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Pennsylvania continues to push, look at long-term effects of electric vehicles

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 4/4/18

Electric vehicles make up only about 0.3 percent of all registered vehicles in Pennsylvania, according to the Department of Transportation.

But analysts expect that number to grow.

On Monday, …

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Pennsylvania continues to push, look at long-term effects of electric vehicles

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Electric vehicles make up only about 0.3 percent of all registered vehicles in Pennsylvania, according to the Department of Transportation.

But analysts expect that number to grow.

On Monday, March 26, a coalition of about 100 people from state government, the electric vehicle industry including automakers and makers of charging stations, electric utilities and environmental groups met at Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission headquarters in Lower Swatara Township to plan how best to capitalize on the economic and environmental benefits expected to come from more electric vehicles being on the road.

Coalition members presented and discussed a range of strategies, from a conservative approach involving little policy support from state government, to a more aggressive public policy scenario that encourages the adoption of electric vehicles.

The goal is for a final plan to be made public in June. The coalition will then determine potential steps for carrying it out.

The expected growth is driven in part by technology that is improving batteries that power electric vehicles. Instead of getting just 100 miles from one charge, these batteries can go 200 and 300 miles on one charge, said David Althoff Jr., a manager at the state Department of Environmental Protection Office of Pollution Prevention and Energy Assistance. DEP helped put the coalition together and hired a consultant to help write an electric vehicle implementation plan.

Charging stations are becoming a more common sight to more Pennsylvanians.

“I go to the grocery store and there’s an electric vehicle charger. I can charge my vehicle while I am at the grocery store. To some degree, we are getting over that idea that I’m going to buy an electric vehicle, drive it around somewhere and not have anywhere to charge it,” Althoff said.

Electrify America has unveiled plans to invest $2 billion in electric vehicle infrastructure and education programs throughout the United States by 2027.

More than 650 electric vehicle charging stations are to be located at workplaces, shopping centers, restaurants and the like, with another 300 charging stations to be sited on highways.

Philadelphia is one of 17 metropolitan areas selected for the nationwide rollout, according to the Electrify America website.

The $2 billion comes from proceeds of the nearly $15 billion settlement reached in October 2016 between the U.S. government and Volkswagen over Volkswagen rigging software in its vehicles to dodge emission standards.

“We see this coming. A part of this is we need to plan for what does it look like when there are more electric vehicles on the road,” Althoff said. “How do cities and localities plan for electric vehicles” when it comes to parking spaces, parking garages, and charging stations in the workplace and elsewhere throughout communities.

DEP since 1992 has supported the spread of vehicles powered by alternative fuels including electric vehicles, natural gas, propane and biodiesel, Althoff said. Since 2011 the state has been offering a residential rebate to buyers of electric vehicles, including plug-in hybrids.

He doesn’t see this latest venture as subsidizing the electric vehicle industry, but as DEP and state government working as partners with others in the coalition to address and overcome impediments in the marketplace.

For example, electric vehicle manufacturers will be most drawn to those states with a plan in place to support a vehicle charging network large enough for the car-buying public to have “confidence” they won’t get stranded somewhere for lack of a station, he added.

That being said, 80 percent of charging of electric vehicles happens at home. For electric distribution companies and electric generators, that’s an opportunity and a challenge at the same time.

“When you look down the road, we go from having 5,000 electric vehicles to maybe 500,000 electric vehicles in Pennsylvania — that’s a demand on the grid. Instead of those vehicles going to the gas station, they are going to be plugging in at home or at work,” Althoff said.

That could create problems if everyone is charging at the same time, like everyone cranking up their air conditioning on a hot summer day.

But large batteries in electric vehicles can store a lot of energy. Technology exists to allow these batteries to put energy back into the electric grid, so the grid has power when it needs it.

“It is not ready yet, but that is a down-the-road potential,” Althoff said. Price incentives could be used to get people to charge their electric vehicles at certain off-peak times, while putting power back into the grid at certain other times.

To find a charging station, go to the Alternative Fuels Data Center website.