EDTA Conference: Government solutions for electric drive vehicles

Understanding the confluence of the electric drive industry and the U.S. government is at the heart of the EDTA Conference this week. During a working session on Wednesday, a half dozen speakers dissected ways governments of various jurisdictions (city, state and federal) can and do support electric drive vehicles. Here're the highlights.

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), a taxpayer-funded utility company, hasn't met an alternative energy source it doesn't like. Bill Boyce, SMUD's electric transportation supervisor, said SMUD has supported EVs at the local airport, has worked to restrict truck idling activities, and is constructing a photovoltaic-powered hydrogen fueling station. SMUD is also big into plug-in hybrids (PHEVs). The utility is testing converted Prius vehicles (see below), supports Plug-in Partners, and is helping to test EPRI's Dodge Sprinter Vans (which are medium-sized delivery vans that, according to DaimlerChrysler's Dominique Portmann, get about 26 mpg in the most recent versions). SMUD is even studying how light rail can better store regenerative braking energy.

The story continues after the jump.
These ongoing activities are the growth from a decade and a half of alternative energy vehicles in Sacramento, Boyce said. In the early '90s, SMUD looked at non-automaker EVs, and transitioned to "official" EVs when they became available later in the decade. Since April of this year, SMUD has been testing an Energy CS Prius, which operates in all EV mode below 34 mph and as a "standard" Prius above. SMUD has conducted 29 side-by-side tests of the two Prius versions, and have found, among other things, that the PHEV gets 98 mpg (equivalent) and the standard Prius gets 48 mpg.

Let's move up to the state level. Analisa Bevan, who has worked with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) sine 1992 spoke about CARB's zero-emission rules and California's Hydrogen Highway Network ( H2 Net). AutoblogGreen readers are probably familiar with these acronyms: ZEV, AT PZEV and PZEV, so I'll just mention CARB's current ZEV rules review. With over 500,000 PZEV and almost 100,000 hybrids on the road in California, CARB is trying to figure out exactly where manufacturers are with various alternative energy technologies, like on-vehicle hydrogen storage, PHEVs, EV batteries, etc. Bevan said she expects the report to be finished in early 2007 and, if regulatory changes are needed, they will happen later next year.

The H2 Net is made up of a "large portfolio" of hydrogen strategies, including a phased introduction of infrastructure. In the 2006-2007 state budget, there is $6.5 million allocated for fuel cell buses and hydrogen infrastructure and $25 million for alternative fuels and clean and efficient vehicles. Bevan said the $25 million would be used for more bus funding, bio-derived hydrogen production support and consumer incentives for ZEVs.

Over in New York City there is an Alternative Fuel Program run by the NYC DOT. Mark Simon, the program's director, said that the city's electric drive support comes in the form of a city law that says that when City agencies buy light duty vehicles, they must purchase the cleanest vehicles in that class, even if these clean cars are more expensive. The law stipulates that the cleanest ZEV or PZEV vehicle can be passed over only if it costs over 50 percent more than the next cleanest option (so, if the City is looking at a $10,000 vehicle and there exists a $14,500 ZEV version, then the ZEV is purchased. The ZEV sits on the lot if it costs $15,001).

These rules have helped the city buy over 1,700 light duty hybrid vehicles in the last five years. In the heavy duty realm, the city will have 550 hybrid buses on the streets by the end of the year and 825 by the end of June 2007. Simon said these buses get 30 to 40 percent better fuel economy and there have been no "major problems" with the hybrids, but they do cost about $125,000-$200,000 more per bus to purchase. Funding for these hybrids comes from CMAQ (congestion mitigation and air quality) funds, which have paid for FedEx hybrid trucks and beverage delivery hybrid vehicles and CNG projects. There is a CMAQ grant available to purchase 300 CNG taxis, but only 17 such taxis are on the road today in the city (there are 237 hybrid taxis currently operating in NYC).

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