At the beginning of the 20th century, the streets were busy with electric vehicles. In fact, they made up around a third of all vehicles on the road. Early pioneers of electric vehicles included Thomas Edison and Ferdinand Porsche, who recognized the efficiency and potential of the electric motor.

However, the early spread of electric vehicles came and went and quickly declined over several decades until it was in the 1930s were essentially gone. They have been replaced by internal combustion engine vehicles, a market dominance fueled by the abundance of cheap oil and the mass production and assembly line techniques of Henry Ford and his Model T.

Electric vehicles have been largely inactive since those early successes, despite a streak in the 1970s when skyrocketing oil prices caused a brief spike in electrical alternatives. That is, until now.

A Golf body on the assembly line during a press tour in May 2019 through the plant of the German manufacturer Volkswagen AG in Zwickau, Germany. The first Volkswagen ID electric vehicles should roll off the assembly line at the end of 2019. In 2021, only electric cars will be built in Zwickau. AP Photo / Jens Meyer

Electric vehicles have found their way into the 21st century. Climate science has found over the past 20 years that burning fossil fuels pollutes our environment and that internal combustion engine vehicles are responsible for a good portion of greenhouse gas emissions.

Strong, targeted moves to curb these emissions have led to a policy of containment emissions from vehicles with internal combustion engines as well as high investments in the research and development of alternatives to petrol and diesel. Battery affordability and battery storage technology have made tremendous breakthroughs that have enabled greater storage capacity and a combined electric range of over 400 miles.

Coupled with advances in fast and efficient charging, electric vehicles are now not only cost effective compared to vehicles with combustion engine, but also feasible for people to switch to electric vehicles. While the 21st century started small with hybrid-electric options that grew in popularity, it has grown exponentially; and in the last few years the automotive industry has changed fundamentally.

Today, most automakers have at least one electric vehicle model. While only a handful of electric vehicle models with limited mileage were on the road 10 years ago, there are now over 80, many of which have a range of over 400 kilometers. Major automakers, from Chrevrolet to Hyundai, are offering more and more electric vehicle models each year, and many have made monumental pledges to go fully electric in the next decade or two.

Massive efforts are being made to increase charging availability and establish coherent, accessible charging networks in the USA School buses and dump trucks are also entering the market. While it felt like a long road a decade ago, the move to electric vehicles is just around the corner.

Note: Our Sustainable City is a recurring column in the Sentry that provides residents with news and information about sustainability initiatives in South Portland target. The sustainability office is located on the ground floor of the town hall. Follow the Sustainability Office on Instagram and Facebook @soposustainability.

Cashel Stewart is Sustainable Transportation Coordinator for South Portland. He can be reached at 207-767-3201, ext. 7546 or [email protected]

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