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USA: Larisa Brass: Local drivers charged up about electric cars

Saul Young/Business Journal Knoxville political consultant Susan Richardson Williams points out some of the features in her Nissan Leaf.
Charging up?

East Tennessee map:

ECOtality national map:

Knoxville EV drivers utilize public chargers at a higher percentage rate than anywhere else in the country — including runners-up San Francisco and Los Angeles, according to ECOtality, a California-based company that has spent the last two years installing charging stations throughout the country with the aid of Department of Energy funding.

The data, collected from more than 184 charging stations in the Knoxville area and more than 4,000 across the country, also showed local Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt drivers average more daily miles on their cars than drivers nationally.

The numbers don’t reveal which stations are seeing the most use or why local EV drivers are so readily tapping into these public power spots, says Stephanie Cox, Tennessee regional manager for ECOtality. But Cox says she’s pleasantly surprised the state is holding its own against more traditional early adopters of green innovation.

“To see Knoxville on the list makes me very happy,” she says. “I think Tennessee is poised to do very well with electric vehicles.”

By year’s end, ECOtality will have installed more than 1,300 charging stations across the state, including 13 DC fast chargers, which can provide 100 percent charge in about 30 minutes. Traditional, or level 2, commercial and residential plug-ins require a 220-volt connection and about four to six hours to charge a car battery completely. A typical wall outlet does the job in eight to 16 hours.

Jonathan Overly, executive director of the East Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition and the owner of a Nissan Leaf, has been one of those public infrastructure utilizers. “I know I increase the average,” he jokes.

He credits the infrastructure with allowing him to make the trek from Maryville to Chattanooga, where charging stations in Cleveland and Athens enable him to stretch an average 70-highway-mile limit on his battery. The car does better off the interstate, giving him 85 to 90 miles before recharging is required, which is easily enough for the average daily commute, he says.

Closer to home, Overly takes advantage of chargers at Cracker Barrel and at city-owned garages in downtown Knoxville. He recently plugged in at Knoxville’s Civic Coliseum while attending an Ice Bears hockey game. “Places like that, where you’re going to be there a while, those are great,” he says.

Knoxville political consultant Susan Richardson Williams had ECOtality install a charger at her home after she purchased a Nissan Leaf. Charging overnight gives her battery enough life to get from her West Knoxville home to downtown office, and meetings in between. On Fridays when she attends a morning meeting in Oak Ridge before heading to the office, the battery is pretty low when she pulls into her own garage.

Williams says she rarely uses public chargers — she doesn’t park in city-owned garages downtown — but has given her battery a boost while at the Crowne Plaza hotel attending an event.

“I got home one night with one mile left, and I was about to hyperventilate,” she says. “But I’ve learned after a year and a half how far I can go.”

Jake Tisinger, project manager for the city of Knoxville’s sustainability office, says officials have been pleased with the amount of traffic the 24 chargers installed throughout the city are seeing.


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