Environment
11:24 am
Tue September 6, 2011

Electric vehicles becoming more mainstream

It’s been eight months since Nissan made its first delivery of its all-electric Leaf car to a customer in the pacific Northwest.

Now, driving an all-electric vehicle is well on its way to becoming mainstream reality. A pilot program is installing thousands of electric car charging stations in the Puget Sound region and making them more available to regular folks.

It was another much-celebrated first last week, as King County added four all-electric Nissan Leaf cars to its vanpool program.   

Standing beside the shiny new vehicles and their plug-in charging stations at Children’s Hospital in Seattle, employee Janet Wohlers eagerly shared her enthusiasm. She’s one of 20 drivers who’s trading in her key to a van for rights to drive one of the newfangled cars. The next batch of county-owned Leafs and chargers will be installed at Amgen in Seattle.

In it for the green

Wohlers and her carpooling buddies are giving up a much roomier ride, but she says it’s worth it to reduce air pollution.

“It’s green!  It’s the wave of the future, it’s exciting – cutting edge,” Wohlers says.

In addition to becoming the first entity in the country to add electric vehicles to a vanpool program, King County is also installing 54 publicly available charging stations, extending the reach of these all-electric cars beyond their 100-mile range.

And an added perk is that drivers like Wohlers get unlimited personal use of the electric cars – they're encouraged to drive them, even when they’re not commuting. In exchange for that, their use patterns will be analyzed, as part of a pilot project.

Expertise not required

Rich Feldman is with ECOtality, the company that got the federal stimulus grant to install and study nearly 14,000 charging stations nationwide with about 2,000 in Washington. He says adding public ride-sharing into the mix expands their reach to more mainstream drivers. 

“That’s quite different than before, where you had to be maybe a person of a lot of means or a very technically sophisticated person, to be able to rebuild your car or something. These are regular cars that people can obtain and use for their everyday use.”

He says the infrastructure is encouraging more and more manufacturers to get on board.  Companies including Ford, GM, BMW and Mitsubishi have new electric models coming online this year and next.

According to the Washington State Department of Licensing, the state now has about 1,400 all-electric vehicles on the road.

An effort is also underway this year to install fast-charging stations at regular intervals along I-5. The ultimate goal is to create a “West Coast Green Highway” that will enable travel all the way from Canada to Mexico in an all-electric car.