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Blogs have been abuzz on electric vehicles and advanced batteries recently, and likely in no small part due to some of the programs that are kicking into high gear at the Department of Energy right now. On July 22, we hosted a Plug-In Vehicle & Infrastructure Workshop that brought together nearly 200 attendees and 600 web participants to discuss near-term actions to accelerate deployment of electric-drive vehicles. The program demonstrated how federal leadership can speed up preparation for vehicles expected in showrooms at the end of this year. This leadership complements the Obama Administration’s nearly $5 billion in grants and loans to spur innovation, manufacturing, and deployment of electric-drive vehicles.  

Local governments, car makers, electric-vehicle infrastructure providers and utilities at the workshop discussed key lessons learned so far in three panels.  A panel of leading local governments discussed four key near-term actions:  developing partnerships to coordinate local actors, planning for charging infrastructure rollout, reducing the time to permit and install chargers, and providing financial and important non-financial incentives.  A panel of leading automakers and dealers discussed what makes local governments attractive markets for electric-drive vehicles.  The final panel of leading utilities discussed the key steps to assure reliability and prepare the grid for vehicles expected on the road this winter.

Pictures from the EV Cities Workshop.

We’ve envisioned the workshop to be a call to action and focused discussion on concrete next steps. At the end of the workshop, each attendee listed actions they will take upon returning to their communities. The discussion revealed a particular near-term opportunity to accelerate the time to permit and install chargers. A consensus of local governments, carmakers, and utilities identified this as a critical near-term action. Recipients also plan to pursue data-driven planning for private and public infrastructure roll-out, partnerships and regular meetings among key local actors, and outreach and education. We’ve also recognized a set of near-term actions utilities could take to mitigate potential reliability issues.  

At the end of the day, electric vehicle technology and policy must be in step with all other everyday consumer electronics. Consumers must be able to drive a car off the lot like any other, plug it in as easily as they plug in a big screen television, and they can't overwhelm the grid when they get home. That's how this technology will take off. And after identifying these concrete next steps, the Department is developing plans so the federal government can best support local leadership that pursues these high-impact activities.

Matt Rogers is the Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Recovery Act Implementation