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New Initiative Aims To Put More Electric Vehicles On Local Roads


As recent gas prices have reached as high as $4 in San Diego, alternative energy sources for vehicles becomes a pressing issue. A collaborative program called Smart City San Diego is tackling some of these concerns. This morning we speak with Byron Washom, director of strategic energy initiatives and Lisa Bicker, President and CEO of CleanTECH San Diego, to discuss how Smart City San Diego is involved with the future of electric cars in San Diego.

As recent gas prices have reached as high as $4 in San Diego, alternative energy sources for vehicles becomes a pressing issue. A collaborative program called Smart City San Diego is tackling some of these concerns. This morning we speak with Byron Washom, director of strategic energy initiatives and Lisa Bicker, President and CEO of CleanTECH San Diego, to discuss how Smart City San Diego is involved with the future of electric cars in San Diego.


Byron Washom, director of strategic energy initiatives at UCSD

Lisa Bicker, president and CEO CleanTech San Diego

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: University researchers and green business interests has been announced in San Diego. They want to see how electric cars fit into people's lifestyles, and into the region's electric grid, the class action is called smart city San Diego. And here to tell us about it are my guests, Byron Wahsom is director of strategic energy initiatives at UC San Diego. Byron, good morning.

WASHOM: Good morning, and how are you?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you. I'm very well, thank you. And Lisa bicker is president and CEO of clean tech San Diego. Lisa, good morning, thanks for coming in.

BICKER: Good morning, Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me start with you, Byron, I know that during the launch of this effort last month it was announced that a number of electric cars are being bought by GE, distributed to professors and students at UCSD, what's the point of that?

WASHOM: Well, we are looking for a consumer behavior study that will give us a profile of how individuals actually bring an EV into their lives, how it changes their driving patterns, and what are the essential infrastructures or charging needs that these people desire in order to continue to use electric vehicles as well as recommend them to their neighbors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, EV, of course, electric vehicle. A lot of people, you know, just were crazy to get their hands on these vehicles when they came off, you know, become available in San Diego. But they are what are described as early adopters. So what can the people getting the cars in this program, what can they tell you that the early adopters can't?

WASHOM: Well, we are intentionally not looking for the early adopters. Of we're looking for the mainstream consumer market, the soccer moms to retirees to blue collar laborers. And so it will be a wide variety. And so they'll actually be screened into a pool of potential participants, and then their names will be drawn by lottery out of the hat. So we're really looking for mainstream America rather than the early adopters who may be a little more biassed in favor of the machine, or the cars rather than more critical consumers.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Lisa bicker, what are the goals of smart city San Diego?

BICKER: Well, that's a -- it's really a broad multiyear collaboration. And the idea is that a group of stake holders who care very much about the region and are already working on issues around sustainability came together to insure that San Diego becomes the foremost resource conscious community and sets a measurable standard as to how to accomplish sustainability goals.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Sustainability goals must particularly for electric cars.

BICKER: Well, really the initiative is broader than that. We are starting with electric vehicles because that's really here and now. The region is preparing for the largest deployment of electric vehicles that we've seen. So we want to make sure that we're not just prepared but that San Diegans are out in front.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to invite our listeners to join this conversation. I wonder what would be your concerns before buying an electric vehicle? Give us a call and tell us what you think at 1-888-895-5727. Byron, what role does UCSD play in developing in sort of community wide investigation into how electric vehicles can be integrated?

WASHOM: Well, not only will be we a part of this large consumer study, we will also be developing with our various solar and fuel cell programs on campus of viewing renewable energy to be the source of electric that will charge these electric vehicles. So in essence, for the first time, we will be achieving zero tailpipe emissions. If you have a 0 carbon footprint from our solar systems charging zero emissions automobile you will achieve much of the goals that this state and this country is looking for.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Lisa, I wonder, what is it about the environment here in San Diego that makes it a really good place to do this effort, to do this study of electric vehicles?

