Intelligent Energy

A Dutch cure for pollution: free parking

A Dutch cure for pollution: free parking

Posting in Cities

Amsterdam is giving away parking and electricity to electric car owners, part of a broad plan to cut emissions from automobiles and canal boats.

AMSTERDAM -- To help encourage the take-up of electric cars, the city of Amsterdam is appealing to the psyche, and wallet, of many a motorized urban dweller – it is giving away a free, on street parking spot to anyone who buys one.

Under a plan started in 2009 and now picking up steam, electric car owners receive a space near their residence that comes with a charging station installed by the city. The city is also giving away the electricity to the vehicle owner. And, as an added green touch, Amsterdam claims that all the electricity that feeds the charging posts comes from green sources such as solar, wind and waste-based biomass.

Amsterdam launched the scheme in 2009, when few electric cars were available. At the time it planned to install 200 charging posts by 2012, but it has already hit that target, aided in part by the Dutch government’s waiver of road tax on electric cars and certain hybrids. The city has now started adding another 1,000 charging posts, according to Pieter Swinkels, a spokesman for city’s air quality department. Amsterdam wants 5% of the cars in its city to electric by 2015, which would be about 10,000 cars.

The free parking runs at least through 2012, and could be extended, he said.

Speaking to a group of journalists on a boat chugging along Amsterdam’s canals today, Swinkels said Amsterdam is spending €5 million ($7.2 million) on the public charging program in which it adds two street charging posts for every electric car sold in the city. It is providing an additional €3 million ($4.3 million) help companies build up fleets of electric vehicles.

The city’s financial commitment to the scheme helped convince Nissan to make Amsterdam its European launch city for the Leaf electric vehicle, which Nissan began selling here in March, Swinkels said. Nissan has sold about100 of the cars here since then. Mitsubishi and Peugeot began selling electric cars here earlier this year.

The city itself owns 40 electric vehicles, including 5 Leafs, and plans to increase that to 400, or 25% of its fleet, with electric cars by 2014. The city has owned Norwegian Think brand electric cars since 2009.

The city’s freebies cover electric cars but won’t cover hybrids until the electric–only range of hybrids rises above 60 kilometers, according to Swinkels.

Amsterdam’s electric car incentives are aimed primarily at reducing pollution in the city center, but will also cut back on CO2, noted Art van der Giessen, an adviser in the city’s air quality department. The initiative is part of a broader anti-pollution program in which the city has mandated maximum emissions for all its canal passenger boats. Amsterdam is providing some subsidies to help boat operators convert to electric.

In a sign that the program does not always go glitch-free, the journalists puttered around Amsterdam on a diesel-powered boat, which was supposed to have been an electrified vessel. The boat company explained that it has not yet completed all of its electric conversions.

In a separate green initiative under the auspices of a public/private partnership called Smart Amsterdam, merchants on Utrechtstraat (Utrecht Street) have banded together to rebrand their area as “Climate Street.” About 50 shops are implementing a host of measures including installing smart meters that display their CO2 performance, and taking deliveries via electric trucks. The €1.2 million ($1.7 million) project also includes plans to install piezoelectric generators on three bridges that will convert bridge motion caused by traffic, into electricity that will power canal lights starting in September.

Amsterdam’s green ethos seems very much intact. But one unintended consequence: in it’s enthusiasm for electric vehicles, the popularity of electric bikes is undermining pollution goals, as owners of foot-powered bikes upgrade to electric models.

Note: This report was based on a clean technology tour of Amsterdam partially funded by the Dutch government.

Photo: City of Amsterdam department of air quality

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure