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USA: Arrival of EVs sparks development of convenient charging stations

Connecting all the circuits to create an infrastructure of charging stations for electric vehicles is a monumental undertaking being addressed by numerous sectors, including OEMs, governmental agencies, utilities, electrical contractors and a wide assortment of equipment vendors eager to plug into the anticipated proliferation of electric vehicles (EV) within a few years.

In President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in January, he outlined his administration’s goal of having a million EVs on the nation’s roadways by 2015.

The first Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt were delivered to customers in December, and while sales through June tallied a relatively small 6,600 vehicles, production by the end of this year is estimated at a combined 40,000 with an additional 145,000 planned for 2012.

Current projections have 1.2 million electric vehicles by 2015, with EVs and hybrids possibly reaching a 90 percent market share of new car sales in 2030.

To keep the fleet rolling and ease “range anxiety,” an entire network of compatible charging stations needs to be implemented.

An experimental development in Britain brings to mind HO-scale model racers as HaloIPT and Drayson Racing Technologies are testing inductive power transfer, which consists of electrical transmitters embedded in the track to charge the cars while they zoom on by.

“Dynamic wireless charging will be a real game-changer, enabling zero emission electric vehicles to race over long periods without the need for heavy batteries,” says Lord Paul Drayson, the UK’s former minister for science and innovation.

“This is a milestone innovation that will have a dramatic effect,” he adds, “not just on racing but on the mainstream auto industry. We’re looking forward to putting this technology through its paces as it charges electric race cars at speeds of up to 200 mph.”

However intriguing that concept may be, the systems currently being installed in the United States tend to mimic the tried-and-true gas station; others are taking the form of parking meter-like devices and home-based units.

“As electric vehicles’ popularity grows, we expect to see more charging stations at large employers, automobile dealerships, shopping centers and schools, where cars can charge while people work, shop or study,” reports Katsuya Takamiya, president and CEO of Mitsubishi’s electric and electronics division, which recently unveiled a solar-powered charging station at the carmaker’s California headquarters.

General Motors’ Chevrolet Green Zone Initiative includes implementing solar-powered electric charging stations at 24 of its Volt dealerships. Each individual canopy generates enough electricity for up 12 charges per day, plus they supply supplemental voltage to the dealer’s building. The program “will provide our U.S. dealers with added flexibility when it comes to charging their vehicles while also reinforcing GM’s commitment to renewable energy projects,” says Chris Perry, a Chevy vice president.

“The question isn’t whether to install a solar canopy, it’s where and how many,” notes Joe Serra, president of Al Serra Auto Plaza in Grand Blanc, Mich. “It’s a win for us because the electricity generated will help reduce operating costs, and it’s a win for the environment since solar power helps reduce our carbon footprint.”

Freudenberg-NOK, which produces gaskets and seals for the Volt and Leaf, has installed an EV charging station at its headquarters in Plymouth, Mich. “The station provides company employees, customers and visitors with the opportunity to charge plug-in electric or extended range electric vehicles while at work and helps address a crucial market issue – establishing a robust infrastructure to fuel them,” according to Luis Lorenzo, an engineering division vice president.

“This station is part of an emerging infrastructure that will ultimately ensure widespread acceptance of electric cars across the country,” he adds, noting that EVs are slated to become a $14 billion industry. “Our company wants to aggressively pursue tomorrow’s technology solutions today.”

For drivers who are out on the road and low on juice, the American Automobile Association (AAA) has introduced the nation’s first mobile charging service truck. “As the electric vehicle market continues to emerge, AAA is ready to help alleviate some ‘range anxiety’ with the ability to provide a charge to electric vehicles on the roadside that gets drivers back on the go quickly,” says Marshall L. Doney, the Triple A’s automotive vice president.

Unveiled at July’s Plug-In Conference & Exposition, the endeavor’s debut includes Portland, Ore.; Seattle; the San Francisco Bay area; Los Angeles; Knoxville, Tenn.; and the Tampa Bay region. “While these six areas are part of the initial pilot program, we’ve had tremendous interest from AAA clubs across the country to offer this service to their members, and we anticipate expanding the program to additional areas in the months following initial deployment,” says John Nielsen, the organization’s director of auto repair, buying services and consumer information.

On the home front, Nissan and City Ventures – a builder of affordable, eco-friendly homes in urban locations – have formed a cooperative effort to pre-wire 190 Southern California townhouses currently under construction for EV chargers. It is billed as largest residential EV pre-wiring project in the country.

SPX Service Solutions is assembling a network of 2,000 certified electricians to address the specific types of EV charging stations required for various residences. The company’s SPX Power Xpress unit is a compact wall-mounted device that can be unplugged, moved and installed in outdoor locations.

Building foundations, garage types and the location of electrical service panels dictate different charging station installation needs, according to an SPX survey of 2,000 potential EV owners in five U.S. markets where they are currently rolling out: California, Michigan, Texas and the New York and Washington, D.C. metro areas.

“One key finding is that, for the most part, their homes are conducive to home-charging,” says Divisional President Tanvir Arfi. “Most respondents own their own homes, live in single-family dwellings and have electrical systems that can support 240V charging. In addition, the types of garages and foundations in their homes vary considerably, indicating the need for highly flexible, custom charge station installations.”

Results of the polling reveal:

• 98 percent of survey participants own their own home.

• 63 percent live in single-family dwellings.

• 99 percent of these homes have electrical systems equipped with circuit breakers, an important piece of infrastructure needed to support a 240V charge station.

• 71 percent have space on their electrical service panel for additional breakers, allowing space to have a line for a charge station to be added.

• 78 percent of respondents lack a 240V outlet or line near their parking location, which is essential for faster home charging.

The survey indicates that 32 percent of the participants have basements, 29 percent have crawl spaces and 36 percent slab foundations. Garage types also vary, with 47 percent of garages attached to the home, 7 percent detached, 13 percent use a carport or driveway and 33 percent have other home parking arrangements, according to Arfi. The location of the main electrical service panel is also variable, with 32 percent in the basement, 29 percent in the garage and 31 percent outside the home. In addition to these findings, participants say that they prefer the charging station to be in the garage, but they also want the flexibility of driveway charging.

The Leviton Manufacturing Co. has recently expanded its Evr-Green line of residential, commercial and public charging systems with the addition of the 120 Level 1 Portable Charger and 160 Level 2 Home Charging Station.

“We are delighted to make our industry-leading EV charging solutions available for all our customer segments,” says Mike Mattei, vice president and general manager. “We have complete confidence that residential consumers, automakers and electrical industry professionals alike will embrace these superior, competitively priced products.”

A new line of VersiCharge charging stations designed for homeowners ready to move from the pump to the plug is being introduced by Siemens. The VersiCharge EV model “is ideal for electrical contractors who want to offer homeowners an economical, easy-to-use station to charge their new EV,” says Barry Contrael, product director. “Similarly, VersiCharge SG is designed for more sophisticated owners and utilities looking for network connectivity, expandability, and smart grid integration, all while balancing the constraints of a tight budget.”



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