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6 Ways To Encourage Electric Transport

From electric vehicle vending machines to wireless charging, here are six ways to speed up the EV revolution.

6 Ways To Encourage Electric Transport
[Flickr user Eli Christman]

Some time in the future, we may all drive electric vehicles (fingers crossed). But getting there is going to take time. There are already a host of quality electric on the road, from the Tesla Model S to the BMW i3. And yet sales are still pretty anemic, mostly because of concerns over cost and range.

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In the long run, the only thing that’s going to help is better, cheaper batteries. But there’s a host of ways we can encourage adoption of EVs now, even without new technology. The EV City Casebook, a new report commissioned by the Clean Energy Ministerial government group and the International Energy Agency, lays out 50 ideas from around the world.

Below, six of the best:

Re-using old batteries

One of the most promising ways of offsetting the cost of batteries today is to use them for something other than powering cars. The University of Delaware is trialling “vehicle to grid” concepts where batteries back up the mainstream power system during times of need. The grid service revenue generated goes towards paying the extra cost of EVs compared to conventional vehicles. Meanwhile, the island of Yume-shima off Osaka, Japan, is taking old EV batteries and creating a back-up energy storage system. The project is still in the trial stage, but potentially could help smooth out fluctuations at a nearby solar farm, and offer an alternative to recycling batteries.

Making use of spare renewables

At the moment, a lot of renewable energy goes to waste because it’s not used at the time it’s generated and there’s no option for storage. Operators are forced to “curtail” wind turbines and solar plants because the grid can’t handle the load. The report says charging EVs at certain high-supply times of the day would have the dual benefit of making use of wasted energy and minimizing costs for EV owners. When drivers are also energy infrastructure owners, it’s even better. The report looks at how people living on the Orkney Isles, off the north-west coast of Scotland, have an incentive to buy EVs and plug them in at night. Not only do they get cheap power, they also make more money by selling more power back to the grid.

EV vending machines

Sharing EVs helps spread the costs to a wider community. Case in point: a car “vending machine” network in Hangzhou, China. A local company, Kandi Technologies, lets people borrow ultra-compact EVs with a range of 75 miles for about $3 per hour, and then drop them off at a second station near their destination. “Parking lots full of EVs allows car share operators to provide convenient access to shared vehicles as well enabling cost effective servicing and maintenance of the fleet,” the report says. “Furthermore, locating the EV parking towers in densely populated areas offers interesting opportunities for smart charging strategies and management of often stressed local grids.”

Electrifying the last mile

A lot of pollution in cities comes from “last mile” truck deliveries. One solution: mobile logistics facilities on the edge of town. In 2013, the TNT logistics company set up a depot in Brussels, Belgium, from which electric tricycles, or “cyclocargos,” then made door-to-door deliveries. The idea could cut emissions and potentially save companies money if they no longer have to pay tolls and charges to enter city centers. It could also encourage the adoption of EVs, if the economic case stacks up.

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Wireless charging

In Gumi, South Korea, Korea’s Advanced Institute of Science and Technology has built wireless charging system for an electric bus. Coils underneath the 7.5 mile stretch of road cover only 5% to 15% of the way. But KAIST says the system allows it reduce the size of the bus’s battery by two-thirds. That reduces vehicle costs and Gumi is planning to roll out 10 more buses in 2015, according to the report.

Pricing signals

EV manufacturers can cut electricity costs for owners by telling them when power is cheapest. For example, BMW has a “Smart Charging App” for its i3 and i8 models. “Vehicle manufacturers, utilities, and software developers . . . have a compelling need, and also a business opportunity, to develop advanced and intelligent pricing signal applications,” the report says.

Written by the Urban Foresight research group, the report rates each idea on six “dimensions” (from “ease of use” to “relative advantage”) as well as for their potential impact. Check it out here.

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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