BICKER: Several things. 50, as you just heard, and as demonstrated by Byron, the San Diego region is really blessed with a number of research and universities who are focused in leading research on these important issues. Second, we have a utility here in the greater San Diego region that is ahead of the game. They've installed more smart meters than other utilities, they have been ranked two years in a row the smartest utility in the country. Third, we have political leadership. We have leaders who care about how electric vehicle integration is gonna impact consumers, and not just impact them, but benefit them. And fourth, and probably most important, San Diegans get it. This is a community of adopters. We have the highest rate of solar roof top penetration of any other community in the State of California. Of the 20000 Nissan leafs available in the country, over 2000 of them, we understand, were registered for -- here in the San Diego region. So we have high-tech roots, we have an abundant set of natural resources, and we care about them deeply, so I feel cautiously optimistic that we will benefit from this wonderful opportunity in front of us.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Lisa bicker, she's president and CEO of clean tech San Diego, and Byron Wahsom is director of strategic energy initiatives at UC San Diego. We're talking about a new collaborative effort called Smart City San Diego, to do among other things, integrate electric vehicles into the lifestyles of San Diegans. You know, I think most people thinking about buying electric vehicles are probably most concerned about where they can power their cars, how they can power their cars of so Lisa, what are the options that they have now?

BICKER: Well, these are some of the issues that we're dealing with now. San Diego as part of its leading work in this area was recently selected to participate in a large nationwide DOE grant where San Diego and a few other cities around the country are looking at where best to place charging stations. We want to make sure we're conscious of how consumers plan to use and charge their vehicles, will those charges occur during the day, that may create impacts on our electricity grid, can they occur at night, can we use those charging opportunities to benefit our electricity grid in other ways? So we're looking at some of the opportunities and challenges around creating what we'll call an electricity infrastructure to insure that we can power these cars in a way that meets our needs.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: There are a number of people who want to join the conversation. Let's talk to Greg in Escondido. Good morning, Greg, and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning. So I'm actually calling from my Volt at the moment, and I'm looking down at my odometer, I can see that in the past 1100 miles I've used 8.2 gallons of gasoline, which has resulted in about a hundred and 33-gallon miles per gallon average.


NEW SPEAKER: I thought I would share that. It's greater because I can actually make the commute between Solana Beach and my work where we're actually gonna also be installing a couple of chargers, and that leads to my question. So we're installing a couple of chargers at the stone brewing world bistro and garden. But as I travel around town, and my juice starts to get low, and to avoid having the gas start to kick in, how many chargers do we see in, say, the next 12 months being installed around the county that -- and what kinds of locations do you see them being installed so that I can, you know, get that extra pick me up for my car from time to time?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Sure. Let's find out. Lisa would that be you?

BICKER: Well, are we're looking at a number of strategies in that regard. We want to place fast charging stations in convenient, commercial sites like shopping centers, so that you can get a fast charge, perhaps while you're in the grocery store or taking care of other errands. We also want to allow for home charging, and over night charging that is a little bit more friendly to our electricity grid, and frankly, cheaper for all of us who are charging. We also want to engage our fleets and work with large employers and school districts to make sure that there are charging stations at places of employment. So we want to address this on multiple fronts and really make it convenient. But that's frankly why the work at the university, Byron's work, to understand consumer behavior is so critical so that we get these choices right.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I understand. Let's take another call. Jason is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Jason, and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning.


NEW SPEAKER: Hi. You know, I think you guys pretty much answered my question, just -- my concern was just what the last caller had, was there was not enough -- people are buying these cars and there's not enough places for them to actually charge. So they get stuck in, like, remote places sometimes. So I think you guys just addressed that question from the last answer that you guys were talking about.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for the call anyway, Jason, let me go to you, bion, when you're talking about using solar power as the future of charging the electric car battery, tell us more about what you mean by that, because I think that there is the idea of taking it completely off the politic grid in that sway, and therefore did you say making the carbon foot fingerprint 0?

WASHOM: That's correct. If you imagine how many shopping center parking lots or your plates of work that has a single level of parking spaces, if you can imagine solar car ports above each of those, and so the utility, logically itself, is looking to have the charging done off peek at night, rather than during the day. And in order to facilitate that, you could charge them with solar when the sun is shining, and there would be some grid assistance as well. But yes, the end game that we call this project is to have 0 tailpipe emissions and to wean ourselves so not only the grid, but also to wean ourselves on dependency of foreign oil, and this weekend is a superior example that the threats that colonel Gadaffi made in Libya yesterday of blowing up the oil pipelines.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Byron, one of the things I also read about this collaboration of Smart City San Diego is that UCSD is also gonna start researching how electric car batteries themselves might be able to stabilize our electric grid. Tell us about that.

