Nevada is in an electric car evolution

In January 2006, President George W. Bush was midway through his second term. The country was still embroiled in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and congressional elections would be in November. Bush’s State of the Union address included one remarkable statement and some important policy initiatives:

“Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world …

“We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen… Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025.”

On June 14, 2007, Senate Finance Committee members Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., introduced the Freedom Act to promote plug-in, electric-drive vehicles throughout the country.

“With the rapid industrialization of countries like India and China, the demand for gasoline is unprecedented, and that’s translated into higher costs at the pump,” Hatch said. “We’re already feeling the pain of that, and it’ll get worse unless we start shifting our transportation sector away from liquid fuels and on to electrons. The best way to motivate that shift is with these market-based incentives, rather than federal mandates.”

“Developing environmentally friendly fuel alternatives for vehicles is a critical step we can take to reduce America’s consumption of foreign oil and combat global climate change,” Obama said. “The technology to produce energy alternatives exists, and we must provide the appropriate incentives to encourage consumer and manufacturer use. Supporting energy-efficient technology and electric vehicles would also help the American auto industry regain its competitive edge.”

The Freedom Act was not passed in 2007, but did become part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, after Obama was elected president.

In February 2011, Nevada government and business leaders gathered at Desert Research Institute offices in Reno and Las Vegas to establish an Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Readiness Task Force that would prepare the state for these new transportation technologies. Could Nevada residents really give up internal combustion engines in exchange for electromagnetic motor systems?

The first Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric cars arrived at eight automotive dealerships in Southern Nevada in January 2012, with sales efforts aided by a $7,500 federal tax credit for buyers. Since then, the base price of a Chevrolet Volt has decreased by $6,000 and the Nissan Leaf by $5,000 for 2014 models.

In 2013, local Ford dealerships began selling the Energi line of plug-in hybrid cars, including the Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi.

The Ford Focus Electric also was introduced as a direct competitor to the Nissan Leaf. Local Toyota dealerships introduced plug-in versions of the Prius hybrid, and Tesla Motors began direct sales of the Model S sedan, an innovative design that could travel over 300 miles before recharging its lithium-ion battery pack.

This year BMW introduced the i3 electric car to Nevada, with an optional 3-cylinder gasoline generator that can extend the car’s electric-only range by another 150 miles. Gaudin Motorworks debuted a plug-in Porsche Panamera S E-hybrid and Cadillac introduced its new model ELR, a luxury version of the Chevrolet Volt.

Important progress has been realized in just three years to establish laws, policies, training, building codes, and infrastructure. However, if plug-in electric cars are ever to become more desirable to consumers, these mobile platforms will need to provide innovative features at a reasonable cost and be as easy to recharge as a mobile phone.

Public electric vehicle supply equipment stations are necessary to guarantee sufficient electricity at strategic geographic locations. Today, there are about 70 public charging sites in Southern Nevada, where electric car owners can plug in while shopping or working, and replenish their vehicle battery packs at no cost.

At home, plugging in an electric car to the NV Energy grid costs about one-third the price of gasoline. The monthly electric bill could be even less if the electric vehicle owner installs photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of his or her home to generate extra electricity, or subscribes to an NV Energy “Time-Of-Use” rate schedule, that offers discounted rates for electric cars recharging overnight: www.nvenergy.com/ev.

Electric cars are a good fit for Southern Nevada’s high-wattage lifestyle, but how quickly Nevadans embrace these emerging automotive technologies remains to be seen.

Stan Hanel has worked in the electronics industry for more than 30 years and is a longtime member of the Electric Auto Association and the Las Vegas Electric Vehicle Association. Hanel writes and edits for EAA’s “Current Events” and LVEVA’s “Watts Happening” newsletters. Contact him at stanhanel@aol.com.

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