RENO, Nev. — According to the Nevada Governor’s Office of Energy (GOE), nearly 90 percent of the energy consumed in the state comes from imported fossil fuels.
Accounting for nearly one-third of this energy consumption is transportation.
The GOE and partnering agencies are charged — in more ways than one — to change this fact by navigating Nevada into an electric transportation transition.
This was one of the focal points of the Feb. 22 Northern Nevada Electric Transportation Forum at the University of Nevada, Reno Innevation Center.
“We recognize that the EV (electric vehicle) is an emerging technology — it’s the wave of the future,” Angela Dykema, director of the GOE, said in an interview with the NNBW. “It’s going to be beneficial for our energy and the economy.”
The central piece of the state’s EV blueprint is the Nevada Electric Highway (NEH) initiative. The goal, Dykema said, is to promote EV charging infrastructure across the entire state to “reduce range anxiety” and allow for “more EVs on the road.”
Started in 2016 as a partnership between the GOE, NV Energy and the Valley Electric Association, the nearly complete first phase of the NEH initiative is connecting Reno and Las Vegas, the state’s urban hubs, with charging stations along U.S. 95.
Currently, three operational charging stations are located in Fallon, Hawthorne and Beatty. The final two stations on U.S. 95 — planted in Tonopah and Indian Springs — will be up and running by the end of 2018, Dykema said.
The second phase of the NEH includes plans for EV charging infrastructure along I-15, I-80 and U.S. highways 93 and 50. Phase 2 was officially sparked last year with a charging station in Panaca along Highway 93.
Two years from now, by 2020, Nevada’s Strategic Planning Framework has the goal of an “electric highway” system serving the entire Silver State. Specifically, the GOE and utilities are striving to have Direct Current Fast Chargers dotted every 50 miles — the standard of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.
Dykema said commercial host sites are not always available, though, and Nevada’s remote geography presents a challenge.
“We’ve had to rope in our department of transportation (NDOT) to install some in some areas where there are only rest areas available,” she added.
Dykema said the state would be using incentives available through Senate Bill 145 for the project. Created in the 2017 Legislative Session, SB145 would establish incentives for the development of EV charging infrastructure as well as an incentive program for energy storage within the state’s solar program.
In addition, Dykema said, the state would also be using money from the “VF Fund” — the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust. Essentially, VF is to invest $2.925 billion into U.S. projects intended to offset emissions of nitrous oxides caused by vehicles.
According to the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP), Nevada expects to receive $24.8 million of that between 2017 and 2027. Notably, NDEP was chosen as the lead agency on behalf of the state and is responsible for applying to become a beneficiary of the VF fund. The NDEP must then develop a plan for how the funds will be distributed to eligible projects.
“(The NEH) is definitely a priority for the GOE and Governor Sandoval, and we’re really hoping to see this technology advance,” Dykema said. “And we’re happy to have Tesla in our state. This is kind of an effort to expand beyond just what Tesla offers to their vehicles — because they’re a proprietary to the supercharge stations. This is a way to promote wider adoption of electric vehicles.”
The Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County is on the same EV route.
“We see electric vehicles as being the future, replacing conventional gasoline and diesel vehicles,” David Jickling, director of public transportation and operations at RTC Washoe, told the NNBW. “And that’s a future we have started down in 2012.”
Back in 2012, RTC received a $4.5 million in federal grant money to procure its first four electric buses, a fast-charge station and a shop charger.
Six years later, the RTC will soon be expanding its electric bus fleet fivefold.
“We have 17 more electric buses that we ordered and will be taking delivery of this summer,” Jickling said. “When we get the 17 buses, with the four we already have, a third of our fleet will be electric. Our goal is to continue down that path, so within 10 years we’ll be 100 percent electric.”
In addition, RTC is a partner of UNR’s Intelligent Mobility project that looks at how autonomous vehicles will provide for safe transportation in the community, Jickling said.
Driver-operated buses, equipped with cameras and on-board LIDAR, will sense and gather a range of data, mapping everything that happens during the route.
“So all the vehicles, the lights, the pedestrians, dogs that might dart out into the road, seeing how people approach intersections, approach our bus stops … all that is being recorded,” Jickling said. “With the goal of eventually taking that and having that assist the driver. So the bus is helping anticipate what the driver can’t see ahead because the vehicle already knows what’s ahead.”