Green Vehicles

With transportation producing almost 30% of all US global warming emissions, low emitting and fuel-efficient vehicles, aka "green vehicles", have become more and more important to the American economy and to mitigating global climate change.
Credit: NRMA Motoring and Services via Flickr

With transportation producing almost 30% of all US global warming emissions, and the national regular gasoline price averaging $3.549 as of March 24, 2014, low emitting and fuel-efficient vehicles, aka "green vehicles", have become more and more important to the American economy and to mitigating global climate change.

Low emitting vehicles are those that produce little emission of atmospheric pollutants while fuel-efficient vehicles are those that produce power at a rate considered optimal with regard to the amount of fuel consumed.

Since cars and light trucks contribute 60% of the US transportation emissions, and 1 gallon of gasoline is about 24 pounds of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification program has incorporated low emitting and fuel efficient vehicles into its best-in-class building strategies and practices by providing preferred or reduced cost parking for these vehicles. The relevant credit is called Sustainable Sites: Alternative Transportation – Low Emitting and Fuel Efficient Vehicles.

But which vehicles count as low emitting and fuel-efficient? For the purposes of this credit, low-emitting vehicles are defined as vehicles that are classified as Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEV) by the California Air Resources Board. Fuel-efficient vehicles are defined as vehicles that have achieved a minimum green score of 40 on the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) annual vehicle rating guide.

As the name suggests, Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEV) are vehicles, which produce no emissions from the on-board source of power. ZEVs include ultra-low emitting Plug-in Electric Hybrid Vehicles along with non-polluting fully electric cars and fuel cell vehicles.

The fuel-efficient vehicles from ACEEE’s Green Book® are determined based on the environmental rating methodology that uses principles of life cycle assessment and environmental economics. The approach combines the impacts of regulated criteria pollutants with those of greenhouse gas emissions, covering the vehicle life cycle, upstream emissions, and manufacturing and disposal impacts. Some of ACEEE’s greenest vehicles include hybrids, lithium-ion battery electric vehicles, and even Smart cars.

These forms of valuation for low emitting and fuel-efficient vehicles are useful means to inform consumers looking to purchase atmosphere-friendly vehicles and provide standards for the specific LEED requirements, however, there are other methods of determining low emitting and fuel-efficient vehicles. Consumer Reports ranks fuel-efficient cars based on their overall miles per gallon; the US Department of Energy combines gasoline fueled vehicles and electric vehicles when ranking cars in each size class; and FindTheBest electric vehicle ranking uses expert reviews, safety features, and depreciation to determine their best and worst cars.

Although electric vehicles are categorized as low emitting and fuel-efficient vehicles by the California Air Resource Board and ACEEE, and they can contribute to LEED Sustainable Sites Credit Alternative Transportation – Low Emitting and Fuel Efficient Vehicles, they present their own unique set of challenges. Since plug-in electric vehicles are powered by an external source of electricity, they must use charging stations to recharge their battery packs. Depending on the type of charging station, a plug-in electric vehicle may take anywhere from 20 minutes to 8 hours to recharge.

An electric vehicle charging station can be as simple as a household socket and extension cord, or as advanced as a direct current public charging station powered by renewable energy. Some charging stations use grid electricity, while others generate their electricity from on-site solar PV panels or other forms of renewable energy - lessening the environmental impact of electric vehicles even further.

The Future of the EV Market

Pike Research released a report on December 8, 2011, which predicted that hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles will grow 20% annually between 2012 and 2017. They will account for 5.1% of auto sales in the U.S. and 3.1% of global auto sales by 2017.

The report found that the largest hurdles for electric vehicle adoption is the limited number of charging stations in the U.S. This makes EV drivers nervous, because they may run out of charge during their trip. However, in a separate study, Pike Research found that the number of EV charging networks will grow to 1.5 million in America and 7.7 million in the world by 2017, which would help the issue and promote the growth of the industry.

Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

Plug-in electric vehicles are any motor vehicle that is powered by an external source of electricity. These vehicles must use charging stations to recharge their battery packs. Depending on the type of charging station, a plug-in electric vehicle may take anywhere from 20 minutes to 8 hours to recharge.

An electric vehicle charging station can be as simple as a household socket and extension cord, or as advanced as a direct current public charging station powered by renewable energy. Some charging stations use grid electricity, while others generate their electricity from on-site solar PV panels or other forms of renewable energy - lessening the environmental impact of electric vehicles even further.

These three companies have already seized the potential for growth in the EV market by offering EV charging stations and networks:

1. Chargepoint Network: Public Charging Stations

Coulomb Technologies’ Chargepoint Network is the world’s largest network of public charging stations, which operate in 14 countries. Open to everyone, the charging station managers can charge for powering electric vehicles, though some are free.

The networks’ stations vary in capacity, and offer 120 to 240-Volt AC and up to 500-Volt AC charging. Users can find the stations via mobile apps, which are available for Blackberries, iPhones and Androids. The apps contain directions to the nearest station and show the user the charging availability.

Coulomb’s founder and CTO, Richard Lowenthal, said, “We are seeing more than 20 thousand vehicle charging sessions a month on the ChargePoint Network and, on average, drivers remain plugged in for an average of eight hours a session”.

2. Solar Charger

The Solar Tree Array is an electric vehicle charger that is powered by the sun. It uses photovoltaic panels, which are tilted at 15 degrees to maximize power production, can charge six vehicles fully per day. Its integrated wire management system allows the system to charge a variety of EVs. The panels also shade six parking spots, which help to reduce heat island effect.

The Solar Tree Array is produced by Envision Solar, founded in 2006 and based in San Diego. The company’s offerings including high-quality solar shade structures. General Motors, Dell, NREL and other well-known companies and agencies have purchased and installed the Solar Tree Array.

3. Juice Bar

The Juice Bar is an electric vehicle charging station manufactured by Green Garage Associates, based in Connecticut, and designed by BMW Group DesignWorks USA. The product, which retails for about $1000-1500, is available as a two-plug unit for charging 2 cars, or four-plug units for charging 4 EVs. They can be ordered in three levels of voltage, which means three different charging times.

Sustainable Industries chose Juice Bar as one of the Top 10 Green Building Products of 2011.

How to Install a Charging Station

If you plan to install a public or private electric vehicle charging station, it’s important to know which type of electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) you will want or need. The different types vary based on whether they supply AC power (which must be converted to DC to charge the vehicle) or DC power, time to charge the vehicle, and cost.

The following are the types of EVSE, along with how long it will take to charge a plug-in EV:

• Level 1 (AC): 2-5 miles of range per hour
• Level 2 (AC): 10-20 miles of range per hour (about $1,000-7,000 for equipment)
• DC Fast Charging: 60-80 miles of range per 20 minutes (about $20,000-50,000 for equipment)

Of course, the total cost of the EV charging station will include electricity costs, minus any incentives. Plus, you can choose to charge customers for the charging, which will offset the costs.

Level 1 chargers are typically used for residential charging, while Level 2 can be used for charging private fleets. DC chargers are the best for public or heavy traffic stations.

Typically, the provider of your EVSE will have a list of recommended installers for your area. However, you can also find qualified installers from the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure
Training Program (EVITP.org).

Electric Vehicle Chargers and LEED

According to the LEED for New Construction 2009 rating system, electric vehicle chargers could contribute to the following credit:

• Sustainable Sites (SS) Credit 4.3, Alternative Transportation - Low Emitting and Fuel Efficient Vehicles: One option for this credit is to provide alternative fuel fueling stations for 3% of the total full-time equivalent occupants. EV chargers may be considered an alternative fuel fueling station since it provides electricity for electric vehicles. For information on the changes in LEED v4 for the Low Emitting and Fuel Efficient Vehicles market, see this post.