Early 20th century streets were busy with electric vehicles. In fact, they accounted for around a third of all vehicles on the road. Among the early electric vehicle pioneers were Thomas Edison and Ferdinand Porsche, who saw the efficiency and potential of the electric motor.

However, the early prevalence of electric vehicles came and went, declining rapidly over a few decades until they had essentially disappeared by the 1930s. They were replaced by vehicles with internal combustion engines, 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 mostly laid dormant since those early successes, despite a spell in the 1970s when skyrocketing oil prices led to a brief surge in electric alternatives. That is, until now.

A Golf car body on the assembly line during a May 2019 press tour of the plant of the German manufacturer Volkswagen AG in Zwickau, Germany. Volkswagen’s first ID electrical vehicles were to roll off the assembly line at the end of 2019. Only e-cars will be built at Zwickau in 2021. AP photo/Jens Meyer

Electric vehicles have found traction in the 21st century. In the past 20 years, climate science has been conclusive that burning fossil fuels pollutes our environment and that internal combustion-powered vehicles are responsible for a good portion of the greenhouse gas emissions.

Strong, focused movements to curb these emissions have led to both policies that restrict emissions from internal combustion vehicles and heavy investment in research and development of alternatives to gasoline and diesel. Battery affordability and battery storage technology have made enormous breakthroughs, which has allowed for greater storage capacity and common electric range of over 250 miles.

Coupled with advancements for fast, efficient charging, electric vehicles are now not only cost-competitive to internal combustion vehicles, but also feasible for people to make the switch to electric. While the 21st century started small with hybrid-electric options increasing in popularity, it has grown exponentially; and in the past few years, there have been fundamental changes to the automobile industry.

Today, most car manufacturers have at least one electric vehicle model. While 10 years ago there were just a handful of electric vehicle models on the road with limited mileage ranges, there are now over 80, many of which have ranges over 250 miles. Major car manufacturers, from Chrevrolet to Hyundai, are offering more and more electric vehicle models each year, and many have made monumental commitments to going all-electric in the next decade or two.

Massive efforts are underway to increase charging availability and build out cohesive, accessible charging networks across the U.S. Electric vehicle research has even expanded beyond the passenger vehicle, with electric options for pick-up trucks and cargo vans on the way, and fleet vehicles such as school buses and dump trucks hitting the market, too. Although it felt like a long way off just a decade ago, the electric vehicle transition is upon us.

Note: Our Sustainable City is a recurring column in the Sentry intended to provide residents with news and information about sustainability initiatives in South Portland. The Sustainability Office is located on the first floor of City 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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