Powering transportation with electricity

Another ‘Climate Solution for the Vineyard.’


Updated 3/25

On Feb. 11, the fifth event in the “Climate Solutions for the Vineyard” series was held at the West Tisbury library. It focused on powering all transportation with electricity. Three presenters spoke to a large gathering in the library’s Community Room: Edgartown consultant Tom Soldini; Vineyard Power general manager Erik Peckar, and Edgartown energy committee’s chair Alan Strahler. The series is presented by the Island Climate Action Network. 

Massachusetts Gov. Baker has pledged to cut emissions to get to net zero by 2050, and each Vineyard town’s energy committee has set an aspirational goal of getting to net zero by 2040. The presentation focused on the various sectors of transportation and how likely the Vineyard is to reach its goal.

Tom Soldini began the presentation on a bright note by saying that 2020 is a turning point for converting fossil fuels to electricity for transportation. The biggest challenge has been in energy storage and charging, but most of the technologies and solutions are available now either in mass production or in early deployment. And as time goes on and usage increases, these technologies will become even more affordable. 

Forty percent of carbon dioxide released in Massachusetts comes from transportation, and on the VIneyard, half of that comes from cars and small pickup trucks, so that’s where converting to electric vehicles can have the most impact.

“Reaching our goals by 2040,” Soldini said, “may sound like a lot of time, but it’s not, because the average lifespan of a car is 11 years, so it could take 10 to 20 years just to turn the cars over.” 

Erik Peckar spoke next, and discussed how many electric vehicles are on the market today, and what we can expect from them in terms of range and battery storage. He said that there are 16 different all-battery electric cars and 24 plug-in hybrid models available. Electric vehicles run entirely on lithium ion batteries, and hybrids run on a combination of an internal combustion engine and battery. He also said that we’ll be seeing more and more electric vehicles in the second half of the decade. “We’re at a point where roughly 2 percent of new cars in Massachusetts are electric, but by 2030, between 30 and 50 percent of vehicles will be electric.

All car manufacturers are making statements about electrifying their fleets,” Peckar said, “VW plans to electrify their fleet by 2025 … Mercedes plans to electrify by 2022 … Hyundai says they will electrify their fleet in the next six to eight years — there are exciting things on the horizon.”

Peckar explained that years ago, the range for a vehicle with a charged battery would be around 100; many are now getting from 250 to 500 miles per charge. “Not only that,” Peckar said, “charging stations are increasing all around the state and the country — the commonwealth and towns are investing in them. There’s even talk about a federal infrastructure investment.” 

And over time, the vehicles will become less expensive. Peckar said that he owns a Kia Soul, and he put $3,000 down on the car but the state gave him a $2,500 cash-back incentive for buying or leasing the car, so he ended up only putting $500 down, and his lease is only $160 per month. “Financially, I couldn’t pass it up,” Pekar said. 

Alan Strahler spoke next on the other forms of transportation beyond cars and pickups that are being electrified, such as trucks, earthmoving equipment, tractors, ferries, buses, and planes. Overseas, especially in Europe, trucks — ranging from box trucks to semi trucks — are being electrified by companies like Daimler, Tesla, and Volvo. Earthmoving equipment and excavators are going electric; in fact, Strahler said, “My daughter was in Copenhagen and walked by a construction site, and couldn’t believe how quiet it was.”

A good application for electric vehicles is for garbage trucks, as they spend so much time idling, and electric engines don’t give off emissions. Mack is developing a truck for use next year by the New York Department of Sanitation. 

Washington State’s three largest ferries will go to hybrid electric with USDOT funding this year, and by 2040 they plan to have 22 plug-in hybrid ferries.

As for buses, there are presently more than 50 companies manufacturing electric buses, and they are a common sight in Europe. Here on the Vineyard, the VTA currently has 12 electric buses, and by 2027 plan to have their entire fleet electrified. 

Electric engines are even making inroads into air transportation. The added weight of batteries makes electrifying large jets problematic, but larger aircraft could see efficiencies with biofuel. Light aircraft are beginning to turn to electric power: Cape Air has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to purchase a nine-seat electric-powered craft from Eviation. It would have a 620-mile range, and since all Cape Air flights are under 250 miles, it could be a good fit.

Tom Soldini concluded the presentation by taking a look into the crystal ball. “There’s still work to be done,” Soldini said, “but we’re well on our way. As for buses and trucks, we’ve got a lot of momentum, and we should reach our 2030 goal.”

Soldini said that offroad construction vehicles such as excavators and tractors could prove to be more challenging. The big problem is that people drive this kind of equipment forever, so it will take time to turn over. 

The same applies to ferries, which could have a lifespan of 30 or 40 years. 

Soldini ended by issuing a call to action for Vineyarders. He suggested we go on a fossil-fuel diet. He urged people to think about the carbon cost of their everyday activities, and consider bundling errands, carpooling, or taking the VTA. Buy local, and consider using videoconferencing or teleconferencing for meetings. He also suggested installing a charging station in your rental house. It’s a big attraction for renters, and will encourage the use of electric cars.

Last, he said, each Vineyard town’s town meeting warrant will include an initiative challenging Islanders to go to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.
“Get onboard with it!” he said.