As we witness the destruction caused by the latest oil spill in the Gulf, the need to reduce our dependence on oil has never been more tangible. The good news is that we don't need to look far for a solution. The electric vehicle is here - and its mass deployment in the US has just begun.
On Thursday, both the House and the Senate introduced bi-partisan legislation to scale up the use of electric vehicles in the US. The legislation would provide incentives for the widespread adoption of electric vehicles in select "communities" around the country, with the goal of deploying 700,000 vehicles in those regions within the next six years.
By encouraging growth in specific locations, the legislation aims to overcome some of the barriers currently preventing greater adoption of electric vehicles: like creating a charging infrastructure and preparing utilities to support that infrastructure. Both challenges face a chicken and egg problem. Consumers won't buy electric vehicles until there are places to charge them, both at-home and on the road (like gas stations), as well as additional electric services to support them (like smart grids). And infrastructure providers and utilities won't invest in those stations and services until there are electric vehicles on the road to use them. The community-based approach addresses this problem by providing incentives for all the key components of an electric vehicle ecosystem at the same time, in a single geographic region. And it is the recommended approach of businesses throughout the electric vehicle supply chain, including leadership organizations like the Electrification Coalition.
If successful, the program could be the start of a process that electrifies the majority of our automotive fleet. Demonstration of large-scale use will help build confidence among consumers by demonstrating that electric vehicles are reliable and affordable. Information on how large-scale use works in practice will help with future strategic planning. And the infrastructure created will provide a foundation for even wider deployment, needing less government support.
Soon, a majority of the vehicles driven in America would run without oil, would have no tailpipes, and would be powered by domestic resources.
But this transformation will not happen on its own. In countries like China, Denmark and Japan, where the transformation is already underway, the government has made electrification a national priority. China has set a goal of becoming the global leader in the manufacture and deployment of electric vehicles, providing rebates of almost $9,000 for the purchase of each vehicle. Denmark has adopted a tax structure that strongly favors electric vehicles over gasoline models. And today in Japan, fully electric taxi cabs already take passengers to and from their destinations in Tokyo, as part of a project by Tokyo's largest taxi operator, Better Place LLC - a leading provider of electric vehicle networks and services, and the Japanese government.
Bill Ford, Executive Chairman of the Ford Motor Company recently said, "The electrification of the US fleet is inevitable." To seize this opportunity, we too need to make electrification a national priority. And because the conversion to electric vehicles represents a rare chance not only to stop using oil, but to start using clean energy, we need to incorporate strong electrification policies into a broader climate and energy plan, to make sure that the electricity we use to power our cars comes from clean, domestic sources.
The legislation introduced yesterday represents the start of this exciting process. If it's adopted, it would mark a new era in US transportation - and a welcome beginning to the end of our oil addiction.
Amy Davidsen is the US Executive Director of The Climate Group (www.theclimategroup.org) - an international NGO working to cut global emissions by accelerating the uptake of low carbon policies and clean technologies, including electric vehicles.