Seattle currently ranks third in the country for electric vehicle charging infrastructure and fifth for electric vehicle sales. While those numbers sound impressive, the city government is far from satisfied. They have announced an aggressive initiative that is aimed at reducing the city’s carbon footprint through two major stages of implementation. Take a look at how Seattle intends to lead the country in the battle against climate change.
Leading by Example
One of the biggest parts of Seattle’s sweeping announcements comes in the city’s commitment to leading by example. The recently adopted plan promises to cut overall city emissions from vehicles in half by 2025. There are two big pushes to make this work. Where applicable, fully electric vehicles will take over duties, with the outline aiming for 30 percent of eligible vehicles to make the switch by 2030. This will require the government to invest in 15,000 new vehicles. Still, many public transportation and utility vehicles do not currently have electric alternatives. In these cases, the city is investigating alternative fuels and renewable options. For now, the primary plan is to switch as many of these operations as possible to the most efficient diesel options on the market. Ultimately, this represents the largest investment of any city in the United States to reduce its carbon footprint.
Switching the public vehicles is a well-intentioned gesture, but it will have little combined impact on Seattle’s bigger carbon footprint picture. The planners have accounted for this, and the bulk of the new initiative revolves around getting bigger electric vehicle participation out of the public. Currently, the bulk of charging stations in the metro area are level 2 AC stations. These typically provide a charge of 20 miles in roughly an hour. Even more prohibitive, most of these stations are on private property. As such, the passed initiative has already secured funding for 10 new fast charging DC stations, the first of which will be finished in 2017. These options can provide a 50 mile charge in only 20 minutes, and they are planned for points that will create a more even distribution of charging stations across the city.
The city is also working to approve ordinances that will free more funding to subsidize electric cars. This will come in two forms. Car buyers, under as yet undefined parameters, will be able to receive rebates when purchasing all-electric vehicles. Also, subsidies will lower the out-of-pocket cost for installing and maintaining charging stations in the home. Some estimates suggest that these programs could increase electric car integration by as much as 20 percent, consequently lowering insurance rates in the process.
The Big Picture
One of the biggest criticisms against electric cars is big-picture efficiency. If a car is charged on a non-renewable power grid, it can actually lead to more emissions in the long run than traditional gasoline. This mostly applies to homes that receive the bulk of their electricity from coal or petroleum fueled plants. The Seattle initiative has already accounted for these possibilities, and all of their charging station expansions are being run through Seattle City Light. The utility company receives 90 percent of its electricity from hydroelectric sources, and it is committed to ensuring that 100 percent of the power directed to electric car charging stations is completely carbon free. This is the key component of the plan, and it will make the 50 percent carbon reduction goal realistically attainable.
It is a very progressive agenda, so it will face some serious challenges. The biggest obstacle is funding. While the first stage of the plan has an approved budget, the later stages are much more expensive and will undoubtedly face opposition to such a large expense. Another major challenge is getting cooperation from landowners. Many of the best locations for charging stations are privately owned, so negotiations could inhibit success on that front.