“We have to crawl before we can walk before we can run. But we have to start somewhere and we believe these fast charging stations are a good place to start.” – Robin Rego, Energy Northwest
Call it the “charging gap.” Electric vehicle owners know what it is – the distance between charging stations on the highway. On the West side of Washington state, mainly along the Interstate 5 corridor, the gap is relatively small, with Direct Current fast charging stations located every 40 to 60 miles, according to the West Coast Green Highway website.
But if travelling eastward, say to the Tri-Cities area, the gap gets wider and wider, limiting routes and, likely, opportunity for Westsiders to make a carbon-free trip to a favorite Mid-Columbia winery.
Enter EVITA, the acronym for a new project involving Energy Northwest, local utilities and the Tri-Cities Development Council. It is sponsored by the Mid-Columbia Energy Initiative, an industry collaboration effort.
EVITA stands for Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Transportation Alliance. The objective is to advocate for sustainable electric transportation infrastructure by promoting public/private partnerships in developing DC fast charging stations throughout the service areas of local utilities in Benton and Franklin counties, as well as along the major highways leading into the Tri-Cities area.
“We are focused on growing the (Energy Northwest) vision to support our member utilities with what their interests are, charging station infrastructure as an example, but also to stay on top of new technologies,” said Robin Rego, Generation Project Development manager. “Electric vehicles are a real part of storage. Storage is becoming much more important as people are focusing on renewables.”
Rego says wind and solar, because they are intermittent, require storage to be most effective and it is becoming increasingly expensive and often not possible to use other fast responding resources like hydro and natural gas turbines to firm up renewables. Battery storage is in its infancy with electric vehicles essentially at the forefront of battery development. Energy Northwest brings its knowledge of battery storage technologies to the table, according to Rego.
Transportation versus utilities
As reported by Brad Plumer in Vox, the transportation sector in the U.S. recently passed the utility sector in carbon emissions. Plumer notes:
Over the long term, the real hope is that electric cars will catch on and help drive down overall emissions by relying more heavily on the quickly-greening power sector. Right now, electric vehicles are only 0.7 percent of the US car fleet, and turnover is fairly slow, but many analysts expect that falling battery prices should help speed up the shift by making EVs more cost-competitive with traditional vehicles.
Washington state has an enviable mix of carbon-free electricity generating resources, including all the assets operated by EN. Where the state struggles to reduce its carbon-footprint is the transportation sector, which makes up 50 percent of the state’s emissions.
The Energy Information Administration has figures from 2014 that show Washington state as an electric vehicle leader in the U.S. (see below). But in raw numbers, that’s not saying much. Washington has seven million registered cars and trucks on the road. The state’s goal is to have 50,000 electric vehicles or hybrids on the road by 2020.
That’s where EVITA can help.
Benefits and challenges
The program involves deploying DC fast charging stations at participating businesses or organizations throughout the Mid-Columbia region. The stations will re-charge an electric vehicle in about 30 minutes. Compare that to a normal home re-charge which can take 8 to 20 hours to fully re-charge. The speed is a key attribute because EV owners will want to charge up and get back home. But with speed comes cost.
Installation of one station can run between $50,000 and $150,000. On the other side of the ledger is the potential for more customers for businesses, a tourism boost and increased electricity sales for utilities. But there are risks involved.
Demand for public charging is relatively low and how quickly that will change is uncertain. Another risk is that little is known about the financial performance of EV charging station infrastructure.
Alaxandria Von Hell, with EN’s Generation Project Development and assisting on the project, believes it is worth finding out if there can be a path to success.
“Support of this project aligns with Energy Northwest’s core values. The expansion of EV charging station access is of valuable interest to EN’s member utilities and participants and is aligned with EN’s vision statement, to be a leader in energy solutions,” Von Hell said.
Ultimately, success rests with collaboration between a wide-ranging group of interested parties, including public and private utilities, charging station owners and operators, EV owners and government agencies. Participating utilities will be identifying potential charging station locations this summer and waiting to hear about any grant money available to offset costs.
If EVITA fulfills its promise, the program will open up a new gateway of carbon-free travel across the state.
Local utilities involved with the project include Benton PUD, Franklin PUD, City of Richland and Benton REA.
View a recent news story on EVITA by KEPR-TV in the Tri-Cities by clicking here.
(Posted by John Dobken)