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Electric cars see jump-start in Austin

Wednesday, November 27, 2013 by Bill McCann

With a predicted 300 percent jump in the number of plug-in electric cars taking to the road over the past year, Austin continues to be one of the nation’s leaders in this clean-running form of transportation.


While the numbers are still comparatively small, city energy officials say they expect to see continued steady growth in demand for electric vehicles in Austin, and have several programs in place to help encourage that growth.


The number of plug-in electric vehicles grew from 144 in 2011 to 330 in 2012, according to Austin Energy and other sources. The latest figures show the number increased to 785 through Sept. 30, and is expected to approach 1,000 by the end of the year. Current trends indicate that the city could have at least 10,000 plug-in electric cars by 2020.


“Austin is one of the best markets in the U.S. for plug-in electric vehicles, definitely in the top five,” Karl Popham, manager of Austin Energy’s electric vehicles group told In Fact Daily. Austin has appeared on several top-ten lists of cities for electric vehicles, and has been the only Texas city to make the lists, he said. In addition, Austin has received several national awards for its efforts to make the city electric vehicle-friendly, he added.


ChargePoint, Inc. a California-based leader in public charging facilities for electric vehicles, recently ranked Austin fourth in terms of cities that have the most electric cars and public charging stations per capita. San Francisco was first, followed by Seattle and San Diego. ChargePoint provides network services for Austin Energy’s public charging program called Plug-In Everywhere.

BMW recently announced that Austin will be home to a showroom for its new plug-in electric vehicles. Austin is one of only a few cities selected by BMW to debut its new plug-in vehicles in the U.S.

Part of what is driving the electric-vehicle growth is the city’s long-held interest in protecting the environment because the vehicles have no tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide or other pollutants, according to Popham. But anecdotal evidence from people who have bought the vehicles also shows that they are enjoyable and cheaper to drive, he said.

“One thing we are hearing is that people are finding them really fun and cool to drive. Also, they like the convenience of charging them at home and not having to stop at the gas station,” he said.

Plug-in vehicles are those that need to be plugged in to an outlet to recharge. This can be at a home outlet or at a public charging station where users pay to recharge the batteries. Plug-in electrics include the Tesla and Nissan electric vehicles, as well as the Chevrolet Volt, which also has a gasoline engine. They do not include the Toyota Prius or other hybrid vehicle models.

Austin Energy has been promoting electric vehicle initiatives since 2008 and currently has one of the leading programs in the country, Popham said. For one thing, the Plug-In EVerywhere network currently includes 186 charging stations at 72 locations around the city. The facilities not only provide charging at an affordable price but they are 100 percent powered by renewable wind energy from the utility’s GreenChoice program, he said.

Austin Energy also offers rebates to electric vehicle owners who want to do a faster charge than they can get in their regular home outlets. The utility is offering a 50 percent rebate, up to $1,500, on the hardware and installation of a special 240-volt charger, called a level 2 charger.

What do the utility and its customers get in return for promoting electric vehicles?  For one thing, cleaner air, according to Popham.  Figures compiled by Austin Energy show that through September 2013 electric vehicle customers had paid to use the utility’s charging facilities more than 27,000 times, consuming nearly 150 megawatt-hours of electricity, and avoiding more than 460,000 pounds of greenhouse gases in public charging alone, compared to driving a gasoline-powered vehicle.

Also, since charging is typically done at night, it avoids peak-hour operation of the utility’s power plants, helping the electric generating system operate more efficiently, while bringing in new revenues, he added.

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