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Delaware to build network of electric vehicle charging stations

WDDE discusses current charging options with a Delaware EV owner.



Delaware is setting up a network of electric vehicle charging stations which will be built in locations that are designed to eliminate the “range anxiety” that deters people from driving the emissions-free cars, the University of Delaware and the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control said in a joint announcement on Wednesday.

The network will consist of five or six charging stations at locations that would enable EV drivers to make longer trips such as Wilmington to Bethany Beach without having to worry about running out of charge, officials told WDDE.

The new chargers will augment nine existing stations around the state, most of which can only be used by drivers of EVs such as the Nissan Leaf or models made by Tesla because those manufacturers have made them available just for their customers.

Officials have not yet decided where to locate the stations but said they will take into account driver convenience, traffic patterns to major destinations, and proximity to shops or restaurants where drivers can wait while their cars are charging, the announcement said.

“Through our innovative partnership with the University of Delaware, our state will help accelerate the widespread adoption of electric vehicles throughout the Mid-Atlantic Region and seize both greater air quality and economic development benefits for our state,” said DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara. “No longer will any Delawareans or visiting owners of electric vehicles have to worry about running out of electricity while traveling in the First State.”

DNREC is spending $80,000 to fund the network, officials said.

The new stations will not be more than 50 miles apart, which is the battery range for the least expensive electric vehicle models today. The program will encourage purchase of such vehicles, which at about $22,000 are about one-fifth as expensive as models with the largest batteries and longest ranges.

The 16-kilowatt stations will charge two to three times faster than more common models, and the service will be offered free of charge initially.

Willett Kempton, a professor in UD’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment, and his colleagues will work with public and private location owners on the initial set-up and on a long-term plan, which could include a fee in subsequent years to cover any ongoing costs. The researchers will monitor station usage and track reductions in pollution and carbon dioxide emissions.

In an interview with WDDE, Kempton said discussions are underway with the owners or operators of potential charging locations such as highway rest stops or shops where drivers could visit while their cars are charging.

“We have identified some tentative locations already, and we are now beginning discussions with the people who control those sites whether it’s a rest stop that’s a state facility or a store that might be a place where people can stop over,” he said.

He argued that the state’s $80,000 investment, which will serve all EV drivers in Delaware, is about equal to the cost of one Tesla with the largest battery. “It’s crazily more cost effective,” he said.

The new charging stations will be strategically located to allow EV drivers to recharged their vehicles en route from, say, Newark to Rehoboth, a journey that is currently beyond the range of most EVs, Kempton said.

They will also be compatible with the charging systems of all EVs. “They will charge any car that has been purchased in the United States, and they will in many cases charge at the fastest rate,” Kempton said. “There has to be standardization,” he said.

When they would become operational will depend on the results of the study, but officials hope it will be by the end of 2014.

Kempton argued that the new Delaware network improves on systems being developed by other states.

He said the 16-kilowatt stations will allow users to charge their batteries in a third of the time taken by the 6kW chargers used by most states.

Kempton said charging networks have been set up by some other states, and by the federal government, but that many are “random” because they are the result of entities such as shops deciding that they want to offer the facility, rather than being planned from the point of view of the traveler.

Although Delaware will have fewer charging stations per capita than in some nearby states, the stations will be strategically placed to meet drivers’ needs, Kempton said.

In the Mid-Atlantic region electric chargers are clustered within metropolitan areas like Philadelphia and Baltimore, but are not well-located for en-route charging and most are incapable of fast charging, the UD/DNREC announcement said.

The project will enable trips within Delaware, making the entire state within an electric car’s range. The project also helps fill a regional gap for recharging capabilities between Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Brian Wynne, president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, which advocates for EV adoption nationwide, said Delaware’s plan appears to be similar to those adopted by other states.

Speaking before the formal announcement of the Delaware plan, Wynne cited a plan by New York State to install 3,000 EV stations over five years; a plan by Connecticut to build 42 stations, and another to create a corridor of chargers between Vermont and Quebec to enable long-distance travel without range anxiety.

Charging facilities are also being set up by businesses including Wal-Mart and Walgreens, and by some hotel chains, Wynne said.

He acknowledged that the multi-hour charging period typically required for Level 1 or 2 charging stations would not be ideal for long-distance travel but argued that those facilities are well-suited for the short trips, such as commuting to work, that most drivers make on a regular basis.

“It’s clearly better if you are moving along and trying to fuel up in a hurry to be using a DC fast charger,” said Wynne, who drives a Chevy Volt about 20 miles to work and has easily enough time to charge it at both ends of his commute.

Wynne argued that range anxiety is a non-issue for EV driving over short distances.

