Tue09022014

Community

Los Altos, Bay Area drive electric car trend


Photo By: ELLIE VAN HOUTTE/TOWN CRIER
Photo Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier Los Altos Hills resident Joe Siudzinski, above right, answers questions for a bystander about his Corbin Sparrow electric vehicle on Main Street in downtown Los Altos.

This is Part 1 in a two-part series examining the local impact of electric vehicles.  

Like a swarm of bees, curious bystanders hover on the sidewalk, pointing fingers at what looks like the Jetson family’s car of choice. Bright orange with blue stripes and white spots, the sporty electric-powered Corbin Sparrow owned by Los Altos Hills resident Joe Siudzinski receives plenty of attention wherever it goes.

After discovering the potential of living off the grid while traveling by sailboat around the world, Siudzinski installed solar panels on his home and purchased his first electric scooter in the early 1990s. Today, Siudzinski and his wife own six all-electric and hybrid-electric vehicles and haven’t paid for electricity in six years.

“By the time I’d finished sailing, I’d sort of turned to the green camp,” Siudzinski said. “The world’s climate is changing dramatically, and we’ve got to do something not only at the world, national and local level, but also on a personal level.”

On any given day you’ll find electric vehicle owners like Siudzinski circling their Teslas, Nissan Leafs and Chevy Volts around the streets of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, although J.D. Power reports that fewer than one-half of all cars leaving sales lots nationally are electric.

“More than 1 percent of residents have an electric vehicle,” said Los Altos Hills Councilmember Rich Larsen, quoting from a field test recently conducted in Los Altos Hills. “We’re in the second inning and already at second base.”

From trend to mainstream

Data from the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project indicate that 5,100 plug-in electric vehicles are already on Bay Area roads. The Electric Power Research Institute projects the number of electric vehicles in the Bay Area to skyrocket from approximately 19,000 by 2015 to 160,000 by 2025.

New zero- and low-emission requirements in the state of California are expected to increase significantly the number of electric vehicles on the market by 2017, reducing retail prices by nearly 30 percent, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD).

The increase in electric vehicles intensifies the need for remote charging stations – partial battery recharging is needed when away from an owner’s primary charging location. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates for the distance electric vehicles can travel on a single charge range from 35 miles (2011-2012 Chevy Volt) to 245 miles (2011-2012 Tesla Roadster). Whether used to enable a longer commute or for peace of mind, the capability of charging while at work or running errands extends an electric vehicle’s range of drivable miles.

Local municipalities, with guidance from regional groups like BAAQMD, eventually will respond to increased demand.

The town of Los Altos Hills has installed dual-head chargers – systems that allow two vehicles to be plugged in simultaneously – at every public property in the community. Los Altos is scheduled to invest in three dual chargers by the end of March if the city council approves a pending proposal.

Even with public charging stations, generous state and federal rebates and more models on the market, bringing consumers up to speed will take time. Only 20 percent of Americans have ridden in an all-electric vehicle, according to the EV Project, and misperceptions linger, such as range, performance and cost.

Once an electric vehicle is purchased, however, loyalty proves fierce. J.D. Power reports that 82.5 percent of owners “definitely” or “probably will” purchase another electric model.

“We have to be optimistic because we’re depending on these cars to help us meet greenhouse emissions standards,” said Damian Breen, director of Strategic Incentives at BAAQMD. “Full electrification of vehicles is key to health benefits we need in California and across the country. We see it as an imperative that we move down this path.”

Part 2 in the series explores the potential economic benefits of a more electric-vehicle-friendly Los Altos and how various stakeholders are influencing the movement.  Click here to read Part II in the series.

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