Could Your City Be An E-Lympian?

By Bill Moore

Posted: 12 Dec 2009

I had an interesting conversation late yesterday afternoon with SunEdison founder and now the CEO of Richard Branson's Carbon War Room, my friend Jigar Shah. We were talking about the Electrification Coalition's Roadmap, a blueprint of sorts for hastening the deployment of electric-powered transportation, specifically the cars and trucks that carry the majority of U.S. citizenry about their daily activities here in America.

The Coalition, made up of significant public and private interest groups and leaders, issued their Electrification Roadmap in mid-November 2009 and you can watch the entire press conference and follow-on panel discussion here on EV World. The coalition envisions in their report a two phase process in which, in phase one, a small number of communities, six to eight at most, become model cities in which tens of thousands of "grid electric vehicles" or GEVs, i.e. plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles, are concentrated. Once these communities have successfully demonstrated -- and worked out the kinks -- the model would then be cloned by a couple dozen other cities and gradually grow from there; the goal being that by 2040, fully 75% of all light duty vehicle miles traveled would be powered by electricity.

It's a great proposal, both Jigar and I agreed, but how do we actually make it happen, he asked me? How do you keep it from being stuffed into a file cabinet or shoved unto a bookshelf, joining all the other well-intentioned proposals proffered lo' these many decades?

We began brainstorming a bit and he asked me to think it over and we'd keep the dialogue going. It being late Friday afternoon and I really wasn't in the mood to think about anything else, much less sit at the computer, I grabbed my always-handy legal pad and starting drawing boxes and lines and funny-looking stick people, as well as the dumbest looking electric car you can imagine [see scan above]; one with a oblong box buried in the floorboard labeled "+" and "-": the battery. I was trying to visualize how an ordinary city became (with apologies to all the great Olympic cities past, present and future) an E-lympian, one of those select six-to-eight communities with the resources, talent and attitude to lead the nation in the deployment of 10-20,000 GEVs each and do it with D-Day like intensity.

Finding the right communities to incubate the Electrification Roadmap seemed to me the first step in moving it from the press conference phase to the people-driving-GEVs-daily phase. I started thinking about what kinds of communities would be great places to nurture and grow the concept. In pretty short order, I filled the legal pad with bullet points; activities and attitudes that -- to my mind -- would make such a city fertile ground for showing the tens of thousands of other communities from Bangor, Maine to San Diego, California how to transition to an EV-centric city.

I'll share those bullet points with you on the understanding that I do so to encourage you to think about what qualities and qualification a city should have if it decides to become an "E-lympian." We already know that the major OEMs like GM and Nissan, even BYD now it seems, are looking at Southern California as the first region they are likely to introduce their GEVs, the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf and BYD E6, respectively. Jigar suggested that the places with the highest per capita ownership of Toyota Priuses would be a good starting point.

Here is my bullet point list, in no particular order at the moment. Use the reader comment form below to share your thoughts and suggestions.

E-Lympian City Selection Criteria

Obviously, this is a pretty tough list, but from my readings, there are a lot of communities in America, both large and small, that already have efforts in place that meet a fair number of these criteria. There are likely others that should be added. Some will be more important than others. We could include items like regional climate, community fiscal health, condition of current transportation infrastructure, public attitudes and perceptions. Please feel free to add your own to this list. If you were going to create a such a check list, what would it include? What city or cities would you nominate as an E-Lympian candidate?

Perhaps the most fundamental question of all though is does the entire concept of E-lympian communities, where GEVs are concentrated, make more sense than leavening small numbers of electric vehicles across more communities? Or maybe there's a happy middle ground?

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