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New York sets an example for shift to EVs

Kia's HabaNiro all-electric concept vehicle was presented at the New York auto show on Wednesday.

Auto shows are invariably about the future, whether it is consumers contemplating their next dream machine or the carmakers showcasing the rides of tomorrow. But at this year's New York International Auto Show, the future has arrived in the form of the electric car, along with all the supporting parts of the electric car ecosystem.

In fact, with a team of New York state agencies and industry partners promoting electric vehicles at the auto show, in a city that has just agreed to "congestion pricing" to discourage gasoline-powered traffic in Midtown Manhattan, New York is poised to emerge as a national leader in the e-mobility revolution.

For proponents of e-mobility, the New York approach can be a model for speeding the local, state and national adoption of EVs with all the benefits in cleaner air and quieter streets this revolution can provide.

Forecasters, including the International Energy Agency, predict that by 2035 the share of EVs on U.S. roads could exceed 50 percent. And as ride-hailing services and fleet owners move to take advantage of the lower costs of operation and ownership that EVs can provide, the market share of electric vehicles seems destined to expand.


For electric cars, this new future is historical vindication. At the beginning of the 20th century, electric cars and gasoline-powered ones competed for market dominance. But battery technology back then didn't provide much cruising range, and there was no convenient system for recharging. With petroleum companies eager to set up networks of filling stations, gasoline-engine vehicles eventually dominated the market and the roadways.

But these days, the evidence of the momentum behind e-mobility includes the alluring array of showroom-ready electric cars on display at the show, which opens to the public on April 19. Many of the newest EVs can go 200 miles or more between charges.

Another leading indicator at the auto show is high-power, public fast-charging stations of the type that will be on display there and are now being installed around the country. These stations can charge an EV in a matter of minutes. Being able to quickly recharge the battery away from home and even on long trips can eliminate the "range anxiety" that impedes mass adoption of EVs. Combine these new long-range EVs with an expanding network of high-power charging stations and the transition race toward electric mobility is on.

Policy role

Attractive electric cars and fast chargers alone won't suffice, though. The e-mobility revolution also depends on the full support of public policy makers to speed the adoption of environmentally friendly transportation in ways that make economic sense for all involved. And it will depend on participation by power companies, supporting investment in grid modernization and transmission technologies to support the increased load.

Teaming up at the auto show to promote EVs are the major utility ConEdison, the New York Power Authority and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. This team's efforts reflect the broader utility industry support of EVs in New York and include state programs such as EVolve NY, a $250 million infrastructure initiative Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced last May to "aggressively accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles throughout New York state."

Another state program, Charge NY, is promoting installation of public-access chargers across the state, including along highway corridors and at airports, with a goal of 10,000 additional charging stations by 2021. These initiatives complement the growing networks of charging stations around the region and the country being installed by larger commercial stakeholders such as Electrify America and EVgo.

Virtuous cycle

Vehicle owners — whether individual consumers or fleet operators — are more likely to choose EVs when they realize that the overall cost of owning and operating an electric car can be lower than owning and driving one with an internal combustion engine. And their range anxiety disappears once they know a thriving, affordable charging ecosystem will be available.

Utility companies will continue to invest in updating the grid to accommodate EV charging infrastructure if they see sufficient demand — and if utility regulators let them make the investments. At the same time, the owner-operators of charging networks can continue extending them around the country if they know the utilities will have the regulatory flexibility to price the electricity at levels that make the networks economically viable.

Meanwhile, automakers will continue investing in EV research, development and production to produce increasingly affordable models with long ranges and that are fun to drive, if they know there will be ready buyers of the vehicles.

That's why it matters that in New York, the key players are demonstrating leadership with their commitment to electric transportation at this year's auto show.

The EVs are coming. But only with a comprehensive, collaborative approach to the EV infrastructure — from grid to wheels — can the e-mobility revolution reach its full potential.

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