Wednesday, 25 July 2012 13:23

HCC’s electric vehicle charging station part of a growing network

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By Peggy Manning • Correspondent

North Carolina is in the process of “paving” the electric vehicle highway and Western North Carolina is well on its way to being an important spoke in that wheel.

Haywood Community College has the only electric vehicle charging station west of Asheville, but several are popping up in Asheville and around the region.

“HCC had an interest in this technology and wanted to get in on the ground floor. However, the cost kept us from doing it until a grant became available,” said Preston Jacobsen, HCC Sustainability Analyst and a member of the Asheville Area Electric Vehicle Committee that was formed to prepare the greater Asheville area for plug-in electric vehicles.

Advanced Energy Corporation helped secure the state energy office grant, with assistance in implementation from the Land-of-Sky Regional Council. The grant paid for 50 percent of the $6,000 cost of the station, installation and permit. HCC provided the matching money, along with some minor labor during installation of the unit.

While the college could have purchased the charging station a little cheaper from China or a company in California, Jacobsen said college officials thought it was important to buy local. The unit was manufactured by the Eaton Corporation in Arden and was installed by Security Inc. of Asheville.

HCC opened its charging station to the public in January. It is located in the upper level parking lot of the student services building and is available for use for free until a method is determined for charging for the electricity used. However, the college has not noticed any significant change in utility costs since opening the center, Jacobsen said.

The station is a Level 2 charger, which means the unit can fully recharge an electric vehicle is six to seven hours.

Haywood Community College was a good location for a charging station not only because of its students and faculty but also because of its proximity to Interstate 40 and U.S. 74, Jacobsen explained. Motorists can use HCC as one of their stops to recharge their electric vehicles, he said.

“Electric vehicles are cleaner and much cheaper than gasoline vehicles,” said Bill Eaker, Land-of-Sky Regional Council’s Environmental Services Manager. “They can help reduce the use of petroleum and improve our air quality.”

There are currently about 60 electric vehicle owners in the Asheville metropolitan area, which includes Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Madison, and Transylvania counties, according to Brian Taylor, chairman of the Asheville Area Electric Vehicle Committee. He estimates there are 600 in the state.

That number is expected to soar to more than 10,000 people in the state within the next eight years, Taylor said.

Building the network

of charging stations

The town of Waynesville hopes to eventually house two charging stations at the public parking deck in its downtown district.

Town officials had hoped to receive part of a grant from the state energy office that provided for 25 electric vehicle charging stations in the Asheville area.

“We were looking ahead at providing charging stations for electric vehicles in our town fleet and at helping the local economy by offering this service to visitors in our area,” said Waynesville’s Assistant Town Manager Alison Melnikova.

The grant was more involved than the town anticipated, so plans are now on hold.

“The idea is not dead, but we have no immediate plans to install the charging stations,” Melnikova said.

Western Carolina University also is exploring the possibility of installing a charging station on campus but doesn’t have a target date yet, according to Lauren Bishop, energy manager at WCU.

“Our biggest hurdle is funding and grants are scarce now,” she said. Federal stimulus money had been one source of funding for the charging stations, but that stream has dried up.

WCU has been working with Duke Energy and Land-of-Sky Regional Council’s Clean Vehicles Coalition on possible grant funds and logistics.

“They have been very helpful with assisting us with the technical aspect so that we select the technology that best fits our needs. They are also helping us identify funding as it becomes available,” Bishop said.

Throughout the greater Asheville area, there are 37 charging stations at 18 locations, Taylor said.

“Right now, the most feasible option for locating these charging stations is at destinations,” Taylor said. “Nobody wants to hang out at a gas station for 30 minutes or hours while their electric vehicle is being recharged.”

Eaker agrees. While there are efforts to put charging stations at state-owned rest areas, Eaker said commercial establishments along Interstate highways might be a better option.

“I’m not opposed to putting charging stations at rest areas, but it would be better to have them at restaurants, for example, where drivers could have dinner and then be on their way,” Eaker said.

The N.C. General Assembly recently passed a bill that would allow the Department of Transportation to operate electric vehicle charging stations at state-owned rest stops along the highways if they are accessible by the public and a method for paying for the electricity consumed and the cost of providing that service is determined.

The N.C. Department of Transportation has already installed two electric vehicle charging stations at a state rest area near Burlington and two at a rest area near Benson. The charging stations are Level 2, and there is currently no cost for using the stations.

“I am fully supportive of this effort,” said Rep. Ray Rapp, D- Mars Hill, of the rest area charging bases. “This is truly the wave of the future and will hopefully help end our dependence on oil.”

How do owners keep electric cars ‘gassed’ up?

The best solution for recharging an electric vehicle is to plug it in when you get home, similar to the way you might plug in a laptop computer, so that it can recharge overnight, Taylor said. Electric vehicles come with charging systems that allow them to recharge from a standard 110 electric socket, so that the next morning you’ll be ready to hit the road again.

Electric vehicles using lead-acid batteries can travel about 80 miles on a single charge. Lithium-ion batteries have a range of more than 220 miles per charge, but are more expensive.

To make the at-home charge easier for owners of electric vehicles, Progress Energy Carolinas is providing 150 residential customers with plug-in electric vehicle charging equipment as part of a new research project to determine if the electric utility grid will be able to handle a growing use of electric vehicles.

The Plugged In Program is funded through a smart-grid grant from the U.S. Department of Energy as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The grant will cover the cost of the equipment and up to $1,500 of installation costs for a Level 2 charging station at a customer’s home. Customers will continue to pay for the electricity used to charge their vehicle.

Meanwhile, North Carolina is one of 16 states to receive a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for the development of plug-in electric vehicle readiness plans in four regions across the state: Charlotte, Asheville, the Research Triangle and the Piedmont-Triad. Plans from each region will be combined to form the state’s Plug-in Electric Vehicle Readiness Plan from the mountains to the sea.

A report prepared by Environment North Carolina, a citizen-based environmental advocacy group, however, calls for more work to be done to build the infrastructure of the charging stations. North Carolina currently ranks 10th nationally in the number of vehicle charging stations available to the public, according to the report.

For more information about Haywood Community College’s electric vehicle charging station, contact Preston Jacobsen at 828.565.4033.

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