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Electricity for those on the move

Plug-ins and electric cars are a core climate solution, since electric drives are more efficient, easily powered by carbon-free energy and indeed far cheaper to operate per mile than gasoline, even when running on renewable power. And they are the key alt-fuel strategy needed to deal with the energy/economic security threat of rising dependence on imported oil and the inevitably grim impacts of peak oil (see “Why electricity is the only alternative fuel that can lead to energy independence”). Since no one is going to build a serious hydrogen infrastructure in your lifetime, it’s great to the growing efforts to build an EV charging infrastructure, as discussed in this CAP repost. The photo is of a group looking inside a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle’s gas tank parked on display outside San Francisco’s City Hall after a $1 billion network of electric car recharging stations that will dot the Bay area highways was announced on November 20, 2008.

Last year, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama said he wanted to see 1 million plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in the United States by 2015. General Motors responded by unveiling the Chevrolet Volt last week, a plug-in electric/gas hybrid that’s set to be available to the public in 2010. According to GM, the new Volt can achieve a city fuel economy of 230 miles per gallon based on unofficial development testing of “pre-production prototypes,” and it can function solely on electric mode “without having to use any gas.” Nissan also created a new prototype called the “Leaf.” The company says the car is 100 percent electric and reaches the equivalent of 367 mpg.

The companies claim the cars’ batteries can be recharged using electrical outlets at home, but if you’re in the city and need to power up, you’ll need to recharge somewhere. As a result, on-street recharging stations in cities are becoming more popular as electric car production takes off.

One clear example is the United Kingdom, which aims to meet Europe’s standards on air quality by discouraging the use of diesel-engineered vehicles, minibuses, and coaches, while promoting the purchase of electric plug-in cars. There are currently six models of electric cars, four electric van models, and electric bikes and scooters for sale there.

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Central London’s City of Westminster became one of the first councils to promote the use of electric cars with financial incentives and the installation of two recycled aluminum-made, on-street recharging stations. By increasing electric vehicle use, the city hopes to reduce air pollution that causes cardiopulmonary diseases and minor health problems like headaches and sore throats.

Other large cities in Europe are massively implementing electric vehicle, or EV, recharging points at public parking facilities. Madrid’s City Hall this year approved the installation of 58 recharging points, available for free to EV car users, and signed an agreement with the Spanish Ministry of Industry to increase the use of electric cars. Other cities such as Seville, Barcelona, and Cuenca have followed Madrid’s example. Additionally, the Portuguese government pledged to install nearly 1,300 recharging points in 21 urban and rural sites by the end of 2011. Selected sites in Portugal would also include shopping centers, airports, hotels, and parking bays, to name a few.

Stateside, San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose have taken the lead in encouraging the use of electric vehicles by installing three charging stations this year as a “testing ground.” The new stations are part of a nine-step plan””enacted in December 2008″”by the aforementioned cities’ mayors to turn the Bay Area “into the electric vehicle capital of the United States.” The stations made by Coulomb Technologies have a cost of $1,000 to $2,000 for a business or municipality.

Like the City of Westminster, the Bay Area’s blueprint establishes government programs to promote the purchase of electric cars, to secure safe, standard electric outlets for charging low-voltage cars, and to link programs to regional transit and air quality programs, among other points.

Wisconsin’s Madison Gas and Electric, or MGE, has also purchased six on-street recharging units””called Chargepoints””for Madison, a university town, as part of a demonstration project this summer. The first Chargepoints unit, coupled with the six already available, will kick off by early 2010 and will have a subscription charging system. Other U.S cities that have mulled over the use of on-street recharging units include Hillsboro, OR; Chicago; and Tucson.

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Advancing electric car use across our country and marrying it with on-street recharging stations will not only help ease our dependence on foreign oil””and thus bring relief to our wallets””but can also help reduce pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and fine particulates, increase the number of clean-energy jobs, and diminish the use of diesel-engineered vehicles.