Rocky Mountain Institute Completes Comprehensive Transportation Electrification Strategy with Seattle City Light—a First for a Municipal Utility

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As part of its ongoing efforts to support transportation electrification, Seattle City Light partnered with Rocky Mountain Institute to assess the power demands and infrastructure requirements of light-duty vehicles, medium- and heavy-duty trucks, buses, and shared mobility, and to develop a transportation electrification strategy to meet those needs.

This report creates a roadmap for Seattle City Light both to enable and respond to this rapidly changing market, ensuring that Seattle remains a global leader in reducing carbon emissions.

Today, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) announced the release of the first comprehensive transportation electrification strategy developed by a municipal utility in the United States, titled Seattle City Light: Transportation Electrification Strategy.

“This report creates a roadmap for Seattle City Light both to enable and respond to this rapidly changing market, ensuring that Seattle remains a global leader in reducing carbon emissions,” said Lynn Daniels, Manager at Rocky Mountain Institute.

Building on RMI’s earlier reports, From Gas to Grid, which explored the role of utilities in building out electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, and Electric Vehicles as Distributed Energy Resources, which identified how utilities can capture the benefits of EVs, this report identifies key actions for Seattle City Light to take to expand its market presence and strategic vision as electric vehicle adoption scales.

Seattle is already a leader in this space, with its “Drive Clean Seattle” initiative, which aims to improve access to EV charging stations and prioritize publicly available charging to enable shared mobility and fleet electrification. Actions include the provision of 20 direct current fast chargers (DCFCs) that Seattle City Light is already deploying in areas underserved by private-sector charging networks.

But with battery pack costs expected to fall to an average $150 per kilowatt-hour this year, it will soon be economically advantageous for numerous market segments to switch to electric vehicles. Seattle City Light knew that it would need to start preparing for a surge in electricity demand on its system, so it partnered with RMI to assess the demand that transportation electrification would impose on its system.

RMI identified several state- and citywide efforts that will continue to drive strong demand for vehicle charging infrastructure in Seattle:

  • Washington state’s passenger vehicle market continues to see strong growth, with the share of EVs having increased 31% from 2016 to 2017. To support this, private charging developers, with support from the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Seattle Department of Transportation, are investing heavily in EV charging stations.
  • Seattle’s major public transit agency, King County Metro (Metro), has established a goal to fully electrify its fleet of more than 1,400 buses by 2040. To date, Metro operates 11 all-electric buses and plans to procure 120 more by 2020.
  • In 2017, the Port of Seattle (the Port) established a strategic objective to be the greenest, most efficient port in North America, including carbon neutrality by 2050 on both direct and indirect sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Supporting this effort, the Port has implemented a Clean Truck program, as a partner in the Northwest Seaport Alliance.
  • The City of Seattle has set an ambitious target of 30% EV adoption, along with a commitment to a fossil-fuel-free municipal fleet, both by 2030.
  • Recently passed state legislation (HB 2042) extended a tax credit for electric vehicles, enabled utilities to invest in electric vehicle charging infrastructure, provided funding for electric car sharing in low-income communities, provided grants for transit agencies to transition to electric buses, and funded additional fast charging stations across the state.
  • The City has committed to environmental equity through its Race and Social Justice Initiative, including a particular focus on transportation equity. As a city department, City Light has deepened its focus on historically marginalized communities and racial equity in its decision-making process.

The report’s key recommendations for Seattle City Light include:

  • Invest in charging infrastructure, including utility-owned DCFCs and grid upgrades needed to support private-sector DCFC networks, to make fast charging available to all residents.
  • Support deployment of nonutility-owned DCFCs for ridesharing drivers and for residents of multiunit dwellings and underserved communities.
  • Provide incentives and technical expertise for installing Level 2 chargers at residences and workplaces.
  • Explore and pilot electricity rates that make electric transportation cost-competitive with transportation by conventional vehicles, and that make it possible to operate profitable private-sector DCFC networks.
  • Improve customer service to offer streamlined and transparent interconnection and service upgrade processes for new charging stations.
  • Develop digital content to help customers make informed decisions about buying EVs.
  • Establish standards to encourage “smart charging” during low-cost hours and to support the use of EVs as flexible grid assets.
  • Prepare for heavy-duty electrification, and support the electrification needs of partner agencies such as Metro and the Port, by offering responsive rates, incentives, grid infrastructure, technology demonstration and siting analysis.
  • Prepare to support urban fleet and freight operators and develop packaged charging solutions, including financing, make-ready investments, smart charging and incentives for charging depots.

“Investing in charging infrastructure and proactively engaging with fleet and transit customers are two of the most important ways that City Light can accelerate the transition to electric vehicles in Seattle. We’re very proud to help lead the way to cleaner air, lower transportation costs and more equitable access to transportation in our city,” said Brendan O’Donnell, Manager of Planning, Strategy and Analytics at Seattle City Light, who led the strategy project.

Learn more about RMI’s work on transportation electrification HERE.

Media inquiries please contact:

Nick Steel, Media Relations Manager, nsteel(at)rmi(dot)org t: +1 347-574-0887

Notes to Editors

About Rocky Mountain Institute:

Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI)—an independent nonprofit founded in 1982—transforms global energy use to create a clean, prosperous, and secure low-carbon future. It engages businesses, communities, institutions, and entrepreneurs to accelerate the adoption of market-based solutions that cost-effectively shift from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables. RMI has offices in Basalt and Boulder, Colorado; New York City; the San Francisco Bay Area; Washington, D.C.; and Beijing.

More information on RMI can be found at or follow us on Twitter @RockyMtnInst.

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