A Utah Transit Authority electric bus charges at Salt Lake Central Station in Salt Lake City on Friday. UTA is expected to receive 22 more electric buses in Salt Lake County next year. (Carter Williams, KSL.com)
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SALT LAKE CITY — Jay Fox believes he was one of the first electric vehicle owners in New Jersey when he bought a Nissan Leaf in 2010.
However, the switch to electric was not a smooth transition. He received a tax credit but that was really the only support available to EV owners just over a decade ago.
It’s a whole different story today.
Fox, now executive director of the Utah Transit Authority, points out that “huge government programs” are facilitating future electrification, such as help to help transit agencies buy electric vehicles as infrastructure evolves. slowly to handle a growing number of electric vehicles. Yet this growth is bound to create more new challenges than it experienced in 2010.
“We need to build a charging network for (more electric buses),” he adds. “We don’t want to do this alone.”
Of course, UTA is not alone in this case. Dozens of cities and counties across the state are starting to look into electric vehicles, as are state agencies, local businesses and more. Power companies, state officials and engineers are also exploring ways to expand access to anyone who wants to go electric.
All of this inspired Fox and UTA to bring everyone together for an electric vehicle forum, which could be the first step in a massive electrification master plan to guide Utah transportation into a whole new era of travel. . Friday’s event brought together state transportation officials, energy and environmental experts, and government leaders, including keynote addresses from Utah Rep. Blake Moore, and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson.
With the electric expansion well underway, much of Friday’s message focused on how to coordinate its ramp-up.
The case of electric
Environmental groups have long pushed for electric vehicles as an alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles, a major source of Utah’s annual emissions, according to state regulators. Along the same lines, Daniel Mendoza, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Utah, explains that there is a air quality difference simply by replacing diesel buses with electric buses.
But there is “business sense” in switching buses from diesel to electric, says Hal Johnson, project development manager at UTA. He says the agency’s three electric buses are three to nearly four times more efficient than diesel buses when it comes to energy needed per mile. The three electric buses travel what would equate to 15 to 20 miles per gallon, compared to 4.5 to 5.5 miles per gallon for the diesel buses.
“When you start looking at combustion engines, you lose about 80% of your efficiency just because of the heat and the mechanics of the system,” he adds. “Electric propulsion is just more efficient.”
This is why UTA plans to expand its bus fleet. He expects 22 new electric buses in Salt Lake County next year, which will be equipped with air quality monitors for participate in a year-old network that better tracks air quality in the countyy. The agency also plans to add about 200 more buses to its fleet over the next two decades, eventually replacing older buses as they are retired.
This means that UTA is on track to convert around 40% of its fleet to electricity by 2040. The agency also has 11 electric buses with its upcoming Ogden Express project and 10 electric on-demand vans.
The FrontRunner commuter rail could also be electric by 2040. UTA’s long-term plans call for it to be electrified by around 2040, although those plans aren’t as strong partly because it will take new funding to make it happen, Johnson explained. He adds that the mechanics have helped improve all locomotive emissions since the service was rolled out in 2008 in the meantime.
These goals reflect many locations, including Utah’s largest city. Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, in a pre-recorded message played at the event, noted that the city currently maintains 71 electric vehicles in various branches of the city’s fleet. The city’s goal is to have plug-in options covering “the majority” of sedans in its fleet by the end of 2023 while reviewing electric options for other vehicles in the fleet in addition to making more accessible public electric vehicle options.
“We want to make it easier for those who live, work and play in the capital to contribute to reducing emissions by driving and easily charging electric vehicles,” she said, adding that the city had installed 20 stations. public charging stations throughout the city. which are free to use within the limits of the parking time. “But we need to do even more to make it more convenient for people to charge their cars.”
Regan Zane, principal of Utah State University ASPIRE Research Centeralso shared new technologies being developed to enable larger fleets, from UTA buses to tractor-trailers and even trains, to charge without the need for a plug-in cable.
The center’s goal is to invent ways to integrate charging into parking structures and roadways, reducing the size of batteries while helping them last longer. It could also help extend the network to more rural communities.
“(It) is becoming a hot topic,” he said. “That’s certainly on the minds of many.”
The energy to power it
Solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable energy sources are also seen as ways to enhance electrical benefits, especially as new technologies seek to harness the huge energy potential of various sources. As Mendenhall put it, clean energy and electric vehicles will “reduce global carbon emissions and improve air quality.”
Work to harness these energies is ongoing; however, there is no timeline for it to materialize. Gregory Todd, who recently began working as Governor Spencer Cox’s new energy advisor in the Utah Office of Energy Development, and Laura Hanson, the state’s planning coordinator, explained that Utah supports market demand for these new technologies in relation to government regulations.
The Cox administration issued a Utah Energy and Innovation Plan which seeks “affordability, reliability and sustainability” within the state’s energy system through a “series of commitments,” Hanson said. It could be renewable energy, but it could include fossil fuels to match the state’s goal of having a more power-independent grid.
Thanks to this collaboration, I am convinced that we can achieve this.
–Andrew Gruber, Executive Director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council
James Campbell, Rocky Mountain Power’s director of innovation and sustainability policy, said the company continues to seek to meet its goal of reducing its 2005 emissions by nearly 75% by 2030 and by nearly 100 % by 2050. “wind and solar construction in the near future, such as the future Elektron Solar projectan 80-megawatt solar farm northwest of Grantsville in Tooele County slated to open in 2023.
That said, he warned that more needs to be done to achieve the primary goal of any utility company, which is to “keep the lights on.”
“We’re going to have to find other technologies,” he said. “So right now nuclear is the only zero-emissions technology that can deliver base load combined with massive amounts of renewables with massive amounts of storage.”
Hydrogen is another possibility. A plan for the world’s largest industrial green hydrogen production and storage facility near Delta in Millard County recently received a conditional commitment of over $504 million in federal construction funding.
Working together for a future
About half a dozen individual plans or goals were discussed on Friday. All the ideas floating around about shifting to cleaner technology have fueled the need for a forum, which Fox hopes can turn into a massive blueprint for use by local, county and state agencies.
He wasn’t sure it would generate so much interest, but it attracted more than 100 government employees or industry experts. Most seemed to agree that collaboration is needed as the state begins to venture into the future.
“In my view, the key to this is collaboration, working together to achieve goals that are bigger than any of us if we work individually,” said Andrew Gruber, executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council. . “And, in Utah, we have a very strong track record of such collaboration. … With this collaboration, I’m confident we can do that.”