Conference weighs in on electric vehicle progress
Electric cars may not be everyone’s cup of tea—at least not yet—but there was widespread fascination on the faces of some 120 persons who attended a seminar called “Take Charge Two! EVConference” hosted by the College of the Environment and Life Sciences July 11.
The seminar consisted of a morning series of short talks on different aspects of the electric vehicle movement followed by a small display of various types of electric vehicles in the Chafee Hall lot.
Wendy Lucht, coordinator for Ocean State Clean Cities and a researcher who works out of the URI Outreach Center, welcomed conference participants and introduced a number of speakers who covered a variety of topics including the latest electric vehicle technology.
Associate Dean Richard C. Rhodes III said the college was pleased to host the conference. He said it was fitting to have the conversations on the environment, natural resources and the economy at the CBLS building. Switching to electric vehicles is one way to help society to address the challenges of climate change, he said adding there are government estimates that changing over to electric vehicles could reap savings in fuel by 80 percent and reduce greenhouse gases by 60 percent. “We have to quit putting carbon into the environment,” he said.
Cassandra Powers of the Georgetown Climate Centers, which works with the Northeast Electric Vehicle Network, noted that sales of electric and hybrid cars are strong.
Joseph Laham of Premier Auto Group (one of the main sponsors of the conference) said prices of electric cars are coming down. His firm is putting in charging stations at their dealership for their customers. He said some vehicles can be leased for about $200 a month. For electric vehicles owners Toyota now has an app that can locate charging stations via a Smartphone, he noted, adding the biggest fear for electric vehicle owners is anxiety about where to get charged up.
New models are being developed that offer long driving ranges and faster charging rates, he said.
If there was a main theme struck during the seminar it was the issue of insufficient infrastructure—i.e. will there be enough charging stations. Electric vehicle owners can install charging stations in their homes for about $200 but there are concerns about being able to charge vehicles away from home. In Rhode Island a grant will pay for 50 charging installations around the state, said Dr. Marion Gold, commissioner of the state Office of Energy Resources. The grant is made possible through National Grid which was another of the main sponsors of the seminar.
It was noted by a few speakers that when the automobile was invented there was anxiety as to where to buy gasoline. The supply of gas stations quickly increased as automobiles became more popular.
Several speakers were confident that as the number of electric vehicles rises, so too will the number of charging stations. Some speakers also noted that new advances in the technology will also address the amount of time it takes to fully charge a car. One high-end car manufacturer has a system that will fully charge a car in about 20 minute, said one auto expert.
Another speaker showed examples of new charging stations that would eliminate cables left on the ground. The stations have reels that automatically release and retract the cables so that they do not get dirty or get covered with snow.
In the afternoon, conference participants were given opportunities to test drive various types of pure and hybrid electric vehicles such as the Chevrolet Volt, the Nissan Leaf and Toyota Prius. The electric cars that drew the most attention were two privately owned Tesla cars even though they were not offered for test drives. The smartly styled Tesla cars are high-end and start at $65,000 with models reaching into six figures (the size of the battery pack is a major difference between models).
One woman from Connecticut showed her black Tesla sedan which has luxurious touches including door handles that eject outward as soon as the owner approaches the car. She said the car rides like a dream and gets about 300 miles on a charge. She said the $80,000 car was given to her by her daughter—“Hey, after all,” she explained. “I put her through college.”