One of the many commercials featuring Lance Armstrong during this year’s Tour de France promotes the forthcoming Nissan Leaf, an all-electric car that will have a range of 100 miles. GM is introducing its much talked-about “plug-in” hybrid this fall, the Chevy Volt, while Tesla Motors and Toyota are teaming to provide all-electric cars with ranges extending to 300 miles! 
 
The bottom line is that electric cars are coming, and both state and local government jurisdictions need to seriously think about their impact.  But like so many truly revolutionary changes throughout history, the full ramifications – and challenges – only become clear as you get closer to them. 
 
Most parties at the vortex of this trend – car companies, utilities, local governments – seem to agree one of the biggest challenges will involve creating the infrastructure to support electric cars, as well as finding ways to manage the costs that cities may incur in building and supporting the infrastructure. 
 
  • Expanded electric grids, public charging stations, and special high-voltage home charging docks will all be needed. 
  • States, cities and utilities will need to work together to find where neighborhood clusters of electric cars are likely to be purchased that could strain the power supply.  
  • And, of course, building codes and zoning regulations may need to change, as offices and public garages build charging stations, and homeowners outfit their property to accommodate charging docks. 
 
What all of these things will have in common is the need for new approaches to every phase of the government permitting process. In fact, a recent Wall Street Journal article noted that widespread adoption of the Nissan Leaf is somewhat out of the company’s hands because much of the vehicle’s success may boil down to cities making changes to their permitting processes and states providing communities with code guidelines for charging stations. 
 
Are local governments prepared to handle these watershed changes in an efficient manner that produces real revenue to help offset the costs? Most probably aren’t. But I believe technology that streamlines permitting processes and strengthens collaboration between state and local governments can go a long way toward helping mitigate these challenges. 
 
  • Web-based and mobile permitting and licensing software can potentially reduce approval times from weeks down to days or hours. 
  • Government- and citizen-generated GIS data can help quickly identify usage patterns and growing demand areas.  
  • Mobile solutions that empower field-based government inspectors could “jumpstart” the permitting process right at the car dealership. 
  • Shared online permitting portals – like the state of Oregon’s spanning nearly 40 cities and counties – can provide unified standards and efficient processes from the largest cities to the smallest towns.  
  • Finally, clear and transparent e-permitting capability – via software that enables citizens to easily apply and pay for permits, schedule inspections, and track their status anytime and anywhere – can boost revenue collection for local governments that will help fund the new infrastructure. 
 
Electric vehicles are on their way.  But state and local governments across America must plan and prepare to support them.  In order for electric vehicles to achieve their full potential, governments will need the vision and the tools to make it happen.