Electrifying Massachusetts’ transportation sector is one of the main ways that the state is banking on reaching its ambitious goal of having net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
To help reach the net-zero mark, Gov. Charlie Baker revived an electric vehicle (EV) rebate program with a $27 million budget at the start of the new year and has incentivized the expansion of EV infrastructure, such as workplace charging and fleet vehicle electrification. These programs, the state is planning, will directly help reach its goal of putting 300,000 EVs on the road by 2025.
The state’s new investment in EV infrastructure is welcomed not just by consumers of EVs, but by the local clean tech industry, which see these state climate goals as opportunities for their businesses to grow.
A Watertown, Mass., company called WiTricity designs technology to wirelessly charge EVs, allowing consumers to avoid the hassle of plugging their cars into a charger. David Schatz, the vice president of business development, said he thinks their product will create more demand for EVs.
“The charging process is one of the least admired aspects of electric vehicle ownership and operation, so for years and years carmakers have been looking for ways to get rid of the charging cable,” Schatz said.
WiTricity’s wireless charging tech will be used globally by car manufacturers early this decade, Schatz said. A BMW vehicle that uses WiTricity’s tech was introduced in 2018, and the company is in collaborations with General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota.
“By 2025, we expect nearly every global carmaker to be offering this technology,” Schatz said.
Boston-based XL, a company that retrofits gas-guzzling fleet vehicles into hybrids, could help reduce CO2 emissions from a standard gas-powered vehicle by 20 to 33 percent, Marketing Director Eric Foellmer said.
XL focuses on hybridizing fleet vehicles like trucks and vans, which are guilty of being big carbon emitters, Foellmer said. The company upfits vehicles aftermarket using XL’s hybrid electric drive system or plug-in hybrid electric drive system, and has 100 million customer miles tracked on the road.
“Commercial trucks take up a relatively small percentage of the number of vehicles on the road today, but they have a much higher impact to carbon dioxide output in the transportation industry,” Foellmer said. “We work to create significant sustainability impact by improving the miles per gallon and reducing the overall carbon footprint of some of those really high polluting vehicles on the roads.”
Demand for XL’s hybrid upfit began as a fuel cost savings tactic, but is now driven by sustainability goals, he said.
“Municipalities and large corporations are very commonly coming out with significant proclamations on sustainability targets and they’re going to add a certain percentage of electric vehicles to their fleet to move toward those sustainability targets,” Foellmer said. “Helping a city or a state government reduce their overall carbon footprint is a much greater factor now than it was 10 years ago when we started.”
More fleet and consumer EVs on the road will need to be supported by ancillary charging infrastructure. Eversource, New England’s largest energy provider, has formed an EV Charging Station Initiative that prompts the adoption of EVs, according to the initiative’s program lead, James Cater.
“There needs to be some encouragement among interested consumers in buying an EV for their next car purchase – they might need an extra incentive to get them along the way,” he said. “Similarly with towns that are interested in EV charging stations, the cost might be too high.”
Eversource’s initiative covers the cost of infrastructure – like conduits and wiring –that connect EV chargers to an electricity source. Eversource predicts 3,500 public and workplace EV chargers will be created thanks to a $45 million investment secured for the initiative, Cater said.
“[Massachusetts’] high goal of 300,000 EVs on the road by 2025 and all of that is going to need a significant amount of infrastructure,” Cater said. “So it makes sense for us to have a part in trying to build out that infrastructure.”
The revival of Massachusetts’ electric vehicle rebate program (MOR-EV), which temporarily ended in September 2019, will also increase the amount of people buying EVs, Department of Energy Resources acting Commissioner Patrick Woodcock said.
The MOR-EV incentive, which first launched in 2014, declined in popularity when the state reduced its rebate offer for EVs and plug-in hybrids from $2,500 to $1,500 in January 2019, Woodcock said.
The program, which ended in September 2019 due to lack of funding, was restored back to its original rate of $2,500 for EVs in the new year. Plug-in hybrids are now eligible for a $1,500 rebate.
“There were a lot of folks participating, which meant that the short-term, small amount of funds that were available was not going far enough,” Amy Laura Kahn, member of Massachusetts’ Zero Emission Vehicle Commission said.
The new $27 million budget for the MOR-EV program is funded by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), but it’s currently only a two-year fix, Kahn said. A source of long-term funding could come from the highly debated regional Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) she added.
WiTricity’s Schatz said he was disappointed by MOR-EV’s brief cessation, since the company is directly affected by consumer interest in EVs.
“We’re thrilled to see that the incentives have been restored. I think it’s a good thing for the economy, a good thing for the environment, and a good thing for our business that people in Massachusetts have even more incentive to buy electric cars and invest in charging infrastructure,” he said.
MOR-EV caters to constituents directly, but Massachusetts has programs that support local companies working in the realm of EV, Foellmer noted.
“You’ve got programs such as the Massachusetts Electric Vehicle Incentive Program (MassEVIP) that is well designed for the fleet market and particularly the municipal fleet market,” Foellmer said. “There is a good array of both consumer and fleet focused incentives out there.”
The newest incentive in the works for clean tech companies is a Request for Proposal (RFP) that will be launched this spring, Woodcock said.
“We are undergoing a request for proposal (RFP) currently for innovation within transportation, to support companies like XL and other entrepreneurs who are looking to disrupt the current transportation model,” he said, adding that the RFP has been issued and submissions were expected by earlier this month.
Kahn, of the state’s Zero Emission Vehicle Commission, said both public and private support will help make Massachusetts’ climate goals reachable.
“There are many steps that we need to take collectively to transition to a clean, modern and equitable transportation system that serves everyone, and that is zero emission,” Kahn said. “That’s going to require a number of sources working together.”