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The "Plugged In" City

It’s the little city that’s driving big change. Find out how Chattanooga, Tenn., is becoming a model for electric transportation in the Tennessee Valley and—perhaps—across the country.

There’s a transportation revolution going on in the green hills of the southern Appalachian Mountains. While Chattanooga, Tenn., is already home to a major automotive manufacturer, the real news is how the city is providing sustainable transportation through its revolutionary electric vehicle car share program and public electric vehicle charging stations.

What makes Chattanooga an electrification leader is the public/private partnership on a large scale—between the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA), TVA and GreenCommuter. TVA provided grant money. CARTA provided the leadership and charging sites. GreenCommuter provided a fleet of 20 Nissan Leaf vehicles available 24/7 for the public to rent.

Now cities across the country are eagerly watching what plays out.

A Driving Priority

“Electrification of transportation is a major focus area for TVA to help improve the environment and attract jobs and investment to our communities,” says Drew Frye, TVA power utilization engineer and expert in the field of electric transportation.

According to Frye, TVA understands the research that shows the impact widespread adoption of plug-in electric vehicles has on the economy and environment.

A 2010 report by the University of Maryland and the Keybridge Research & Electrification Coalition estimates that by 2030 electric vehicle deployment can create thousands of domestic jobs, lower the U.S. trade deficit by $127 billion, boost household incomes and the U.S. gross domestic product and make the U.S. economy more resilient to oil price fluctuations.

At the same time, overall air quality is expected to im­prove as more plug-in electric vehicles take to the road. An Electric Power Research Institute/Natural Resources Defense Council report shows widespread adoption of plug-in electric vehicles could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles by more than 450 mil­lion metric tons annually by 2050—or the equivalent of taking 82.5 million passenger cars off the road.

No Excuses

Introduced over 100 years ago, the electric car isn’t a new invention, but it wasn’t always the popular choice. But now, with advancements in battery technology, unpredictable gasoline prices and a focus on environmental benefits, the electric vehicle is gaining popularity. According to Navigant Research, global electric vehicle sales are expected to generate $9.3 billion in revenue in 2017 and more than double to $23.9 billion by 2026.

Still, the availability of charging stations and accessibility to vehicles is one barrier to mass adoption of electric transportation. The U.S. Department of Energy’s website estimates there are only about 15,800 electric charging stations verses over 115,000 gasoline stations in the U.S.    

“We’ve eliminated the excuses and fixed the chicken or egg problem by providing both—the electric vehicle and the charging station,” says Brent Matthews, Director of Parking for CARTA. “We [Chattanooga] are the first medium-sized city to offer electric car share and provide our community an affordable zero-emission transportation solution,” says Matthews.

With a click on the GreenCommuter app, you can rent an electric vehicle in Chattanooga for as low as $32 a day or $4 per hour through GreenCommuter EV Car Share, powered by EPB.

“Living and working downtown, I can take full advantage of the city’s multi-modal transportation—walking, biking, CARTA’s Electric Shuttle, and now the Green Commuter Car share program,” says Zach Cooper, GreenCommuter’s top renter. “Even if they live outside of the downtown area, I think many people could realize the economic benefit of the Green Commuter program, not to mention the environmental benefit.”

According to the 2016 AAA study, owning and operating an average sedan costs $8,558 per year, which is equal to $713 per month or 57¢ per mile. If these numbers shock you, then consider that they represent a six-year low and a 1.6% drop compared to 2015—mainly because gasoline prices have fallen significantly.

“Because people are moving from the suburbs to downtown, they don’t need to own a car,” says Matthews. “Our electric car share program fills a niche that provides these folks a transportation option that is cheaper than owning a car while helping us all breathe better.”  

Environmental and Economic Wins

According to TVA, more than 90 percent of corporate real estate executives say that sustainability is a consideration when they choose to relocate into a community. With the transportation sector as the single-largest source of pollution in the United States, TVA’s electrification roadmap puts Chattanooga in a better place to compete for jobs and investment from companies wanting to improve their sustainability position.

“When you add solar to a charging station, the environmental win is undeniable,” says Frye.

Several of the CARTA charging stations were co-located with solar PV systems. Frye explained that even at small sites the size of a few parking spaces; each year the sun can provide enough solar energy to drive a Nissan Leaf around the world more than two times. If you did that with a regular car, you would burn 2,000 gallons of gasoline and emit 17 tons of CO2—which is the weight of eight Nissan Leafs.

“Electrification is changing the dynamic of transportation in Chattanooga,” says CARTA’s Matthews. “With our network of free charging stations combined with our electric car share program, we’ve received inquiries from businesses who wanted to explore using our electric car share program as fleet vehicles to help with their sustainability efforts.”