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December 18, 2013

Trip Report: Renting an Electric Car in Orlando

Gina_charging_Leaf_Florida_Dec2013Are you among the 56 million people planning a business trip or vacation to Orlando, Florida in the next year? Need a car for your trip? If so, I encourage you to rent an electric vehicle (EV) through Drive Electric Orlando.

I checked out the program for myself last week. Over the course of two and a half days, I drove more than 120 miles in a sleek, zero tailpipe emission Nissan Leaf to and from the airport and various meetings, charged up the car at my hotel and one of my meeting sites, and had plenty of electric charge to spare. In most cities, it's difficult to find a hybrid to rent, let alone an electric vehicle, so this was a real treat.

One of the best parts was zooming past all the Shell and Chevron stations giving them exactly none of my money. Instead, I filled up on electricity from the OUC utility, which recently announced an exciting new solar farm project.

In fact, EV expert Ann-Louise Seabury of the nearby Florida Power & Light utility told me that FPL also gets some of its power from wind and solar as well and provides people with electricity fuel about 70 percent lower in emissions than the pollution from an average gasoline-powered car.

How does the EV rental program work? Simply, visit http://driveelectricorlando.com/, book your fully electric or plug-in hybrid rental car through Enterprise (other rental companies expected to join the program soon), find a participating hotel on the site where you can book your stay and charge up your vehicle, and see what Orlando destinations offer EV charging options.

Tips for your trip:
1) The rental agency and hotels are supposed to provide you with a swipe card to enable you to charge your vehicle (usually for free) at the 300+ Central Florida EV charging stations, but I recommend that as a back-up, you visit www.ChargePoint.com to sign up for and bring your own card.

2) For most people, the electric car will provide plenty of driving range for a typical day. However, if you're renting a fully electric vehicle, it's smart to plan out your trips and places to charge in advance (see the map of area charging stations).

3) Have a sense of adventure and flexibility, understanding that you're helping the operators of these rental car companies, hotels, and destination venues understand how EVs work -- even as you're experiencing for yourself the fun of driving electric.

FL_EV_summit_organizers_Dec2013The reason for my trip was to attend the Florida PEV Stakeholder Summit, organized by the Sierra Club Florida Healthy Air Campaign, Florida Power & Light, and Project Get Ready Central Florida. A recent study predicted that two percent of Florida's new vehicles will be electric by 2022, but "we're here today to make sure that we raise that number," said Helda Rodriguez of NovaCharge.

Pictured on the left are (L to R) John Parker of Get Ready Central Florida, Britten Cleveland of the Sierra Club Florida Healthy Air Campaign, Anne-Louise Seabury of Florida Power & Light, Britta Gross of GM, and Frank Jackalone of the Sierra Club Florida Healthy Air Campaign.

At the EV summit were senior representatives in attendance from GM, Ford, Proterra (an electric bus company), Clean Cities, Suncoast Electric Vehicle Collaborative, Sierra Club, Florida Power & Light, NovaCharge, Orlando Utilities Commission, and several other groups. There were also car dealers from Nissan, Chevrolet, Mitsubishi, and Ford who showed us why they are selling more plug-in vehicles than most of their peers due to their specialized training, excitement for the technology, and smart sales pitches.

The group identified key priorities moving forward, including a focus on the strategic siting of charging infrastructure, a drumbeat of public education and 'ride and drive' events, and a focus with Florida policymakers on the economic and job growth opportunities that the EV market provides. There was also an interesting discussion about the requirements for Florida government agencies to purchase the least expensive fleet vehicles. The group discussed the need to get policymakers to consider not just purchase price, but "total cost of user-ship," which is often less with EVs, given significantly lower fueling and maintenance costs.

Florida is a major business and tourist destination, which is why the Electrification Coalition chose Orlando as one of its priority cities to scale up EV adoption through Drive Electric Orlando. Said the organization’s Ben Prochazka, "People are twice as likely to consider buying an EV if they've rented one." For people like me who already own a plug-in vehicle, it's also refreshing to have an EV rental option when traveling far from home.

-- Gina Coplon-Newfield, Director of the Sierra Club's Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative.

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