Mass., R.I. Ramp Up Push for Electric Vehicles

By JOYCE ROWLEY/ecoRI News contributor

California-based ChargePoint has installed 20,000 electric-vehicle charging stations nationwide. (ChargePoint)

California-based ChargePoint has installed 20,000 electric-vehicle charging stations nationwide. (ChargePoint)

These aren’t your father’s electric vehicles. EVs now go further, charge quicker and drive faster than the original hybrid gas-electric vehicles sold back in 2000. Now, with a network of more than 20,000 charging stations across the country, electricity could one day replace the use of gasoline in our massive fleet of cars.

Last year, the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources (OER) used a $781,225 federal grant to commission ChargePoint, a leading global operator of charging stations, to locate sites and install 50 charging stations. Working with Wendy Lucht of the Ocean State Clean Cities Coalition, ChargePoint sited chargers at locations convenient to businesses, shopping centers and residential neighborhoods. The state now has a total of 60 publicly accessible charging stations.

As of July, Rhode Island had some 350 EVs on the road, according to Ryan Cote, OER’s program services manager. That figure only includes plug-in EVs, not gas hybrids without rechargeable batteries.

“We will be working closely with DMV to track and monitor EVs,” Cote said. The number of Rhode Island EVs may be higher, he added, since the state Division of Motor Vehicles relies on owners to identify their vehicles’ energy source, which can be confusing. The DMV will have new software soon that uses the vehicle’s VIN instead, and will be better able to track the types of EVs on the road.

In Massachusetts, as of July, the state had 2,881 plug-in hybrids and 1,334 battery-only EVs registered, according to Massachusetts Clean City Coalition executive director Stephen Russell.

A $2 million consumer rebate program that Massachusetts started in June offers up to $2,500 on qualifying new EVs. As of Oct. 16, 371 vehicle owners had received rebates totaling $941,500. Rebates are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Last year, the state implemented the Massachusetts Electric Vehicle Initiative (MEVI) program as part of its Clean Energy and Climate Change Plan goal to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and by 80 percent by 2050. Since transportation comprises a third of greenhouse-gas emissions, the state has put EVs and the necessary charging infrastructure to the fore. To date, Massachusetts has spent $20 million on rebates for EVs, state fleet alternate-fuel vehicles and EV infrastructure.

Massachusetts now has 575 publicly accessible charging stations, and has a $400,000 grant program to put eight more DC Fast charging stations on the interstate highway system.

“There are stations at the Nantucket airport and downtown Nantucket. The Athol public library has two in front of it,” Russell said. These municipal stations were paid for as part of $848,000 in federal and private grants that installed 142 charging stations around the state.

The average cost to install a dual charging station is about $5,000 to $6,000, according to Russell. Level 1 stations are 120-volt chargers; Level 2 are 240-volt power chargers, which cut the charge time by half to an hour or two. DC Fast charging stations are direct current 500-volt charges that take less than 30 minutes to bring a battery to full charge.

Making the switch
Original hybrids ran on gas with an electric engine alongside for travel below speeds of 25 mph. The top two hybrids, the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight, hit the market in 2000 and are now outpaced by all-electric zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs).

In a hybrid, the electric engine is charged by a battery that is recharged by the kinetic energy from braking. This mix of electric power around town and gas power on the highway brought higher total ratings for miles per gallon, but still relied primarily on gasoline.

In EVs, the opposite is true. EVs have an electric engine as its primary power drive and a small gas engine for extra range. These are also plug-in vehicles, meaning they can charge at home or at a public charging station.

The first big change to EVs came in 2010, when the federal government offered tax-credit incentives to consumers and required car manufacturers to increase average fleet gas mileage to 26 mph under Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulations. Most car manufacturers came out with plug-ins, including high-end models such as Porsche, BMW and Cadillac, and the more moderately priced Chevrolet, Ford and Honda. Toyota, the standard-bearer for fuel efficiency, modified several of its models to plug-in hybrids.

At the same time, technological changes such as rechargeable batteries and standard-sized plugs made owning an EV easier.

But sales were still sluggish until 2012, when a second major federal incentive program through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) paid states to build charging infrastructure. That, in combination with even higher capacity batteries, made the switch to all-electric battery-only vehicles (BEVs) possible.

Range anxiety
“Range and price have been the drawbacks,” OER’s Cote said. The lower the price, the lower the distance between charges.

The Prius plug-in hybrid ranks at the low end, with less than 15 miles per charge before using its gasoline engine; the Chevy Volt gets over double that at 38 miles before the gas engine kicks in to feed it enough juice for another 20 miles. In between is the Ford Fusion with a 20-mile range.

And then there’s the two-seater Tesla Roadster, reminiscent of a ’69 Corvette, that can go more than 200 miles before a charge and has a top-end speed of 125 mph. The Roadster’s base price is $109,000, but a more affordable sedan, the BlueStar, is slated to go on the market soon for $30,000.

The advantage of a plug-in is just that, said John Gilbrook, Northeast regional manager for ChargePoint. Founded in Campbell, Calif., in 2007, ChargePoint now operates nearly 20,000 charging stations in the United States.

Those short distances used to give EV owners “range anxiety,” Gilbrook said. For consumers who are used to having gas stations within a tankful of gas, they can now have a charge within range of their battery.

“Now people have ‘gas anxiety,’” said Gilbrook, noting EV owners are now more worried about using gas, so they charge up three times more frequently. Gilbrook said he knowns one Chevy Volt owner who never used gas in the 3,300 miles that he’s owned the car.

ChargePoint offers a dashboard mobile app that shows the nearest charging station, whether it’s available, and cost and fees for charging. Charges range from 3-15 kilowatt-hours (kWh), depending on the battery capacity. Costs run about 15 cents per kWh for charging.

To see how that 2015 Porche Panamera S E-Hybrid PHEV rates against the 2015 Nissan Leaf EV, visit the DOE’s website or its alternate fuel webpage. Visit the Plug-in America website and compare range, equivalent miles per gallon, price, size, top speeds and carbon dioxide emissions for some 30 models of EVs.