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Spring, a time of hope and revolution (on four wheels)

April 9th, 2012

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

April, a celebratory time for Christians and Jews, not to mention landscapers, also is a season of hope for greenies.

This spring, like Trekkies, eco-minded people will band together at festivals to celebrate new frontiers — though they’re looking for the next new thing on this planet, in their backyard even, and won’t arrive in costume.

Earth Day is April 22 and green advocates can take heart that there’s much to celebrate, that we’re moving toward a more sustainable world in dozens of ways. People and community groups are gardening more than they have since World War II. They’re traveling on trains of all types, in greater numbers than they have in decades. They’re raising chickens, and goats, and bees in their backyards. They’re exploring local foods at farmer’s markets, investing in solar panels and hooking up to a grid that’s partly wind-powered.

Ford Focus Electric

But the most exciting happening this year, the thing that will define 2012 as a green cornerstone, is what’s on the road.

We’re in the midst of a revolution in automobiles, with electric car sales revving up again after a shaky start in late 2011.

Electric car sales aren’t just recovering. They’re bursting through the gate and could double in the US this year, according to The Street. As the first mainstream EVs to market, GM’s Volt and the Nissan Leaf, settle into showrooms, the online financial publication reports that EVs are on target to sell around 45,000 cars in the US.

Yes, these electric cars are still a tiny minority of the overall American fleet of 250 million.

But just 100 years ago only a small fraction of American families had cars at all. That’s when the first generation of gas-engine, mass-assembled cars was rolling out. This new technology didn’t barrel across the country. It was too expensive for most families, and the roads weren’t built to accommodate cars. It wasn’t until a decade later, during the roaring 1920s that cars became commonplace.

We’re at that early juncture with electric cars today, in 2012. But their promise is great. They will save tons of carbon pollution collectively. They’ll curb pollution best when charged on a grid that’s powered by renewables, like solar, wind or geothermal power. We need to keep greening the grid.

But even now, people in certain situations are primed to go electric. I’m happy to say that if I were to charge an electric car at my home, it would be a clean operation thanks to Texas having added significant wind power to the grid and giving its residents the “power to choose” their power providers. Our family buys 100-percent wind-generated power.

As wind and solar farms expand across the country, millions of families will be in the same situation, able to lower their carbon footprint by pairing an electric vehicle with a home electricity plan based on solar or wind, or possibly geothermal, which also is adding capacity.

Electric cars, or EVs, have a better pollution profile than gasoline engine cars even when they’re charged on a grid powered by natural gas; and when charged on a grid that’s powered by coal, they still edge out gas-powered cars pollution-wise, though their pollution is only slightly less in this last scenario, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Mitsubishi's MiEV will be priced in the low 20K range, after the federal rebate.

But electric cars and hybrids do more than just reduce the greenhouse gases and asthma-causing ozone pollution created by cars and trucks — they lessen our dependence on foreign oil, and that can bring real hope to those who’ve had to fight and sacrifice overseas to secure US interests in the Middle East.

You may be thinking, that’s great, but EVs are not for me. They’re too expensive and I’m not sure where I can charge them. You have “range anxiety” in the parlance of automakers. That too is being addressed. Companies like Ecotality and Coluomb Technologies are rolling out charging networks across the nation. There are about 5,000 public charging stations in operation now. Ecotality has been funded to put around 14,000 in operation.

These charging stations will allow EV drivers to “fill up” or “top off” while eating at a restaurant or working in an office district. Eventually they’ll help the next generation of drivers hop from city to city. That will be a challenge, but it’s important to remember that electric vehicles can be charged, albeit not that quickly, on a regular old household outlet. So rather than carrying a gas can in the trunk, EV drivers should pack an extension cord for emergencies.

For a time, the price of EVs will be more than comparable gasoline engine cars. That’s always the case with new technology. But federal tax incentives for early adopters will help level the playing field.

General Motor’s Chevy Volt – the 2011 Motor Trend Car of the Year, by the way — retails for about $40,000. But you can figure on a $7,500 federal rebate, at least for now, and in some states, additional incentives, to reduce that cost. GM also is advertising lease deals for $349 a month.

EV sales guys like to note that along with that price comes a vanishing gasoline bill, a bigger dollar savings than the electricity bump that you’ll incur charging your car at home.

Soon, there’ll be a barrage of EVs in the mid-range prices, sedans, sports cars  and even small SUVs. Expect to see EV versions of the Ford Focus and the Toyota RAV in 2012. Mitsubishi already has entered the game with the MiEV, with a price tag of around $22,000 after the federal rebate.

There will be economy EVs, such as the Think and the Smart car.

The Nissan Leaf – the leader in “range” at this time – will be attainable for the price of a nice sedan or about $27,000 after the federal rebate. It is in fact, a nice sedan, with ample room for five people, a surprisingly large trunk space and a mind-bendingly smooth and quiet ride. There’s no engine noise, no subtle shifting movements (because there’s no transmission). It’s a glide to drive.

Yup, there will be bugs. While hope springs eternal, a lithium ion battery does not. It will have to be recycled and improved upon.

Still, it just could be that the electric car market is here to stay.

Dave Aasheim, the Texas coordinator for Ecotality’s Blink network of charging stations, says the menu of EVs is about to explode, because every carmaker, with the exception of Ferrari, has at least one on the drawing board, if not on the road. “There’s going to be lots of cars. There’s hundreds of electric vehicles here right now, but in the next years there’s going to be thousands of cars hitting the market, said Aasheim, who already gets around in a Volt.

Mr. Sulu, warp speed ahead.

Copyright © 2012 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network


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