehicle charging is critically important to the entire industry. And we know that consumers need more information on why PEVs might suit their needs.

We don’t know exactly how and when drivers will plug in. We also don’t know how many charging stations are necessary to overcome consumers’ range anxiety (the fear of running out of juice and being stranded). In these cases, the Action Plan lays out a strategy to help to answer these unknowns.

Going mobile

Even if you normally ride the rails or rely on your bike, you probably know that gasoline prices are high right now. Given that the summer driving season is fast approaching us, there’s little reason to think that those prices will come down soon. How long are people going to put up with spiking prices at the pump and the heavy toll our dependence on oil continues to take on our economy and our environment?

Since January 2011, more than 20,000 PEV owners have confidently said we’re not gonna take it. They’ve turned away from gasoline and driven thousands of electric miles. The PEV market’s pace is far from blistering right now, but that should be expected if hybrid sales are a guide: it took 8 years to put one million hybrid vehicles on the road. (Incidentally, PEVs outsold hybrids in their first year by about 50 percent.) The national PEV market is just beginning, but it is more likely to ramp up smoothly if we implement the Action Plan.

Join us on Tuesday, March 20, at 1 pm ET for a live chat on electric vehicles and how to get more into the marketplace. You can submit questions in advance on Twitter using #PEVDialogue. Bookmark the Live Chat