In the largest event of its kind, Plug In America assembled 75 plug-in vehicles to rally and then drive in formation through the streets of Santa Monica on Saturday. The diverse assembly of electric vehicles of all shapes and sizes included RAV4's, sexy new Tesla's, a converted GeoMetro that a couple did in their garage, a powerful offroad Jeep that runs on 20 golf-cart batteries, electric motorcycles, a schoolbus, and even a 50 ton truck from the Port of Los Angeles that is used to haul cargo containers.
At the press conference staged beneath the solar panels in the Santa Monica Civic Center parking lot that have served as an EV charging station for over a decade, Santa Monica coucil member Kevin McKeown promised the crowd that "You'll always get a charge out of Santa Monica." The city is working on changing the zoning laws to install curbside chargers in residential neighborhoods, and working with at least one company to make electric vehicles right in Santa Monica.
Posters on the vehicles carried the slogan, "No Oil. No Emissions. No Kidding." And as the cars rolled by, completely silently, it was a striking difference to hear a car with an engine. A giant Hummer rolled quietly by carrying a banner reading, "Question Internal Combustion."
"This is a time of change," said Chris Paine, director of Who Killed the Electric Car? "Instead of crushing electric vehicles as they were just a few years ago in Burbank, EV's are now the centerpiece of the Detroit Auto Show this year. Instead of California having to sue the President to allow cleaner cars on the road, the new President is pledging to put 100 million electric and plug-in cars on the road. 40 years ago, men drove an electric vehicle on the moon. This year people will finally be able to drive them right here on earth."
Ed Kjaer, the director of the Electric Transportation division at SoCal Edison said the difference between now and the '90's when the division first started, is that "This has nothing to do with a mandate. This is all about market pressure. It's a perfect storm of energy security and climate change." SoCal Edison has logged over 17 million miles on their EV fleet, says Kerr. "The country is ready, the market is ready, the people are ready, and guess what – the technology is ready."
Jordan Howard, of the Green Ambassadors program at Environmental Charter High School is 16, and just getting ready to buy her first car. "Automakers please wake up," she said, "and help make the next generation petroleum free." Governments can help with incentives, she said, "and Mommy's and Daddy's can help by buying their kids Electric Vehicles - I love the Chevy Volt" she hinted.
"The bad news is the accelerating impacts of global warming. We have lifestyle changes ahead, we're facing 50% cutbacks in our water usage, there is saltwater coming into the Sacramento delta, sea levels are rising along our 1100 mile coastline, and the air quality impacts are clear and compelling."
The good news is that Lisa Jackson - at her confirmation hearing to head the EPA - said that California's waiver is coming. 16 states, representing over 50% of the US automarket have also agreed to adopt California's standard, which exceeds the current federal clean air standard.
This will accelerate the production of cars, spur the innovation of better battery technology, and guarantee a market for further investment and research in clean car technology. "Wouldn't it be wonderful to have California be the home of production for these new batteries?" asked Pavley. Given that 1 in 10 cars purchased in the United States is bought in California, the cleaner our cars, the cleaner the nation. And Pavley said she is confident that if given a choice, consumers will choose cleaner cars.
She explained that achieving California's climate change goals is dependent upon cleaner cars, because unlike most states, the majority of our emissions come from "mobile sources" ie tailpipes, as opposed to power plants. But if the waiver is granted, that will represent a major step toward achieving our climate change goals.
As EV enthusiasts from San Diego to Santa Barbara milled around checking out each other's cars, Zan and Paul Scott of Plug-In America called the event "a total success."
Plug-In America is asking Obama to accelerate his goal by 3 years, and put 1 million plug-ins on the road by 2012. And 10 million by 2016. "It's an ambitious goal," said Zan, but achieving it is simply a matter of "political and consumer will."
"Once people feel the thrill of zero-emission vehicles, the thrill of helping the environment, they'll demand these cars. Every automaker in the world is developing these vehicles," she said.
And while some have voiced concern about what impact plugging in millions of vehicles will have on our electric grid, Zan says, "We need these cars on the road. We're not waiting for a renewable grid. It's imperative that it happens, but it will take time."
In the meantime, more and more people will be purchasing electric vehicles, and converting hybrids and others into truly zero-emission vehicles. Running electric vehicles on the current grid is still much cleaner than driving on gasoline. Depending on the type of charger they're using, EV's can get a full charge in 2-4 hours, and some of the cars can be charged for a 40 mile trip on as little as 50 cents in electricity.
But Paul Scott of Plug-In America, is doing even better than that. "I charge these off the solar panels on my roof, and I'm driving on sunshine."