THE LARGEST DEPLOYMENT of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure in history and in the world.” Forgive Rich Feldman, the mayor’s senior policy advisor, if he’s given to hyperbole. For uber–greeny Seattle, Nissan’s decision to turn the city into an all-electric vehicle lab is heaven.

Thanks to a $99.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, in the summer of 2010 the electric transit company Ecotality will begin installing 2,550 universal public charging stations in shopping areas, supermarket parking lots, and gas stations, where Nissan’s new zero-emissions car, the Leaf, can juice up. Ecotality will also install, for free, charging stations at the homes of Seattleites who buy the Leaf.

The purpose of the project is to collect data to understand how drivers will use their electric vehicles. Info gathered in Seattle will be used to create a model for the rest of the country. “The reason we picked Seattle,” says Ecotality’s Colin Read, “is that it has a very diverse topography,” allowing researchers to understand the charge capacity for driving on hills.

“But Seattle also has one of the highest per capita hybrid populations in the nation, so we believe that Seattle will have a strong market for zero–emission vehicles,” says Read. “The world will be looking to Seattle for what the future of transportation is going to be like.”

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