WASHOM: That's correct. All these automobiles with the batteries installed in them actually operate as a source of very short term, 5 to 10 minutes, as a source of power to help feed into the grid, feed back into the grid, electricity in the times when it's needed the most. And this is of a tremendous value to the utility, and the utility would actually be compensating automobile owners for having access to having these short spurts of support from their -- the batteries in their car.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's amazing.

WASHOM: While they're parked and plugged in.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's take another call, Mary is calling us from Carlsbad. Good morning, Mary, and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Yes, I'm that soccer mom that's furious, and the reason why I'm furious is 15 years ago, my husband and I had two huge gas guzzling vehicles, then we had two children, and we scaled way down for financial reasons issue originally. Of but now it's become not financial but also environmental awareness. And my concern is more my bank account, than anything. What's gonna be the up front cost for me to buy an electric vehicle, to buy a charger for my house, to, you know, pay for the electric to charge it? And in doing so, I mean, only, it's a no-brainer, that's a wonderful thing, it's gonna put money back in our family budget, but also it's gonna make us more responsible, which has always been the drive for why we changed anything. We currently drive vehicles that get a minimum of 50 miles a gallon. I still hate going to the pimp and filling up. I don't ever want to be dependent upon a foreign influx of the oil. I mean, obviously that's the goal is to get out of that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. Mary, let me find out about the upfront costs. So of course, you have to buy the car. We understand that. But how much does it cost to have that whole charging apparatus installed in, let's say, your garage?

BICKER: Some of the -- many of the financial models in question are not completely solved yet. And that's one of the things we want to test and experiment I think that we want to create structures that real estate ward folks who are willing to charge their electric vehicles at night when it's less pressure on the grid, and who are less -- and then incent folks then to charge then rather than in the middle of the day when we're using a lot of electricity. We also are looking at lease models, lease based models for some of the infrastructure that needs to be put in place. And we don't anticipate that you would necessarily need to buy your own equipment. You want to make this accessible to all parties so that we can continue to be a mobile society. I would make want the point, however, Mary that, you know, as we learned, gas prices have now creeped right up to around $4 a gallon. And it's true that with an electric vehicle, we hope that you'll spend something between 25 percent or 30 percent versus -- of that charge. So it should be significantly cheaper for you to get where you're going. Second, I'm very encouraged that this is gonna be a tremendous win for the greater San Diego region as an innovation economy. Many of the technology challenges that we're looking at are not yet solved. And this is what San Diego's good at, and I'm really excited that we have a cluster of 800 companies who are poised and ready to answer some of these technology challenges that will create more jobs, and more economic benefit for the over all region. So we believe this is an economic win.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: In just the few minutes, Byron, and Lisa, that we've been talking about this, we've gotten a lot of phone calls. I wonder, can electric car consumers or people who would like to buy electric vehicles, how can they get involved? Is there any way that they can get involved, Lisa?

BICKER: We hope to have -- we need involvement. This will only work if we have the buy in and active participation of the entire citizenry. And that's why we're here talking about it. These five parties here have gotten together, but we need help. We need participation in consumer studies, we need to hear from you as to what works for you. There are forums to become involved in, GE, which is a participant, and I'm delighted that they've expressed an interest in this program, plans to hold a number of educational forums about electric vehicles, and what they may mean to our community. So there are a number of ways to be involved that we can identify for you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Byron, is there anything that someone listening to this can just sign up with UCSD and their research.

WASHOM: Well, we will -- we'll have on line our web page that will track our progress as we go into what we call our tailpipe ingain project. And in addition to that, I'd just like to add to Lisa's comments is that there's also the opportunity for your listeners to go down and make a $99 deposit on -- and put their name on the waiting list, and that becomes a symbol of how hungry or how anxious the consumer market is to participate.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And that would be a deposit on an electric car?

WASHOM: Right. In the future. Because right now, the backlog and very long.


WASHOM: But to show that there are more customers waiting after the first wave is very influential to the automobile manufacturers to increase production, lower prices, and improve technology.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, we will keep our eye on smart city San Diego, and let our listeners know how they can participate as this moves along. Thank you, Lisa bicker, thanks so much.

BICKER: Thank you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Byron Wahsom, thank you.

WASHOM: My pleasure.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And if you would lake to comment, please go on-line, Days. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. Stay with us for hour two.

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