Thursday, March 9, 2017 | 2 a.m.
How to propel transportation’s electric future was the main topic at the Electric Vehicle Summit in Las Vegas on Wednesday.
The summit at the Regional Transportation Commission's Mobility Center included a panel discussion of industry leaders speaking on electric vehicle policies and funding for energy-efficiency programs.
Although still relatively small compared to other states, the electric vehicle industry in Nevada is ripe for growth, according to Marie Steele, manager of electric vehicles and renewable energy for NV Energy.
“Las Vegas has been marked by Chargepoint as the No. 1 market for EV growth,” Steele said. “Also, Nevada is the No. 2 state for EV growth.” Chargepoint is an electric vehicle-infrastructure company with charging stations throughout the world.
There are 2,896 electric cars on Nevada roads today, double the amount in 2015, Steele said.
“Of those, 1,548 of them are all-battery. Those are your Teslas and Nissan Leafs,” Steele said. "(The others) are plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Those are the ones that can go on electric and also an internal combustion engine.“
Steele said that despite the growth, Nevada sits low compared to other states, noting California's estimated 225,000 electric vehicles and Washington’s 20,000.
“Yes, we have less people, but we have the capacity to grow,” she said. “We judge electric vehicles as market share. In Nevada, we have about 0.7 percent of all new registrations.”
In contrast, the largest market share for electric vehicles is in California, where Steele said 3 percent of all new registered vehicles are electric.
Transportation is now the largest contributor of carbon emission in the U.S. for the first time in 40 years, according to Steele. She mentioned the bevy of electric vehicles that were displayed outside of the RTC Mobility Center. Some were fleet models, which could help reduce those emissions in Nevada.
“We have three transit buses — a school bus, a bucket truck and troubleman truck — all out there emitting no emissions,” she said. “There’s also exactly zero noise. Where that has been helpful is noise pollution in neighborhoods.”
The school bus plays a song to ensure children and passers-by are aware the bus is drawing near. Electric semitrucks are also in the works and should be on roadways within the next few years.
Pat Egan, NV Energy senior vice president, renewable energy and smart infrastructure, was especially fond of one of the electric vehicles on the display, saying it stood for everything the Silver State is about.
“There’s the autonomous vehicle out there that reads, ‘first autonomous vehicle to be in traffic,'” Egan said. “How Nevada is that?”
NV Energy said it has about 80 vehicles in its fleet that are electric or a hybrid model and plans to bolster that total to 100 by the end of the year.
A pair of Tesla vehicles were also on display among the group. Tesla’s Gigafactory in Northern Nevada is a key driver of the electric vehicle industry not only in Nevada, but worldwide.
Daniel Witt, Tesla’s manager of business development and policy, said its facility and production are forging ahead.
“We are a Nevada company,” Witt said. ““We are moving extremely quickly at our Gigafactory. We’re at almost 2 million square feet. We have 1,000 employees at the site and several thousand construction workers who are there day and night, building as quickly as they can.”
With the forthcoming Model 3, Witt expects production at the Tesla facility to ramp up.
“We’re moving very quickly from producing almost 80,000 vehicles last year, and we’re preparing to scale to close to 500,000 vehicles in a short period of time.”
The progress of the manufacturing facility is the key piece to the increase in production for Tesla, Witt said. The company received almost 400,000 preorders of the Model 3 when it went on sale last summer.
Tesla is ready to do whatever it takes to ensure the electric vehicle industry has every opportunity to thrive in Nevada, Witt said.
“We are willing to work at the local level, the state level, through the utilities and the Public Utilities Commission to make Nevada an environment that engenders the success of this technology," Witt said. “At the end of the day, whether it’s Tesla, Faraday or any of the other companies that are involved in this space, employing local people in Nevada matters. When you’re supporting local industry it has a direct impact on the local economy.”
Nevada's electric highway
To make owning an electric vehicle more attractive, NV Energy, Valley Electric Association and the Governor's Office of Energy began the Nevada Electric Highway project in 2015.
The project, aimed at helping electric vehicle owners traveling between Las Vegas and Reno, is placing charging stations strategically along U.S. 95.
“We targeted communities where the host sites should be located based on the distance apart to accommodate hybrid and electric vehicles on the road today,” said Angela Dykema, director of the Nevada Governor's Office of Energy.
Phase 1 is scheduled to completed this summer, with the first two charging stations already open, one in Beatty in Nye County and one in Fallon in Churchill County. Two other stations are being constructed in Tonopah and Hawthorne.
Phase 2, part of a five-year plan, calls for 24 charging stations along various highways, including Interstate 15, Interstate 80 and U.S. 93.
“The goal is by 2020 to complete an electric highway system serving the entire state,” Dykema said.
Each charging station will offer free charges for five years. After that, an undetermined fee will be charged.
In addition to the program’s charging stations on the highway, hundreds of other privately owned and operated stations are located throughout the state.