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Why transit planners need to lead the electric car charge

There will come a point when powering cars independently of the national energy grid will no longer make sense.

The Nissan Leaf  “What if everything ran on gas?” commercial from 2011 might have been tongue-in-cheek, but it made a valid point–one that departments of transportation are increasingly keying in to today. Namely, gas-driven cars are picky eaters in a world of abundant renewable energy resources and peak oil.

Of all the sources of energy (gas, oil, coal, wind, hydro, nuclear, solar, etc.) most cars today can use only one: oil. A few can now use either oil or gas. One eccentric historian  runs a car on coal power. But modern personal transportation is otherwise cut off from other, longer-term sources of power by our preference for internal combustion engines over batteries. Put another way, of all the things you’re likely to buy in your lifetime, a car is the only one that doesn’t yet run on electricity.

Electricity will some day replace oil as the international currency of energy. Wind, oil, moving water, sunlight and coal can all be transformed into the same unit of energy and transmitted to distant locations and used as part of the energy grid. That energy can drive everything from high speed trains to washing machines, but it won’t budge your car.

I’ve already written about how electric vehicles integrate well with wind power, balancing excesses and acting as energy reserves for the grid on windless days. In addition, new technology gives used electric car batteries a new lease on life in the electric grid. There will come a point when powering cars independently of the national energy grid will no longer make sense.

The chicken-and-egg dilemma of electric vehicles and charging stations is coming to a close as government transportation agencies install more EV fast charging stations. National departments of transportation and city planners with this foresight are installing EV fast charging points, both at a city and a country level. Two countries, Scotland and Estonia, are adopting nation-wide EV fast charging networks.

These government initiatives are coinciding with a growing EV market. In case you’ve been reading the latest spate of “electric vehicle sales sputter” articles, just remember as John Voelcker points out, that plug-in electric car sales in the world’s most car-dependent nation actually tripled in 2012, and were up as well in the UK.

Here’s a video highlighting Estonia’s decision to build a national electric car fast charging grid:

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