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USA: 10 EV Charging Lessons Learned From Portland’s Electric Avenue

In part I of this series, I described the launch of Electric Avenue, an innovative electric car infrastructure demonstration project located in Portland, Oregon. In this post, I present 10 lessons learned since the two-year project launched, in August 2011.

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Portland’s Electric Avenue Driving Electric Cars Into The Mainstream Justin Gerdes
California To Build A $100M Electric Car Charging Network Ucilia Wang
My guide, on a recent visit to Portland, was George Beard, Strategic Alliance Manager, Portland State University (PSU) Office of Research & Strategic Partnerships. In our interview, and in a tour of Electric Avenue’s seven electric vehicle charging stations, Beard shared what PSU and its main partners, the City of Portland and Portland General Electric (PGE), have learned so far.

1) The “Big Gulp” theory of charging: “Here’s something we’ve seen that surprised us,” Beard said. “People who have [a Nissan Leaf] will often come to Electric Avenue, and they will charge up – if they have one of those CHAdeMO – TEPCO Level III [direct current] quick charging connectors. They might be in the bottom 25% or 20% of their battery range.”

“People will come and plug in and quick charge for 5 or 10 minutes. I call it the ‘Big Gulp theory of charging.’ They’re not looking to get a full charge, but, rather, they’re acquiring somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 to 50 miles. We see people saying, ‘I’ll plug in for 5 minutes because I can get enough miles to get home’ because they’re not going on extended trips.”

“The convenience of this cannot be underestimated,” he said.

The popularity of “Big Gulp” charging prompted Beard to wonder if DC quick chargers should be given priority over Level II charging stations, which will charge a depleted battery in 3-4 hours, for public EV charging.

Portland’s Electric Avenue offers valuable lessons learned after more than six months of public EV charging. Credit: Justin Gerdes
2) Locate next to a transit hub and provide hospitality services: “What we did here that was accidentally brilliant is that we located Electric Avenue adjacent to a mobility hub,” said Beard (see map). “We have a street car system coexisting with a light-rail system, with bus service, with car service, with pedestrian boulevards, with bike lanes – this is an iconic place in the world.”

“Someone could easily come in [to Electric Avenue] and get 10 hours of parking on the street – that’s almost unheard of in the downtown core. They can get fueled up for free, and they can get on our streetcar system or on the light-rail train, which is part of our “Fareless Square,” and go into the commercial part of the city, the retail part of the city, go up to the Rose Garden and catch a Trail Blazers’ game. And then come back. You can literally move on electrons rather than carbon.”

Electric Avenue is located next door to PSU’s Urban Plaza. “Within a short walk of Electric Avenue,” Beard said, “parkers can grab a coffee or ice cream, make a phone call, get warm, and go to the bathroom.”

3) Cluster the charging stations: “The act of clustering these in an ‘oasis’ rather than having them scattered around has been important,” said Beard. “If I owned an electric vehicle, I would feel more comfortable putting it in a place that’s designed to support them in some numbers. Rather than being the isolated oddball stuck behind the Costco. Having it in an urban place, in a safe, visible area seems to be worth something and is greatly appreciated.”



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