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Driving change: How electric vehicles are helping create a clean energy grid

By April 10, 2019May 8th, 2020No Comments

April 10, 2019 – Solar and wind power – you’re great, we love you, but would you mind stepping out of the spotlight for a minute?

In the great generational transformation of our energy economy, renewable energy sources like solar and wind have gotten a lot of attention, because they’re going to power the clean electric grid of the future. But it’s also going to take a massive effort to electrify the rest of the economy to be able to plug into that grid.

The transportation sector, in particular, stands to play a synergistic role.

For example, Colorado lawmakers are now considering a bill that would mandate a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – a goal that will require, among other things, electrifying the state’s entire light-duty fleet. Those electric vehicles (EVs) and their batteries, and the infrastructure to charge them, will become part of a vastly expanded – and more efficient – grid. And as the grid becomes cleaner, so too will all the vehicles powered by it.

That’s why CLEER and Garfield Clean Energy are working on both parts of the equation (while increasing energy efficiency, of course, which is absolutely essential for managing overall energy demand). Technology is advancing rapidly, and plenty is happening driven by market forces alone, but it’s the job of government and nonprofits to accelerate the process.

So long, range anxiety

Take charging infrastructure – the charging stations and plugs that are the EV equivalent of gas stations. This is a crucial limiting factor in the transition to an all-electric fleet, because many drivers who would like to switch to an EV are waiting until they see a better network of chargers.

The good news is that the network is coming together quite quickly. Even here on the Western Slope, there are now hundreds of “Level 2” chargers available for topping up while shopping or working (map). As the program contractor for GCE and a regional partner in the state’s Refuel Colorado program, CLEER works with local governments and other entities to identify potential sites and advise site owners on technology, costs and grants.

(Check out CLEER’s new fact sheet, Electric Vehicle Charging 101)

New fast chargers are now on line next to Sam’s Club in Grand Junction.

Meanwhile, a new statewide network of “fast charging” stations is being built out this year, thanks to funding coming out of the VW emissions-cheating settlement. The first of these stations on the Western Slope just came on line in the parking lot of the Grand Junction Sam’s Club. “Range anxiety” – the affliction of early EV adopters – will soon be a thing of the past.

Exponential growth

Which brings us to the vehicles themselves. While they may still seem thin on the roads, EV purchases are on an exponential growth path. In California, 10% of all new cars sold last year were either all-electric or plug-in hybrid models. In Colorado, the figure is 2.5% – but it’s doubled in the past three years, and the pace seems to be accelerating (see graph).

Here’s a hockey stick graph we like! Blue indicates all-electric vehicles, green is plug-in hybrids. Credit: Auto Alliance,

The Western Slope trails the Front Range somewhat; for example, new EV registrations in 2018 were 1.87% for Pitkin County, 1.25% for Garfield and 1.1% for Eagle. Aside from geographic and cultural factors, there are a variety of barriers to entry that CLEER is helping chip away at through its participation in the Refuel program as well as its partnership in the Moving Beyond Oil coalition. CLEER staff provide technical advice to area fleet managers on switching to EVs, and organize ride-and-drive and group-buy programs to promote EVs to individual consumers. Behind the scenes, they’re also working with local governments to consider a variety of EV-friendly policies.

One of the bigger barriers to EV uptake in Colorado is that most models aren’t sold in the state. That may soon change. Following a January executive order by Gov. Jared Polis, that Colorado Air Quality Control Commission next month will start a rulemaking process to join on to California’s ZEV (Zero Emissions Vehicle) standard. Once Colorado is a ZEV state, manufacturers will start offering more of the selection available in California, including such ideal-for-Colorado models as the new Subaru Crosstrek plug-in-hybrid.

Buses are getting on board

Last but not least, electrification is coming to public transportation. In the next few months, RFTA will begin to deploy eight fancy new electric buses on its upvalley routes, and next year it will add its own network of fast chargers to boost the buses’ range, financed out of the same pool of VW settlement money. Switching from diesel to electric buses is expensive, but of all the steps toward electrifying our transportation system it offers perhaps the greatest suite of benefits: not only reduced emissions but also lower operating costs, pollution, noise and traffic.

Excitingly, the same evolution will likely come to the realm of school buses. CLEER is currently in discussions with a major electric bus manufacturer and we hope to organize a workshop for school officials on the subject later this year.

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