NORTH BAY – U.S. automakers are diving belatedly into the hybrid and electric-car market, but what’s the good of an electric car that runs out of juice between San Francisco and the town of Mendocino?
That’s why both Marin and Sonoma counties are looking ahead to a time when solar and wind-fueled charging stations can be found as readily as gas stations.
President Obama has designated $2.3 billion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds specifically for electric vehicles, clean-powered fueling stations and solar panel-covered parking lots.
“We’ve already put in for several million dollars for solar-powered stations and parking lots,” said Richard Schorske, Climate Action Director at the Marin Climate & Energy Partnership.
The partnership is a collaboration of Marin’s 11 towns and cities, county agencies and authorities to reduce Marin’s greenhouse gas emissions in alignment with California’s AB 32 targets and local climate action goals. Mr. Schorske expects a large deployment of electric cars by 2010.
Initially, charging stations would go into places where cars are parked for a number of hours: the Larkspur ferry terminal or a shopping mall. But as charging technology becomes cheaper and more efficient, stations could deliver 220 volts, shortening the time to two hours. “Level 3 charging can deliver 1,000 volts. You could recharge in 10 minutes,” said Mr. Schorske.
In Europe there is already interest in standardized battery swapping: drive in, trade your low battery for a charged battery, and drive off.
Solar or wind-fueled stations, with their increased battery storage capability, present tantalizing potentials. Energy generated overnight while the wind blows or during the day while the sun shines could fuel cars during the day, and cars in turn could feed excess energy back into the grid to power homes.
“There’s enough energy stored in a car battery to power a home for several days,” he said. “A vehicle to grid bidirectional power flow is sure to be part of the future.”
Amy Bolten, public information officer for the Sonoma Water Agency, said all nine cities in the county are interested in electric-vehicle charging stations. “We’d like to see a network that extends up from Marin and through the counties to the north of us. We want to be ready before a flood of electric vehicles hits the road,” she said.
Sonoma County already has a purchase agreement with Nissan. It’ll be a test market for the first Nissan electric car to come to the American market. Sonoma’s initial charging stations will service Nissans. But Ms. Bolten expects that to change as more automakers turn out all-electric vehicles.
The Sonoma County Water Agency is a fan of solar power. It currently powers all of its pumping and treating operations with two megawatts from three solar installations. “We’re already 70 percent carbon-free,” said Ms. Bolten. In Marin, 63 percent of carbon emissions come from gas-powered automobiles, a similar amount in Sonoma.
The widespread deployment of clean-power-fueled electric vehicles and charging stations in both counties would substantially reduce the region’s creation of greenhouse gases and allow it to reach the state’s goal of 80 percent reduction of emissions below 1990 levels by 2050 years ahead of time, said Mr. Schorske.