Consumers are ready for electric vehicles. Entrepreneurs and policymakers just need to hustle to work out the kinks in the nationwide networks that will charge the cars, said a panel of experts assembled at Climate One on May 12, in San Francisco.
Automakers see a chance to free their customers from expensive oil, said Mike DiNucci, VP of Strategic Accounts, Coulomb Technologies, which is building a nationwide ChargePoint Network. “Car companies see a golden opportunity to re-set that paradigm, and become more sustainably connected to their customers,” he said.
One company working to re-set the driving experience is Better Place, which plans to sells consumers miles through a network of charging and battery-swapping stations. “Better Place’s philosophy is we sell miles. The customer, the driver, should never have to think about kilowatt-hours. They should never have to plan, or have a timer at their charge spot. We want to save all that decision-making from downstream to upstream,” said Rob Bearman, Director, Global Energy Alliance.
Jonathan Read, CEO, ECOtality, which installs residential and commercial EV charge stations, says his company is working with utilities to develop real-time charging rates as low as $0.05 or $0.06 per kilowatt-hour during off-peak evening hours. “We’re always going to be competing between two minds: home charging and the price of gas. The consumer is always going to be making value judgments in between there. It’s our job as private-sector entrepreneurs to figure what is the tipping point” – at what point will consumers ditch gas cars for electricity, and how will they decide whether to charge in public or at home.
Jay Friedland, Legislative Director, Plug In America, who has driven an electric Toyota RAV4 for a decade, said he’s confident consumers will get the price signals. He pays the equivalent of $0.75 per gallon to drive his EV, he said, cheaper than a gas-powered car by a factor of five in California, where gas is averaging over $4 per gallon. “EVs consumers will certainly get the pricing signal that comes from the utility, which is: If I get a bill, and my bill is high because I’ve been charging during the day time, and I know I can get cheap electricity at night, I’m going to go with the cheap electricity,” he said.
Friedland and Rob Bearman both emphasized that EVs aren’t just cleaner and cheaper to drive; they are an important part of what Friedland called a “virtuous cycle” – all-electric cars powered by renewable energy, stored and distributed, in part, by batteries.
“Electric vehicles have the promise of taking cars off oil, and electric vehicle batteries have the promise of making the grid more renewable. As far as a cleantech solution that spans a lot of sectors in the cleantech industry, electric vehicles are really powerful,” said Rob Bearman.
“People are ready – especially in San Francisco. If the infrastructure is there, and the cars are equivalent in convenience and cost, which they are getting to the point where they will be, people will buy them. That’s true not just in San Francisco, but in many places around the world,” said Bearman.
– Justin Gerdes
May 12, 2011
Photos by Ed Ritger
The Commonwealth Club of California