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Oct 14, 2014

Electric Vehicles and Rural Mountain Communities?

The inaugural EV Rally of the Rockies shows EVs aren’t just for urban commuters anymore


Electric vehicles (EVs) make a lot of sense for city commuters. Over 75 percent of U.S. urban commuters travel less than 40 miles per day, perfect for the range of today’s EVs. But do electric vehicles make sense for the rest of us, who choose not to live in an urban setting? Can EVs work in more rural settings, where we’re more dependent on autos and the driving distances are greater?

In short, they do and they can. I was able to experience this firsthand when I drove in the first EV Rally of the Rockies, an EV tour to enjoy the fall colors and demonstrate that with a smartly deployed charging infrastructure EVs can easily expand beyond cities.

Western Colorado is one of the best spots to watch the fall colors. People come from all over to drive through the mountains and view the yellows, oranges, and reds of the aspen trees against the bright blue sky of the Rockies. Now, with our multitude of charging stations, those sightseeing tours can be done in electric cars.

There are currently 59 level 2 and level 3 charging plugs in 24 different locations throughout western Colorado from Vail to Grand Junction and from Steamboat Springs to Durango. In the EV Rally held October 3, eight electric vehicles took off from five different locations—Aspen, Snowmass Village, Vail, Parachute, and Grand Junction. Drivers included EV owners and enthusiasts ranging from doctors to teachers. We all converged in Carbondale, where we showed off the vehicles, offered some test drives, and had a great EV party. David Miller, Alpine Bank’s vice president for business development, drove his Chevy Volt the 100 miles from Grand Junction to Carbondale, with a lunch/charging stop in Parachute, and another short charging stop in Glenwood Springs. Miller claims he averages 62.3 miles per gallon and hasn’t changed his lifestyle at all. “I go wherever I want, whenever I want,” he says.

Tackling Transportation

I drove RMI’s Nissan LEAF, which is used to carpool staff between a bus stop along the Roaring Fork Valley’s main highway and the RMI office in Old Snowmass, and my colleague Amy Westervelt drove RMI cofounder and chief scientist Amory Lovins’ personal Ford Focus Electric. We took off from Aspen, Colorado, after Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron cut the ribbon on Aspen’s new level 2 public charging station. Aspen’s Climate Action Plan commits to reducing community greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050, below 2004 levels. “There is no way to reach those targets without tackling transportation,” according to RMI transportation manager Greg Rucks. And an important piece of tackling transportation involves scaling the adoption of electric vehicles.

“To dramatically scale the uptake of EVs we need to address some behavioral elements,” adds Rucks. And the EV rally addressed two of those behavioral elements. “Seeing people driving EVs around is the best way to show people that EVs are safe, fast, quiet, fun, and just as functional, if not more so, than standard vehicles,” he says. “And making people aware of the numerous charging stations available gives people assurance that they are viable.”

Opening Up Minds

Although 81 percent of all charging happens at home, and the average U.S. driver drives less than 40 miles per day, range anxiety is still alive and well. Many speakers addressed that issue at the ribbon-cutting ceremony in Aspen. “Even though most charging happens at home, having the charging infrastructure available opens the minds of more people to invest in these vehicles,” said RMI alum Mike Ogburn of Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER), which along with Garfield Clean Energy, the Community Office of Resource Efficiency, and Colorado Mountain College, organized the event.

From Aspen we drove to Basalt, where another ribbon-cutting ceremony for another level 2 charger took place. Most EVs come with a 6.6 kW onboard charger, meaning a level 2 charger will deliver about 25 miles of range for each hour of charging; in other words, enough time to grab a lunch, visit historic downtown Basalt, and head on your way with a charged battery for more sightseeing. We then headed to Carbondale, which has four free level 2 charging plugs. “These chargers are great for ecotourism. People can come from outside Carbondale and charge right here,” said Adrian Fielder, sustainability instructor at Colorado Mountain College who drove his Nissan LEAF 75 miles from Vail to Carbondale, with a charging stop in Glenwood Springs.

Clean Driving

Even if charged with Colorado’s dirty grid—64 percent of Colorado’s electricity comes from coal—electric vehicles produce less greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline powered cars. According to Jonathon Walker, a senior associate in RMI’s transportation practice, a Nissan LEAF charged on Colorado’s grid produces about half the CO2 of a typical 25-mpg gas vehicle. That’s because an electric motor is much more efficient than an internal combustion engine. And as our grid becomes greener, with more solar and wind power, EVs will only get cleaner. Aspen gets 85 percent of its electricity from the renewable resources of hydro, wind, and solar, so charging an EV in Aspen is extremely clean. And when Lovins charges his Ford Focus off his rooftop solar, he produces no CO2 at all.

Besides being a lot of fun, the EV Rally of the Rockies proved that traveling through Colorado is viable in electric vehicles. “We probably have the most robust charging infrastructure of any rural area in America,” said Fielder. “Fully electric vehicles are no longer just for commuting.” Electric vehicles and EV charging infrastructure has come a long way since I owned my first EV in 1994. And as the charging infrastructure grows, so will the adoption of electric vehicles, and we will move even closer to a clean energy future.

Images courtesy of the author.


Showing 1-4 of 4 comments

October 16, 2014

Great article. Thank you.
When stating that electric motors are more efficient than the internal combustion engine, I think we need to emphasize that point of how inefficient the internal combustion engine is. After a century of technology in the internal combustion engine, we still waste 80% of that fuel we pour into our tanks. We risk polluting waterways, global climate change, we spend money to fight wars over this very precious commodity, and then, of all things, we put it into a gas tank as fuel and waste 80% as heat instead of propelling us down the road. Nobody likes waste, and this really tops the list of inefficient uses of a diminishing resource.

