Cities Working to Entice EVs

Before GM or Nissan ever sold a Volt or a LEAF, cities around the world had already installed charging stations, amended building codes, and formed initiatives to encourage the adoption of electric vehicles. EV readiness promised an opportunity for cities to combat environmental issues, attract new businesses, and foster economic growth. At the heart of this effort was one clear objective: increasing the number of electric cars on the road.

Automakers have a variety of demands on their advertising dollars. A city, on the other hand, is well positioned to promote electric cars in a way that automakers can choose to avoid—cities can highlight EVs environmental advantages or even promote independence from oil. So, while getting EV-ready is a pretty indirect way of incentivizing demand, it’s clear today that the efforts of some cities have driven the overall EV market by creating localized groundswells of interest.

How does a city choose the strategies that are most effective for fostering electric vehicle friendly ecosystems?

Collaboration and Information Exchange

“Public private partnerships” are key to this market’s near term success. While not as abysmal as some claim, vehicle sales have failed to trigger truly significant production of battery-powered vehicles. Therefore, it’s vital that cities foster demand through collaboration between a range of stakeholders, such as research and academia, industry leaders, finance institutions, and advocacy groups. In addition to these partnerships, cities can start removing bottlenecks to market adoption—such as older building codes—that impede the installation of private charging stations.

Unfortunately, these tend to be trial-and-error efforts; and many cities have little understanding of what works and doesn’t work elsewhere. This was the key premise that led to the formation Project Get Ready, a Rocky Mountain Institute initiative that gathers and distributes best practices through a network of North American cities and industry stakeholders.

This is a global market, though, and there are lessons to be learned from a number of countries. Therefore, RMI recently joined forces with the International Energy Agency, the Electric Vehicles Initiative, and the University of California at Davis Plug-In Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Center to form the Global Electric Vehicle Insight Exchange (EVX), which will facilitate the sharing of information critical to successful electric vehicle and infrastructure deployments. Two new products of this partnership—the 2012 EV City Casebook and the World EV Cities web portal—both highlight creative and successful EV adoption strategies of cities and regions around the world. While the casebook is a static snapshot, the web portal will evolve as a dynamic clearinghouse of information and lessons-learned. Developed by UC Davis, with support from the EVX partners, the web portal offers stakeholders guidance and best practices for implementation, as well as recognition for their leadership in EV adoption.

Show Me the Data

Going forward, cities are continuing to build upon their EV-readiness efforts with new partnerships, policies, and infrastructure. Over time, EVX will assess the efficacy of those efforts, answering a range of questions—which policies incentivize adoption, which locations are best for charging stations, and how much infrastructure does a city really need?

But, in order to answer such questions, cities need to embrace a higher level of transparency, especially when those decisions involve significant financial investment. Many cities’ budgets have increasingly tightened, leaving little room for poorly executed EV initiatives. Transparency and collaboration, once thought of as luxuries, are now more akin to survival tools for industry and sustainability initiatives alike.