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Bright Horizons for Solar EV Charging

Dec. 20, 2013
Learn from recent deployments and consider an installation at your site.

Superman gets his power from the sun, and your car can too. Implement a solar-powered EV charging station and your tenants will be walking – or rather driving – on sunshine.

“Embrace this technology. You can be the building that doesn’t have it and doesn’t care, and for a while that works,” says Desmond Wheatley, president and CEO of Envision Solar, a supplier of solar products. “But pretty soon, tenants start picking the buildings that do. I’m a landlord myself, and I want to make sure my property is more attractive than the one next door.”

Systems like this are rising up nationwide. Harness the successes of recent installations to see if one will work at your facility.

Chicago Parks Get Greener
A Chicago Park District-owned 11-foot solar canopy was recently installed on Northerly Island. With a construction cost of $67,000, the steel structure supports a 900-pound, 300-square-foot array. For now, the structure stands alone, but it can accommodate multiple canopies linked back-to-back.

The project was conceived through a partnership between the park district and Carbon Day Automotive, a builder of EV infrastructure. The station turns sunlight into electricity, stores it in a nearby battery bank, and dispenses it to vehicle owners. The design totally removes electricity generated from fossil fuel and nuclear power from the equation.

“It’s completely carbon-free,” says Kyle Powers, project manager for the Chicago Park District. “And it’s in a great spot to get people interested.”

Owners will be able to use the station while attending a concert, walking the park grounds, or visiting nearby museums. Use requires a membership that charges for kilowatts drawn to fill an EV’s batteries. A “smart plug” at each connection sends text messages to users when the charge is finished or interrupted. An iPhone app is also available to tell drivers where the nearest charger is and if it’s occupied.

“In terms of load on the grid, each EV is equivalent to a single family residence,” says Wheatley. “Wherever we can leverage renewables, that’s a good thing.”

Superstructure Serves University
A 180-square-foot PV array at the University of Iowa (UI) generates an estimated 70,000 kWh of energy annually, which allows for a reduction in gasoline use by almost 16,000 gallons. At a construction cost of $950,000, the station provides approximately 20 spaces for charging.

“The goals were to green our energy portfolio, reduce the carbon impact of transportation, and increase student opportunities to learn and practice principles of sustainability,” explains Eric Foresman, energy engineer at UI. “It was funded by a coalition of our energy, sustainability, facilities management, and parking and transportation departments.”

The station serves campus utility vehicles. Design projections resulted in the array being able to support over 35 EVs traveling 10,000 miles per year, Foresman says. Actual PV production has exceeded this, but the UI is still building its EV fleet, so most power currently generated is surplus and distributed back to the grid.

The UI station is virtually maintenance-free, says Foresman. Typical upkeep for any solar project entails squirting oil on gear fittings, spraying dust off with water, and sweeping snow off with a snow rake, adds Wheatley.

As with traditional EV chargers, it’s difficult to calculate ROI in concrete numbers. But the intangible benefits of a solar EV charging installation are many. Think of the station as a tool to attract and retain clients, workers, occupants, and tenants.

“People are starting to care about this amenity,” Wheatley says. “You don’t need to cover your whole lot with chargers. But you should make sure they’re available.”

Chris Curtland [email protected] is assistant editor of BUILDINGS.

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