Electric Vehicles: Exploring the Options for Electric Vehicles on Nantucket

Sponsor: Nantucket Planning & Zoning Office
Sponsor Liaison: Gregg Tivnan, Assistant Town Manager
Mike Burns, Transportation Planner
Student Team: Matthew T. Gilzinger, Zachary D. Lorch, and Dustin J. Vinci
Abstract: Given the growing interest in electric vehicles (EV’s) and the possible role they might play in a ‘smart’ electric grid, the Town of Nantucket asked us to examine the desirability of encouraging EV’s on the Island. Accordingly, we surveyed residents, interviewed key stakeholders, and assessed the costs and benefits of EV’s on Nantucket. We conclude: there is significant public interest in EV’s; the potential for adopting municipal EV’s is limited; the Nissan Leaf is the most viable EV at present; and, the present grid can accommodate the increased electricity demand from charging EV’s. We recommend the Town adopt three EV’s and consider installing public charging stations at the airport, Wannacomet Water Company, and the proposed Wilkes Square garage.
Link: Copy_of_Scenario_Analysis.xlsx


Executive Summary

Climate change is a growing concern among policy makers around the world due to the wide range of adverse impacts, from rising sea levels to declining crop yields. Anthropogenic sources of carbon emissions are believed to be a primary factor in global warming and the burning of fossil fuels is one of the major carbon sources. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2006 41% of the carbon dioxide ds in the United States came from electricity generation and about 33% came from transportation (Climate Change – Greenhouse Gas Emissions, 2010). Technological advances have helped to reduce toxic emissions from power plants and have made renewable energy options like wind turbines less expensive, but much remains to be done as emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases continue their upward trend. Similarly, much remains to be done to reduce emissions in the transportation sector. Recent advances in battery and electric motor technology now allow for alternative fuel vehicles, such as hybrids and electric vehicles (EV’s), to be viable alternatives to conventional gasoline powered vehicles.

International companies including Coulomb Technologies, BetterPlace, GE WattStation, Nissan and other organizations have been assisting communities to develop the necessary infrastructure for electric cars (BetterPlace, 2009; Nissan, 2010; Popular Science, 2010). Necessary infrastructure changes include repair shops that are able to fix electric cars, electrical charging stations for cars and possibly battery swap stations that will make owning an electric car convenient.

International companies including Coulomb Technologies, BetterPlace, GE WattStation, Nissan and other organizations have been assisting communities to develop the necessary infrastructure for electric cars (BetterPlace, 2009; Nissan, 2010; Popular Science, 2010). Necessary infrastructure changes include repair shops that are able to fix electric cars, electrical charging stations for cars and possibly battery swap stations that will make owning an electric car convenient.

The goal of this project was to assist the Town of Nantucket to determine if it is desirable and feasible to expand the use of electric vehicles on the island. An electric car program implemented on the island would entail slowly replacing the population’s gasoline engine cars with electric cars while encouraging electric vehicle purchases through incentives and regulations. The project had three objectives:

  • to identify the range of policies and programs that have been proposed or implemented in order to encourage greater use of electric vehicles through a review of the background literature and interviews with key individuals and institutions;
  • to characterize the knowledge, attitudes, and perspectives of keys stakeholders on the island with regard to electric vehicles through surveys of the public and interviews with other stakeholders; and,
  • to conduct scenario analyses to gauge the costs and benefits of encouraging greater use of electric vehicles within different segments of the vehicle fleet, including municipal and privately-owned vehicles, as well as taxis, and courtesy vehicles used by local hotels.


Our data collection methods consisted of surveys with the public, interviews with key stakeholders and department heads, and scenario analyses to gauge the benefits and drawbacks to various levels of adoption with regards to ownership costs of the vehicles. The public surveys that were conducted revealed information about public attitudes and opinions, the interviews revealed some of the complexity of trying to encourage greater adoption of electric vehicles, and the scenario analyses indicated that the costs of EV’s are high in the short term, but pay back in the long term, even given the high cost of electricity on the island.

Public Survey

Understanding public opinion is vital in the effort to encourage greater adoption and use of electric vehicles, and our survey was intended to provide a baseline understanding of the knowledge and perceptions of electric vehicles among Nantucket residents. The survey also provided key information that was used in our cost analyses.

We found that the most common model driven by those surveyed was a Ford Explorer, a sport utility vehicle. Due to rough terrain and recreation opportunities on the island such as driving on the beach, people often find having a sport utility vehicle beneficial. Not only do residents use their vehicles for running errands, but twenty-four residents surveyed also use their vehicle for work. From all of the residents that we surveyed, 86% owned their own car. When asked if they considered buying a hybrid or electric vehicle the last time they purchased a vehicle, 75% of those surveyed said they did not, while 65% said they would consider buying an electric vehicle in the future. The responses here may be misleading, however, since the average age of vehicles among those surveyed was 8 years, and in 2002, hybrid and electric vehicles were not widely available.

