By Ayala Ben-Yehuda and Colleen Callahan
As battery technology improves and vehicle makers introduce new products, cities are becoming the testing grounds for how and when consumers will get on board with electric mobility options.
Architects of electric vehicle programs from San Diego to Shanghai shared their experiences May 5 at the first-ever World Electric Vehicle Cities & Ecosystems conference, co-hosted in downtown Los Angeles by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and the UC Davis Plug-In Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Center. Sponsors included BMW Group, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, Electric Power Research Institute, the California Public Utilities Commission, Enterprise Holdings, Southern California Edison, ECOtality, Fehr & Peers and the UCLA GSA Sustainable Resource Center.
The international conference brought together over 200 leaders from municipal governments and public agencies, vehicle and charging companies, utilities, universities and nonprofits that support electric vehicle (EV) adoption in cities. Enabling city-to-city learning, attendees shared the results of electric vehicle pilot programs; best practices for streamlining permitting, incentivizing EV use, and engaging with the public; and success stories of integrating EVs into municipal fleets, developing charging infrastructure, and greening EV energy sources. They also explored areas for further research and information-sharing.
“Cities are critical catalysts in the development of electric vehicle ecosystems. Yet in this nascent EV marketplace, there a strong need for decision support,” stated J.R. DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. “We organized World Electric Vehicle Cities and Ecosystems to help municipalities, as well as their nonprofit and private sector partners, refine and advance new visions for the development of electric vehicle ecosystems.”
The Global Electric Vehicle Insight Exchange (EVX) debuted at the conference, launching the first international EV City Casebook and web portal to accelerate the global push toward cleaner, electrified transportation. EVX is a knowledge-sharing consortium that pools information and expertise from an international network of cities, regions and countries to provide an evolving perspective on worldwide electric vehicle deployment progress.
“This is really about conversations,” said Tom Turrentine, director of UC Davis’ PH&EV Research Center, as he announced the World Electric Vehicle Cities & Ecosystems web portal. The portal will facilitate sharing of ideas and data in a common reporting structure from EV projects around the world, and will initially feature the 16 cities profiled in the EV City Casebook. Debuting at the conference on May 5, the EV City Casebook highlights policies, incentives and consumer responses from nearly a third of the early global EV market.
That market is still relatively small. Opening keynote speaker David Sandalow, assistant secretary of policy and international affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy, pointed out that 94% of the energy used for transportation in the United States comes from petroleum. But amid rising gas prices and concerns over climate change and dependence on foreign oil, electric vehicle promotion is the one issue on which “I see more bipartisan agreement on than any other,” said Sandalow. He cited a new crop of federally-funded EV readiness grants, charging infrastructure demonstration projects and EV purchase incentives.
The other morning keynote speaker, Thomas Becker, vice president of government affairs for BMW Group, highlighted that changing consumer preferences are also driving a growing demand for EVs in cities. “People care about how the electricity is produced that goes into their cars,” said Becker, referring to BMW surveys that found 80% of Berlin respondents wanted their cars to be emission-free.” It shows the spread of motivations that go way beyond the car and extend to the way in which it operates.” He expressed BMW’s desire to partner with cities to create sustainable mobility.
Becker added that California is the most important electric vehicle market in the United States—no surprise, given the state’s requirement that 15% of new cars sold in California be zero-emission vehicles by 2025.
This was underscored by Tom Cackette, chief deputy executive officer of the California Air Resources Board, as he closed the day with new visions for supporting EV ecosystems in California. “Meeting California’s climate goals require zero emission vehicles (ZEVs.) Nearly all new passenger vehicles sold by 2040 must be ZEVs.” The California Air Resources Board predicts that plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and battery electric vehicles will be a significant percentage of the ZEVs in 2050.
The conference spotlighted cities making considerable progress in advancing the deployment of electric vehicles. Barcelona, Amsterdam and Shanghai employ different levels of local government involvement, beginning with fleet electrification, electric car- and bike-sharing demonstration projects, preferential parking for EVs and public outreach. Shanghai’s government, for instance, provides a per-kilowatt-hour subsidy for electric vehicles, in addition to a national subsidy for both purchasing the cars and powering them. Guangyu Cao, of the Shanghai International Automobile Group Co, added that Shanghai’s “EV Zone” has hosted 30,000 test drivers of both local and international EV models since its creation last year.
Speakers of both the public engagement panel and the electrifying fleets panel also underscored the importance of test drives for relieving fears and public misconceptions about owning and operating an electric vehicle. For example, Greg Tabak of Enterprise Holding, when explaining how Enterprise has incorporated EVs into the world's largest fleet, highlighted how test driving via a rental car experience can lead to EV ownership.
The charging infrastructure panel highlighted that cities as distant as Portland and Lisbon have learned some common lessons when it comes to their EV demonstration projects, including the need to plan in advance for charging station maintenance and for uniform signage to clearly communicate the presence of a charging network. George Beard of Portland State University emphasized the importance of clustering charging stations near transit, mobility and hospitality hubs. Tiago Farias, board member of the Lisbon Mobility and Parking Municipal Company, touted his country’s Mobi-E universal access system for public chargers, which bills a user’s individual power retailer.
The day’s lunchtime panel tackled the role of non-profits in helping municipalities, regulators, and utilities set priorities for EV readiness. Diane Wittenberg, executive director of the California Plug-in Electric Vehicle Collaborative, said her group was focusing on systematizing the process and price of obtaining a charging station permit, as well as revising building codes to accommodate stations. Ben Holland, Project Get Ready manager at the Rocky Mountain Institute, pointed to the need for nonprofits to help educate the public about the difference between hybrids and all-electrics, and to help craft a long-term vision for funding charging infrastructure beyond reliance on short-term grants.
Novel approaches to fleet electrification were presented from Sweden, where procurement officers from different cities have pooled their resources to purchase EVs, and the Philippines, where the Asian Development Bank has provided loans for the purchase of lithium ion battery-powered tricycle taxis.
Utilities have a key role to play in EV adoption by responding to requests for rate analysis, inspection and installation. Marvin Moon, director of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Power System Engineering Division, said 80% of the utility’s EV customers are charging at off-peak hours to take advantage of the utility’s special time-of-use, lower electricity rates. This public utility also offers a Charge Up LA! Home charge rebate of up to $2,000.
Matt Miyasato, assistant deputy director of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, explained why electric transportation is part of the solution to Southern California’s air quality challenges. He highlighted that many ships docking at the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach are already able to plug-into the electric grid instead of running on dirty bunker fuel. Miyasato also mentioned that the ports’ Clean Trucks Plan creates an opportunity for medium-duty and heavy-duty electric trucks. This was underscored by Jasna Tomić, fuels program manager for CALSTART, who explained that electric trucks work best on limited-range urban fixed routes, high-idle work sites and as facility vehicles. Tomić also noted, however, that the payback period on an e-truck ranges from six to eight years and that cost and quality improvements are needed for wider adoption.
“We’re reflecting the zeitgeist of vehicle introduction and technologies in the United States,” said the day’s final speaker, U.S. Department of Energy Clean Cities co-director Linda Bluestein. “It’s early days for electric vehicle programs in the United States.”
The UCLA Luskin Center is committed to staying on the cutting edge of this emerging technology and helping cities prepare for EVs. The center is currently working on a regional EV readiness plan for the Southern California Association of Governments.
Event webinars may be seen here. Photos here. and Presentations here.
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