First Stop loves... Cars?

Here at First Stop we don't try to hide our love of transportation options such as bicycle, streetcar, light rail and the role they play in urban livability. This week, however, we went another direction in green transportation, hosting a delegation comprised of Chinese electric vehicle (EV) researchers from Tongji University's School of Automotive Studies in Shanghai and Oregon's own alternative energy and EV promoters from Drive Oregon, Sunmodo Corp., Portland Development Commission (PDC), Portland General Electric and PSU's own Electric Avenue.

George Beard shares PSU's Electric Avenue story with researchers from Tongji University, Shanghai, China
We explored Portland's green infrastructure by rail and on foot at Portland State University [Sustainability Walking Tour Map PDF] as well as in the LEED ND certified South Waterfront neighborhood. Although the mercury rose quickly during our time together, one of the hottest topics to arise was coal-fueled cars.

Even though Oregon and Washington have worked to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, recently a debate has arisen locally over plans to transport coal from Wyoming and Montana through Oregon's ports--mostly to China. Although no clear answers emerged regarding the coal exports, it became clear through discussion that both Oregon and China are working hard to reduce their reliance on both domestic fossil fuels and imported fuels. One very effective strategy, according to experts from both sides of the Pacific, is promotion of the electric vehicle.

What do Oregon and China have in common? What knowledge can we share?


The Chinese and Americans in the delegation were both concerned with global climate change, national reliance on foreign oil, increasing global demand for petroleum-based fuels, and increasing gas prices. These factors are clearly affecting the transportation choices in both places, with consumers and industries opting for more fuel-efficient and alternative energy vehicles. In both places, too, coal remains an important energy source and both seem to understand that technologies to help us use coal more efficiently will play an important role in the near future. Most evident during this visit, was that both Oregon and China see EV as a promising  pathway for reducing GHG emissions-- even if coal is powering that electricity.

Professor Sun Zechang, Dean of the School of Automotive Studies at Tongji University (center) rides Portland's electric-powered streetcar
Dr. Sun Zechang, Dean of the School of Automotive Studies at Tongji University and a leading researcher and advocate of EV, gave a presentation at PSU about China's current electric vehicle policies and practices. [A PDF of this presentation is available online.] When asked about the challenges he faces in promoting EV in China, he noted that the Chinese are generally reluctant to take risks, which often makes them "late adopters" of technological innovation. Perhaps because of this, the Chinese government is focusing its EV efforts at the public scale rather than the individual driver, adopting EV for fleet vehicles and public transportation systems.

While riding on Portland's electric-powered streetcar, Professor Zechang asked if I'd heard of Google's "smart cars". Now legal on Nevada roadways, these self-driving cars are the wave of the future, in his estimation.As such, we should be thinking about the EV industry  less like Detroit and more like Silicon Valley, he advised. "Universities will be consulting and contributing to development of electric transport.... EV experts are the IT professionals of tomorrow."

So, Oregon, is there room in our silicon forest for a silicon highway?

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