The survey revealed that the public actually has a reasonable knowledge of some of the major aspects of the current technology. People surveyed on average thought that electric cars take seven hours to charge and can travel 150 miles on a single charge. The majority of the residents surveyed also correctly indicated that electric cars cost more to purchase and maintain but less to fuel than equivalent gasoline powered cars. Most people were unaware that the government offered incentives to purchase electric cars, however.


Aside from some basic information on fleet composition and so forth, the interviews were designed to identify some of the more complex issues associated with the adoption of electric vehicles on the island according to some of the key stakeholders and decision makers, such as municipal workers, taxi drivers, rental agencies, and car dealer and repair shops.

One organization that was especially interested in EV’s is the Wannacomet Water Company. The head of the company, Robert Gardener, indicated that he would be in support of installing charging stations at his facility. When asked about his fleet he said that he could replace three or four of his vehicles with electric vehicles if they saved him money and were equivalent to his current vehicles. His interest in alternative technology and cost savings is also evident in his plans to install solar panels at his facilities. Using such solar energy to charge the cars would reduce his overall electricity charges. It may also be possible to put a park and ride in the gravel parking lot by the office with a few charging stations for residents to park their car and take a bus. A bus stop already exists down the street for residents and tourists. The primary concern of the planning department was where the charging stations should be placed. In an interview the Senior Planner indicated that the beach, water department and somewhere downtown, maybe Wilkes Square, would be best the best options for electric car charging stations. A shuttle to the water department would encourage people to charge their cars while also relieving traffic. Downtown would also be an appropriate place to put charging stations but there is likely to be opposition to such locations on several fronts.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The results from our surveys and interviews showed that the residents of Nantucket were very interested in the prospect of greater use of electric vehicles on Nantucket. In fact:

  • Two thirds of the residents surveyed said that they would consider an electric vehicle when they next purchase a car
  • The owner of Don Allen Ford received neighborhood electric vehicles to sell and was approached by several people looking to buy them.

We also found that the island can support moderate adoption of electric vehicles if it took measures to encourage charging during off peak hours (nighttime) and discourage charging during peak hours (daytime).

  • Using our high estimate of electric vehicle adoption, the power cables would not be able to support all of the vehicles charging at once. However, if charging was spread throughout the off peak hours, the island would be able to support the increased demand in electricity.

Based on our findings from the scenario analyses, our interviews with key stakeholders, and our public survey, we identified several recommendations:

  • We recommend that the town does not adopt electric trucks at this time but wait until the electric truck technology improves to the point where 4×4 electric trucks become reliable and economically viable alternatives to conventional gasoline vehicles.
  • We recommend that the town adopts a small number of electric cars in the near future on a trial basis. We estimate the town can save money over the life of the car by choosing an electric car over a comparable gasoline powered car if the car is driven more than 8,000 miles a year.
  • Based on our findings from the scenario analysis and through interviews with taxi company owners we cannot recommend that they adopt electric vehicles at this time. Most models of electric vehicles available at this time fail to meet the requirements of taxi drivers on Nantucket. Only the Ford Transit Connect EV is remotely suitable in functionality, but is cost prohibitive. Furthermore, even with the fastest charging options available in the United States, the relatively long charging times and short range of an electric car battery makes electric vehicles impractical for taxis. While battery swapping has been used for taxi operations in other countries, battery swapping stations are prohibitively expensive and unlikely to be feasible given the likely future size of the electric vehicle fleet on Nantucket. If taxi companies are extremely interested in using EV’s in their vehicle fleet, then we recommend they look into the company BetterPlace and their battery swapping system.
  • We recommend that the town consider installing public charging stations at the Nantucket Memorial Airport. The excess power from the solar farm that is planned for the airport could be used to power the electric cars at the airport, and numerous residents leave their cars at the airport for extended periods during which full charging would be feasible. We also found through our public survey that more people were in favor of placing charging stations at the airport than anywhere else.
  • We recommend the town consider installing public charging stations in the proposed Wilkes Square parking garage. Two thirds of the respondents to the public survey were in favor of the town installing charging stations downtown. Installing the charging stations in the proposed parking garage would mitigate some of the concerns raised by other stakeholders, such as the HDC. The Wilkes Square parking garage would allow charging stations to be in the downtown area without being on Main Street.
  • We recommend that the town consider installing public charging stations at the Wannacomet Water Company in combination with the development of a shuttle bus service, as proposed by the Planning Department. Residents from the east of the island would be able to charge their cars at the facility and take the shuttle bus to town, thus relieving downtown of some congestion.
  • Finally, we recommend that the town continue to monitor the development of electric vehicles and reevaluate the suitability of electric vehicles for the municipal fleet in the future. It is likely that as more manufacturers develop electric vehicles, electric cars and trucks that are better suited to the needs of the different municipal departments may become economically viable. Economic viability would be greatly enhanced with ‘behind the meter’ charging associated with the town’s proposed alternative energy facilities.