October 16, 2014

My wife and I live a few miles up a dirt road in rural VT. We have practically no public transportation available. We recently got a plug-in Prius, for my wife to drive, in order to reduce the 1200+ gallons of gasoline we have been using per year. I consider "purist EV zero emission mentality" as a roadblock to achieving high EV mileage. The majority of drivers are not a good fit for a Leaf, and can't afford a Tesla. I decided a Volt is too heavy, and has way too much engine for us. The incentives for EV ZE has been forcing PHEV's and REEV's out of the market for a decade. I applaud the new California standards. Range concern is not a psychiatric disorder, it is a reality not an "anxiety". It's a simple fact, a Prius will get us home from a weekly trip to our state's queen city, Burlington, a Leaf will not. We swapped (junked) an ageing Buick that got 22 mpg and my wife has averaged over 70 mpg with the Prius for the first 7,000 miles. She is able to drive about half of her "local miles" with the Prius in EV mode (usually as a one way EV of a 22 mile round trip to Barre or Montpelier, our "local cities"). These trips are occasionally 100% EV if there is a spot at one of the charging stations in town. Her last 8.1 gallon fill-up went just under 800 miles (with a lot of 12-15 mile 4+ kWh charges from our PV panels and our 100% renewable utility). The Prius, so far, appears to be reducing our annual gas consumption by around 500 gallons, but winter is coming and that may not hold. If the Prius has trouble climbing our mountain road in snow and mud (very low ground clearance and large rear weight distribution but front wheel drive), then we may end up not using it as much in the winter. That will transfer miles to the VW, or my F-150 (ouch). Using 500 gallons less is a long way from zero emission but it is our only reasonable alternative right now. If the Prius battery were twice as large as its 4.4kWh, then approximately 80% or more of her miles could be EV. The Prius is a very good compromise for us and the best we can do right now. I look forward to the next generation models (like the BMW I3 REV, but perhaps a bit cheaper). Our next purchase will be a range extended EV, as opposed to the PHEV, and will replace my ageing VW (that still gets about 35mpg). The new EREV will pick up most, or all, of the 100+ mile trips. Perhaps by the time trade in of the Prius comes due, in half a decade, there will be one with twice as much battery and half as much engine and transmission (even if still a PHEV). An Outlander REV or similar "crossover" might solve our winter issues, unless Misubishi continues to ramp up the engine size for "sport" over the next few years. I don't see any prospect of us using less than 120 gallons of gas per year any time soon, but 90% reduction would be a huge improvement over prior consumption. It would seem that it can be achieved with no compromise of comfort or miles driven, and at a relatively small additional cost. Because of our own PV panels, our electric rate will be fixed at less than 10 cents per kWh for life, and we are now "over-producing" and losing the excess produced.

October 17, 2014

I was a foreign auto repair tech with my business in the mountain town of Mt. Shasta, Ca. I spent much of my tine educating my clients on how to help get better mileage and reduce greenhouse gases by keeping their rigs tuned up, and in some cases converting to fuel injection, and reducing the amount of cylinders. Unfortunately many people need their 4x4 rigs to cut wood and be competent in the woods. I haave follow, worked on some of the first electric cars, worked with inventors here and there are many bright minds, from hydrogen conversion to electricity back to hydrogen, and the evolving development of decent batteries.
The barriers we all hit in the development is patents being bought and hidden, Edison nickel iron batteries being under rated, and they are Great sotrage cells. More people need to know that, especially in solar applications, but again the road block is the greedy military industrial cartels. I have a solar system on my home I built, that puts out 2400 watts, but it is small, Im operating on a slower expansion due to cash, ugh. I also do not have grid tie simply because there are many times the power goes out and what is the point of having solar if you cant apply it in emergency situations!. It pays as I use it in the house for most my lighting and daily chores, music, tv, computers etc, until I get a transformer and more batteries to run my well pump, fridge, etc, but it saves me 60 bucks a month right now!
I can only say that at this point the cars like the Chevy volt which I like, is great for mild daily driving in the mountains, when you need a car. It is great that many can afford it, in the interim, 65-90 mph
motorcycles suffice until it snows or bicycling, but until the the batteries can provide the ampere hours
and wattage to drive a hearty geared trucks or subaru type suvs' to do needed work up here, we are stuck with fossil fuel but I'm not complaining, it takes time. As far as fossil fuel efficiency, the car makers and the oil companies easily can break the 55- 80 mpg but they wont do it as per mutaul agreements. The propaganda, the priming in the ads have brainwashed the public thinking that 36 mpg or even 40 mpg i phenomenal and it is NOT. In the 1970s there wer cars bulit that got 100 plus miles. the gm car that they tested, god I cant remember the name, 4000 fo em made were successful in their trials but they scrapped it, the usage of water mixed with gas can add 20 plus miles to cars, especially in the fuel injected models Tuckers prototype which was fuel injected got great fuel exconomy and BMW M series hydrogen car runs on water if you got 250 thousand dollars. It is just a matter of greed and control fueled by fear that is stopping our successful jump into the future by those who have a monkey grip that wont let go. Thanks. Brian Wallenstein

November 6, 2014

I am a VERY satisfied Chevy Volt owner. While the Volt does offer the extended range option (gas motor drives generator to drive electric motor) and I have taken it on drives to Iowa and Utah, I suggest we start substituting "bladder anxiety" for "range anxiety". Is someone really going to drive 200+ miles (range of a Tesla) non-stop (coffee, tea, pee, chocolate)? Even the 80+ mile range (round trip Denver-Boulder or Denver-Colorado Springs) of a Leaf would find a driver in the 1% of all trips. The next time someone says "range anxiety" speak up loudly and say "bladder anxiety"!

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