“For local driving, the numbers tell us that people get over so-called range anxiety in about three days,” he told WDDE. “They just need to understand how the car works and how it fits into their driving needs.”

Some local EV pioneers have figured out how to use their vehicles with limited charging facilities but keep their trips short to avoid running out of charge.

Len Beck, a resident of Newark, regularly drives his all-electric Nissan Leaf about 10 miles to work at Delmarva Power. His car has plenty of energy in its battery after charging overnight at his house.

Beck, an electric-vehicle advocate who has written a book on Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) technology that allows EVs to feed power back into the electric grid when they are parked, says he has clocked 15,000 gas-free miles over almost two years in the Leaf so far, and describes it as “wonderful” to drive, with rapid acceleration.

He paid about $38,000 for the new car, and recouped $7,500 of that from a federal tax credit. Despite the high price tag, Beck says he’s inspired by the vehicle’s benign effect on the environment, and the fact that he gets the electric energy equivalent of 90 miles per gallon.

Beck showed off the speed of the car — a silver vehicle with “Zero Emissions” prominently painted on both sides – to WDDE during a demonstration drive in mid-December.

He pulled on to I-95 and quickly crossed several lanes of traffic to exit shortly afterwards with only a soft whine from the electric motor as the car accelerated. “At any speed, when you step on the pedal, it jumps,” he said.

Despite his passion for EVs, Beck confesses he’s a victim of “range anxiety” – the fear of running out of charge — when planning longer trips than his regular commute, so he keeps a gasoline-powered car for longer trips.

“It’s as if you had a gasoline car with a two-gallon gas tank,” he said.

On a planned 110-mile round trip to New Jersey, Beck once miscalculated the amount of energy he would need, ran out of charge after 70 miles, and had to be towed back to his house, costing him $100 in towing fees, and leaving his pride “a little bruised”.

The vehicle has made a few 84-mile round trips from Newark to Dover on a single charge but Beck has taken slower roads, avoiding the high speeds of Route 1, in order to conserve energy. Maximizing the range of the car might also involve turning off its heating or cooling systems.

Beck said he would welcome any network of charging stations that would allow him to drive longer distances without having to worry about whether he had enough charge to reach his destination.

But its success would depend on whether the stations can recharge vehicles quickly enough to be a practical alternative to filling up a gas tank. “It’s all going to be about what kind of chargers they put in,” he said.

To be even remotely competitive with the speed of refilling a gas tank, EV chargers would have to be installed at “Level 3” which can charge a Nissan Leaf battery from empty to 80% in less than 30 minutes, Beck said. That might attract some EV drivers who are willing to wait and get a meal at highway rest stop while their car recharges, but even the fastest charger is significantly slower than filling up a gas tank.

Level 2 chargers need varying periods to charge EVs, depending on the current of the supporting electric service and what power a car’s charging system can accommodate.

For a Nissan Leaf, a high-powered Level 2 charger will only be able to provide enough power for 20 miles of travel for each hour of charging.

Beck uses a Level 1 charger that plugs into a regular 120-volt outlet for overnight charging at his house. He can top up using one of two Level 2 chargers that are installed in the parking lot of Delmarva Power in Newark, where he heads the regulatory team.

Charging the Leaf at home every night adds $30-35 a month to his electric bill but that compares very favorably to the almost $100 that he would be spending on gasoline if he drove a conventional car to work.

According to the federal government’s Alternative Fueling Station Locator, there are already nine EV charging stations in Delaware. Three are Level 2 chargers available only to Nissan customers, who can use them free of charge.

More Level 2 stations are operated by a Ford dealership in Smyrna; by Chimes International, a disabled service organization, in Millsboro, and by Delaware Technical and Community College at its Terry campus in Dover. The other two are Level 1 chargers operated by the Hampton Inn in Rehoboth and the Bluewater House Bed & Breakfast in Lewes, according to the federal web site.

Beck said he has used two of the Nissan chargers, and once charged his EV at Del Tech in Dover although that was a low-amperage model that took about four hours to give the vehicle enough charge for the drive back to Newark.

At the Travel Plaza on I-95 outside Newark, the luxury EV maker Tesla has installed four Level 3 chargers which provide free energy – but for Tesla owners only. During the December drive, a dark blue Tesla was plugged in to one of the charging stations on one side of the parking lot.

The suitability of EVs for typical short-distance trips was underscored by UD’s Kempton, who is the Research Director for the University of Delaware’s Center for Carbon-free Power Integration, and a leading national advocate of EVs.

“Most trips are well under EV range but there may be some trips above the typical range,” said Kempton, who worked with DNREC to develop the new charging network.

The new stations will ease range anxiety for EV drivers making longer local trips such as Wilmington to Rehoboth; Baltimore to south Delaware, or Philadelphia to Lewes, Kempton said.