The future of vehicles has arrived
Electric car charging stations bring a new source of energy to Bowling Green
By Sarah Bailey
Bowling Green residents and BGSU students may notice people plugging their cars into a different source of energy: electric car charging stations.
Three of these small, futuristic-looking stations have been placed in various areas throughout the city. The stations offer a source of power that has been historically controversial and recently debated.
At the turn of the 20th century, the amount of electric vehicles on the road was more than gasoline-powered ones. In the early 1900’s, there were about 50,000 electric vehicles in the United States. Over time, the use of electric vehicles decreased as the development of gasoline became less-expensive and the electric starter took the place of the crank in gasoline-powered cars, according to a report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
While the climate continues to change and the amount of emissions into our atmosphere becomes a growing concern, many have turned back to electric vehicles as an opportunity and an advancing green energy.
While many cars on the road today are primarily gasoline-powered, worldwide adoption of electric vehicles and hybrids are expected to grow quickly within the next couple of years, with sales up to 3.2 million vehicles from 2010 to 2015, according to a report from Pike Research.
Some people have started to charge their electric vehicles at these charging stations. The stations provide a source of electricity that can charge batteries in both electric cars and hybrids, according to Nicholas Hennessy, sustainability coordinator at BGSU.
Three electric car charging stations, located in Lot 1 off of East Court Street, Lot 2 off of South Prospect and Lot 3 off of South Church Street, have been installed and are ready to use, according to Brian O’Connell, utilities director for the city of Bowling Green.
View Electric Car Charging Stations in Bowling Green in a larger map
Three more stations will be placed on BGSU’s campus in the welcome center lot, the lot across from the union, and in Lot 8 by Falcon Heights within the next few months. The grant application to install the charging stations was approved in January. The university is currently waiting for the installation process to begin, and the stations are expected to be in place by the fall 2012 school year, Hennessy said.
When owners of electric vehicles’ batteries run low, they will be able to hook their cars up to these charging stations. The stations are similar to gas pumps. A customer can take the pump and plug it into the side of his or her car and electricity will flow into the car’s batteries, Hennessy said.
“It’s really the same type of concept as you would charge an iPod or a cell phone, except that it’s a car instead,” he said.
The time to charge an electric vehicle can vary depending on the vehicle and how big the battery is. The charging stations on campus and in the city will take a vehicle a couple of hours to be fully charged.
The city and the university will not be charging people to use the stations at first. The only price customers will have to pay is for the meter while their car is charging, Hennessy said.
O’Connell, the city’s utilities director, said he was approached by Anthony Palumbo, head of the university’s Electric Vehicle Institute, who informed him that the grant was available.
From there, the university and the city came together in order to get the charging stations. Each charging station, made by General Electric, cost $2,500, added up to a total of $15,000 for the city and the university combined, said Hennessy, who administered the grant process.
“We applied for the grant because we felt like we had an obligation to make more charging stations available to try and perpetuate the purchase of electric vehicles,” he said.
Clean Fuels Ohio, an organization that distributes money from the U.S. Department of Energy for green projects, funded $7,500: half of the money involved in the project. That left $7,500 for both the city and the university to come up with individually.
For the university, the Student Green Initiative Fund paid for the portion that wasn’t paid for by Clean Fuels Ohio. The fund is a pool of money that students have paid for in their student fees to support many of the university’s green projects. The fee is an optional $5 per semester, and many students agree to pay it, Hennessy said.
The city paid for the other half of their funds through Eco Smart Choice Program, a fund that provides a volunteer rate that customers can pay towards renewable energy or sustainability projects, O’Connell said.
Electric car technology is a cleaner energy than using fossil fuels, yet it all depends on where the source of the energy is coming from, Hennessy said.
“If your electricity is coming from a coal-powered power plant, then fossil fuels are still being used,” Hennessy said. “You are still connected to burning coal because the factory is.”
Hennessy explained that this is different from purely “green” energy that does not harm the atmosphere, such as electricity produced purely from windmills outside of Bowling Green. In reality, most of the energy produced in Bowling Green is connected to coal in some way, he said.
“Even so, it is better than using straight-up gasoline, which is 100 percent from a non-renewable source: oil,” Hennessy said.
Another concern is that even though the cost for electric vehicle technology is going down, it is still enough to remain a major factor in holding back the advancement of this technology, Hennessy said.
“Even though you have these cars on the market, the cost is still considered pretty high,” Hennessy said.
O’Connell and Hennessy both agreed that the price of the electric vehicles will be an issue that car manufacturers will have to face.
Thayer Nissan, part of the Thayer Family Dealerships in Bowling Green, has one of the only mass-produced fully electric vehicles on the market: the Nissan Leaf.
“Once it catches on, I believe people will see this as a good vehicle,” said Eric Walker, sales manager at Thayer Nissan. “It’s a great commuter vehicle.”
The Nissan Leaf is the only fully electric vehicle that Nissan sells currently, according to Walker. Nissan recently came out with this vehicle for mass production and it was initially sold on the east and the west coast before it became available in the Midwest.
“It’s not going to be a vehicle that you can take across the country, but for daily use it’s much more efficient than a gas vehicle,” Walker said.
There have only been a few of the vehicles sold in the Midwest region, and the dealership in Bowling Green has not yet sold any, despite the vehicle being available since January, Walker said.
Even though the vehicles have been on the market, people in the Bowling Green community haven’t had the
opportunity to get into this type of technology yet because of the way the ordering process works, he said.
The ordering process for a Nissan Leaf is done online. Customers can make an account online, send out a quote to dealers, and once their quote is accepted the process is moved forward through the dealership. The process takes about three to four months, he said.
“We have one vehicle here at the dealership that can be used as a demo for customers to come in and see,” Walker said.
The electric car charging stations will help people in the outer areas of the community be attracted to purchase electric cars, he said.
One of the other major concerns surrounding electric vehicles is the distance the car can go on one charge.
Today’s purely battery-powered vehicles don’t provide the same distance as a gasoline-powered vehicle. Currently, an electric vehicle’s driving range is anywhere from 50 to 130 miles, depending on factors such as the vehicle’s weight, type of batteries and design, according to the same report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
“People may want to go further than that and they may become trapped or not able to find a charging station,” Hennessy said.
One of the requirements of getting the grant was the electric vehicle charging stations had to be made available to the entire state, not just the people in Bowling Green or at BGSU, he said.
“If there is someone from Toledo, Findlay or any other city who wants to charge their cars, they can do so here,” O’Connell said.
O’Connell explained that the city plans to monitor the free consumption of the electricity for about a year. The parking meters the city has put in place will allow around an eight-hour parking limit, compared to the other meters that have a two-hour limit. Once the amount of consumption is figured out, plans can be made as to whether a fee will be given to use the stations.
“We computed it out and if a car were to charge for an hour it would consume less than 50 cents worth of energy,” he said.
Another factor the city considered when deciding on the stations was the rising amount of hybrid and electric vehicles on the streets, O’Connell said.
By the year 2017, it is forecasted that more than 1.5 million electric charging locations will be available in the United States. About 7.7 million locations are expected to be available worldwide, according to a report by Pike Research
For every 10,000 drivers who operate gas-powered cars that would switch to electric, CO2 emissions would be decreased by 33,000 metric tons a year. This is the same as the yearly CO2 emissions of 6,500 cars on road in the United States, according to General Electric’s website.
In other words, if this technology replaces gasoline-powered vehicles, General Electric thinks the atmosphere would be thanking us.
“If you want people to use these types of cars in the community, you have to give them a source to plug into,” O’Connell said.