No question about it, Portland, Oregon, is an early-adopter market for electric vehicles, and one of the leading EV markets in the U.S.
The Rose City, as it's nicknamed, is already home to the first—and only, with the Vacaville, California charger down—publicly accessible Level 3 quick-charging station in the U.S., allowing more than 500 volts DC and up to 125 Amps, and capable of charging the 2011 Nissan Leaf from 20 percent capacity up to 80 percent in just under 30 minutes.
Lots of favorable factors
At least in the city itself, 240-volt chargers are easy to find. From select parking spots along the streets, to spots at the grocery store or at major employers, if you want to charge during a workday or a long shopping trip, it's much easier there than in most other cities.
The weather is good for EV batteries. Yes, it rains and mists a lot; but temperatures are mild—rarely below freezing in the winter and seldom above 80 in the summer. Driving distances are rather short, too, with an 18-mile average commute in the Portland metropolitan area rather than more than 30 miles on a national average.
It's nothing new that the Pacific Northwest is a hotbed for green vehicles, and electrified vehicles in general. According to an analysis from several years ago, Oregon and Washington lead California in hybrid vehicle registrations—per capita, or relative to total vehicle registrations—while Colorado and the Washington, D.C., region have the highest concentration of hybrids.
We haven't yet been able to find any tallies of EV registrations on a state-by-state basis, but it will be interesting to see such data when it's available, and see whether it extends to all-electrics.
From NEVs to Leaf and Volt
And from personal observations, the car shoppers here seem much more eager and excited about EVs than those in other major U.S. cities. Ten years ago, when I first moved here, I was initially shocked with this region's appetite for niche electric vehicles and convertions—and later so-called neighborhood electric vehicles like the GEM, and the Zap Zebra. Portland a number of years back was one of the hottest markets for neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) and low-speed EVs in general. It wasn't unusual to see ZAP pickups parts (or flowers), and a local pizza chain even relied on them for deliveries. But ultimately, customers may have became fatigued with the truth—that many of these vehicles were quite poorly constructed overseas, then mated with EV powertrains in the U.S.
Portland CHAdeMO quick-charging station (publicly accessible)
Portland was chosen as one of the first markets for both the 2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Chevrolet Volt—and at least for the Leaf, the density of charging stations and the presence of that CHAdeMO quick-charger probably had something to do with it.
The region does have some catching-up to do with chargers, though. While there are grand plans for charging in the I-5 corridor, the total is revealing: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, as of April 2011, there are 448 public chargers in California. Washington is second with 41, and Oregon has 38.
All down to permits and inspections?
So why Portland? According to a recent Automotive News column, there's one more very important reason why the city and region is favored for EV projects: Oregon's single building code, simple approval process for contractor permits, and lean spot-inspection process are all reasons why adding electric-vehicle charging infrastructure isn't as much of a headache as in other states and municipalities. Quite simply, when people go in and order an electric vehicle—or participate in a fleet test—they need to get approval for the installation hardware; and there, it's easy.
Makes you wonder: Why not New York City or Boston, with their short distances and relatively compact layouts? Is EV adoption going to happen faster in cities with a more open permit system? Have you attempted to install a charger? Tell us about it.