Creating a well functioning smart grid – cyclically connected to smart vehicles and buildings and houses, as well as personal and public renewable energy systems – will be no small infrastructure feat. Utility providers, technology innovators, neighborhood councils and local governments will need to come together to provide needed support — both monetarily and ideologically.

Although U.S. President Obama and the recently passed stimulus plan are pushing the renewable, electric energy revolution forward, residents across the nation might need more motivation to make the leap from fossil fuel users to plug-in pioneers.

A new project, headed by “think-and-do” tank the Rocky Mountain Institute, is offering to help city leaders provide community members with that extra inspiration. The initiative, Project Get Ready, supplies a menu of strategies that are meant to help cities prepare for the “plug-in” transition. According to RMI, problems related to individual hesitancy toward purchasing electric vehicles and investing in the infrastructure itself, can “be overcome if cities/regions become ecosystems that welcome electric vehicles.”

To create such an ecosystem, incentives need to be put in ranging from financial incentives, to “luxuries” (like parking spots), advertising, job training, education, service, and more.

Project Get Ready has attracted coalition members including automobile makers, technology and utility companies, nonprofits and more, who are all willing to help embolden cities to recreate their energy landscapes. The idea for this initiative was born after RMI’s Smart Garage Summit, a three-day charrette, at which constituents discussed how best to break the catch-22 implementation problem cycle and create a more collaborative relationship between smart building, energy and vehicle production.

Currently community members in Portland, Ore.; Indianapolis, Ind; and Raleigh, N.C. have agreed to work with Project Get Ready. RMI states that it plans to have community leaders in at least 20 cities working to make their areas plug-in ready, and would like to see 2 percent of the U.S. vehicle fleet be electric by 2015.

So what makes a city ready? Since each community is different, says Laura Schewel a consultant at RMI, the members will be allowed you to pick and choose what strategies will suit their communities best. These strategies include working with banks and dealers to offer low-interest loans for plug-ins to fast-tracking permitting for charging stations (see full list of barriers and strategies here). Schewel said, ideally, they’d like to see cities pursue the following hypothetical timeline:

June 2009: Convene a group of stakeholders from ALL sectors, sign on to a local readiness charter. Pick one “coordinator” or “champion” for the program. For example, in NC, the non-profit Advanced Energy is the coordinator.

By the end of 2009: have plans to convert or buy several hundred vehicles from city and corporate fleets. (Actual number depends on size of city). Start breaking ground on first 30 charge stations to test. Have funds raised to continue infrastructure deployment and citizen education.

2010: Get some factory-made cars, as well as lots of retrofits and NEVs. High profile people should drive them. Have a viral marketing campaign (eg: college kids at the NASCAR race, with a PHEV giving test drives and practice plug-ins, talking up the technology). Start a local certified retrofit outfit. Execute many other menu items.

2011: Ramp up the factory made cars. All menu items fully in place . Citizens should be buying cars by this point in big numbers.

2012: By end of 2012, RMI hopes for at least 0.5 percent of registered vehicles to be plug-ins.

2013/2014: Learn from snafus, adapt, improve. Help citizens buy cars!

2015: 2 percent!

Project Get Ready is ambitious indeed. But it is inspiring that a handful of cities already have project leaders starting in on the process. These members see that, although there will be hard work and upfront costs, in the long run, a well-connected grid system will help enable the renewable energy revolution.

Personally, what I think would be truly inspirational, would be to see that 2 percent of vehicles also become the only personal vehicles on the road. Perhaps by 2015 we can also aim to create the complete streets, public transit and high speed rail options that will decrease the need for personal vehicles altogether.

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