August 17, 2011
Seven electric charging stations from six different manufacturers have been installed at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon as part of a two-year study that will examine which chargers get the most use, who is plugging in, and what they do while their car are being charged. The block-long stretch of a downtown Portland street has been dubbed “Electric Avenue”; drivers who can charge up for free on Electric Avenue, as long as they pay standard street parking rates at the meter. Electric Avenue has one quick-charge station that can juice-up an electric vehicle in about 30 minutes. The other six stations can fill up most batteries in four to six hours. This author has personal experience with electric vehicles and the need to develop an infrastructure to support charging stations, having been part of BMW’s “Mini-E” trial program involving 500 all-electric Mini-Coopers deployed for 12 months in California, New York and New Jersey. The charging station installed by BMW for the program would fully charge the vehicle in about 3 hours, and the driving range was about 100 miles per charge. “Range anxiety,” or the fear of running out of juice in the middle of a trip, is a significant concern for owners of all-electric vehicles. The development of a charging station infrastructure will help address that issue. The next step of the analysis is what Portland State is investigating: what do the vehicle owners do while the vehicle is charging? Another issue is the time of day when the vehicles are charged, and whether the additional loads will strain the power grid. According to the Detroit News article, electric vehicles will not put much strain on the power grid because most charging will probably be done from home at night, when plants generate excess electricity and electric loads are down. Smart meters can help manage this load, by ensuring that the charging occurs in the middle of the night when the power supply is abundant (and power prices are the lowest). This author signed up for Consolidated Edison’s time-of-use rates to take advantage of the lower electricity rates in off-peak periods to charge the Mini-E.