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Five questions with Brian Wynne, Electric Drive Transportation Association president and electric-car sage

The Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA) has grown from a cadre of garage tinkerers in 1969 to an organization counting thousands of members, with international partnerships including several Fortune 500 companies. The Washington, D.C., based organization works to expand the market for electric cars. Today, EDTA is plugged into a vital and growing automotive and infrastructure sector, the world of electrified cars.

Brian Wynne has been president of EDTA since 2004, and he has focused on lobbying to shape public policy to promote and enable electric cars. He generously sat down with us for almost an hour at the 26th annual Electric Vehicle Symposium (EVS26) in Los Angeles earlier this month to give us the state of the electric-car movement.

Q: Can you share your vision for electric cars, and why you think they deserve public financial support in this era of burdensome and growing public debt?
That couldn’t be simpler to articulate, but it’s a very intractable problem. That is, we are dependent upon a global, non-fungible commodity to move people and goods… And we cannot control the price of that commodity in this country, and we never will. That debate’s already over. We’ve already agreed that we need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and specifically upon petroleum. The only question is how we’re doing it.

I’m not saying [electricity is] the solution. It’s a solution. Because at the end of the day, to solve this problem on an accelerated basis, we have to embrace many solutions.

What I like best about electricity is that it’s not a resource. It’s a form of energy that is produced from a diversity of domestic feedstocks. And the grid in this country, which was built for the hottest day of the year, is underutilized. Pacific Northwest National Labs estimates that we could fuel north of 70 percent of our existing light-duty population with off-peak kilowatt hours. And the foundational infrastructure is ubiquitous; it’s already there.

Q: What about that hottest day of the year? If you have all these electric vehicles taking advantage of public chargers during the day, won’t that lead to electricity shortages during those days?
You and I pay for an electricity bill based on the capital [investment of utilities] amortized over a long period of time. In order to get a cleaner grid, to pay for the brand-new combined-cycle natural gas plants that we need to put in to retire our coal plants, [those utilities] need load growth. Or you’re going to pay higher rates. Transportation represents that load growth.

It’s better for this country not only to use electricity, because our energy dollars stay here, and it’s cheaper, so people can use their dollars for things other than moving around over time, [but] it’s also better for the grid.

Q: Electric car advocates frequently note that most Americans drive less than 40 miles a day, and that a primary benefit of electric cars is utilizing off-peak electricity generation. So do we really need all these fast charging and public charging solutions we’re seeing at EVS?
What we’re trying not to do is get suckered into layering this technology over the existing transportation system, because most people have a car that’ll go 350 miles, but only drive 35 miles a day.

We have maybe the last 50-feet kind of issue with where the chargers go and how we make it accessible to the cars. Our needs are going to shift as more and more [electric] vehicles get out there on the street.

The idea of public infrastructure, and public investment law is, let’s keep track. Let’s understand what’s going on, and then let’s have future policy be guided by what kind of data we’re collecting. I think that’s a good investment. And I don’t think that any of those charging stations ultimately will go unused.

What [this] suggests to me is there’s no lack of optimism that these vehicles are going to get traction in the marketplace. And they’re going to need to be charged.


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