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R.I. signs electric vehicle initiative

The plan includes incentives that make the state more amenable to electric cars

Rhode Island became one of eight states to sign an initiative promoting the use of electric vehicles in the pursuit of greener transportation and cleaner air Oct. 24.

The initiative includes adding more charging stations and creating incentives for consumers to purchase electric cars, such as carpool lane access, lower road tolls and better parking spots for users of electric cars, according to the federal memorandum the states signed. The states hope a total of 3.3 million non-emitting vehicles will be in use by 2025, according to the memorandum.

“The initiative is a real sign of confidence in electric vehicles and consumer interest,” said Albert Dahlberg, director of state and community relations at Brown and founder of the Rhode Island chapter of Project Get Ready, a non-profit initiative that aims to prepare cities for the introduction of electric vehicles. “It is a bold initiative that will help reduce pollution, greenhouse gases and improve our energy security and economy,” he added.

Last year, Dahlberg teamed up with National Grid and Chargepoint to install 50 new electric vehicle charging stations in Rhode Island, two of which are located on Brown’s campus.

Electric vehicles use a battery and electric motor unit as their main source of power instead of gas, said Christopher Bull, senior research engineer and senior lecturer at the School of Engineering, who has designed and developed electric vehicle prototypes in the past. Charging stations provide alternating currents so that the battery can charge, he said.

Creating a network of charging stations has proved to be a major challenge in making electric car ownership widespread. “For electric vehicles to be widely accepted, charging has to be widely available,” Bull said.

“Any new technology takes time to catch on with consumers, and we’re already seeing higher rates of electric vehicle adoption than we saw with hybrid vehicle adoption 15 years ago,” Dahlberg said, adding that an interest in electric cars will in part be spread by word-of-mouth.

But electric vehicles are not necessarily a silver bullet, because the production of electricity on which they run emits carbon gases.

In order to determine the net benefit of widespread use of electric vehicles compared to gasoline-powered ones, the original sources of electricity and general carbon footprint must also be factored in, Bull said.

“If the electricity is being generated using coal, then the net change in reducing emissions is not big,” he said.

The widespread adoption of  electric vehicles would put significant demands on current electrical generation systems, meaning that the people who have to live next to the coal fire power plants suffer the consequences, said Bull. “There are winners and losers in that equation, and there could be arguments made that it’s not an equitable way to do things.”

“We couldn’t just magically give everybody electric vehicles and have the system work,” he said.

But Dahlberg said electricity is getting cleaner all the time, as economic factors coupled with rates set by the Environmental Protection Agency force coal plants to close. “As electricity is getting cleaner, gasoline is getting dirtier,” and “the gulf is just increasing overtime,” he said.

Public transportation vehicles may be an especially effective target sector and “an easier way to get more electric vehicles on the road in a fairly controlled manner,” Bull said.

“There are lots of dimensions that need to be approached at the same time” to promote the use of electric vehicles, said Bull. “Putting in charging stations makes sense, supporting development of renewable energy resources makes sense, better public transportation options makes sense.”

Bull said the charging stations on the Brown campus are a good way to expand electric car use by making people more aware of them as an option. When it comes to electric cars, “people have to see it and see people using it so that the mystery disappears and it becomes routine, commonplace,” he said.


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