Thursday, July 28, 2011

Electric Highways reinvent the road trip

by guest blogger Noel Brady

It’s the lure of the open road, the boundless horizon, the discovery of a dusty, old-west town and …a convenient place to recharge your car?

That’s right; road trips in Washington are going electric. In just six months a network of recharging stations along Washington’s Electric Highways – I-5 and US 2 to start – will break the range barrier for electric vehicles, making Canada-to-Oregon trips as easy as plugging in your laptop.

More than 1,500 people in Washington already drive the latest generation of electric vehicles (EV), such as the Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt, and markets indicate thousands more will be recharging instead of refueling in the years to come.

So far, EV drivers have been limited to short hops of 40 to 50 miles in city traffic before having to recharge. With limited options for recharging on the road today, they typically charge their batteries overnight at home. Soon, EV drivers will be recharging on the way to Stevens Pass (on US 2) or while visiting Oregon or British Columbia (via I-5).

California-based AeroVironment will supply the recharging equipment at nine locations to connect the EV grid in much of our state by Nov. 30. The stations will include DC fast-chargers, which fully charge any plug-in EV in less than a half hour, and Level 2 “medium-speed” chargers, a cheaper option that takes three to eight hours.

“It's all about offering choices,” said Jeff Doyle, director of public-private partnerships here at WSDOT. “People are choosing electric because it costs about 2 cents per mile, compared to 12 cents or more with gasoline. Most people who want to invest in an electric car are waiting for convenient recharging."

Doyle and his team looked at how EV drivers will fit recharging into their daily routine. They started scouting locations like malls, theaters, restaurants and large retail stores, where an EV driver might want to spend 30 minutes to a few hours while their car recharges.

They visited storefronts with a simple proposal for business and property owners – they provide the real estate (a couple parking stalls, usually) and we will help pay for the charging equipment with a recently-awarded $1.32 million federal energy grant for innovative petroleum-reduction projects.

Between Everett and Olympia, ECOtality will install additional charging stations through a federal program, The EV Project, administrated by the U.S. Department of Energy. Combined with Electric Highways, the two projects will connect Washington EV drivers along the entire 276 miles of I-5 between Canada and Oregon.

Electric Highways in Washington eventually will connect with similar projects in Oregon and California to the form the West Coast Green Highway, 1,350 electrified miles on I-5 from Canada to Mexico, serving more than 2 million EVs anticipated in western states by the next decade. Just imagine driving from Vancouver, B.C., to the Baja Peninsula without ever filling a gas tank.


Anonymous said...

"The stations will include DC fast-chargers, which fully charge any plug-in EV in less than a half hour, and Level 2 “medium-speed” chargers, a cheaper option that takes three to eight hours."

Two questions. How much to these two types of chargers cost? Also, on the medium speed charger, is the idea that people will just wait "three to eight hours" while their cars recharge?

Tonia Buell said...

Great questions.
1. Whether charging up using the fast charger or the Level 2 charger, electric vehicle drivers will pay less than they would filling a tank with gas. The exact price points have not been set, but it will be affordable since the goals is to encourage people to use the chargers. Most of the electric vehicle supply equipment companies are setting up subscription-based programs (like cell phone minutes) where EV drivers will pay a monthly fee to use home, public, or a combination of home and public charging. There will also be pay-per-use options where drivers may pay a flat fee or by the minute. Some businesses may even offer free Level 2 charging as a way to attract shoppers. Just like gas stations, more profits are made in the minimart than at the gas pump.
2. People may use the Level 2 chargers to “top off” anytime they are parked somewhere for a while such as when they are grocery shopping. This “opportunity charging” is the process of charging a battery whenever power is available or between partial discharges rather than waiting for the battery to be completely discharged.
Other burning questions? You may find the answers at

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, I should have been more specific. My question was actually, how much did it cost the government to install the two types of charging stations?

Tonia Buell said...

The costs for the electric highway network of nine DC fast chargers and nine Level 2 chargers are shared by the public sector, the private sector, and the electric vehicle drivers.

The total government investment is $1.3 million. The seed funding is provided by the US Department of Energy (through the Washington State Department of Commerce State Energy Program) as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Anonymous said...

Odd thing is, if we all go electric, and charging takes 30 minutes the waiting line would be horrific! These "stations" seem costly and likely a huge drain on the power grid as more and more drivers sign on. Will be interesting to see how realistic this scenario is. I'm gonna wait and see.

Jeff Randall said...

Thank you WSDOT for participating in getting some charging stations near our highways. In answer to "Anonymous's" question, a Level II charger suitable for homes and businesses which will provide a "half-tank" charge on a Nissan Leaf in about 2 hours, is about $1,500 - $2,500 installed. A Level III charger (80% charge in 20 minutes for a Leaf) is going to be more expensive but probably no more expensive than a gasoline pump at a service station.

I suggest the WSDOT consider installing Level III chargers along all I-90 and I-5 rest stops as an intitial step of getting our electric transportation grid going. With these in place you could basically drive a Nissan Leaf anywhere in the state and be able to top off your "tank" in only 20 minutes, while you stretch your legs at a rest stop. You would be able to recharge your car fully when you arrive at your ultimate destination (Aunt Maude's, Grandma's house, etc.).

Ultimately, Level II chargers will be readily available in public parking lots, restaurants, hotels, etc., so people will be able to make long distance trips with confidence of fueling locations. Just think of all the businesses that provide wireless internet, businesses will advertise "EV charging available." But for the time being, it is critical that the State step up to the bar and help participate getting the first infrastructure in place.

Regarding "Anonymous" concerns about draining the grid of electricity, I'm more concerned about the drain on our local economy from the current cost of transportation fuels. We have no petroleum resources in our state so every $ for every gallon of gas leaves the state. We can and do make most of our own electricity and we can significantly increase the amount of electricity we generate here through additional wind and solar resources (solar panels could be installed at every Level II & III charging station to help offset energy consumption). The grid can handle electric cars. Our economy and our planet can't handle the status quo.

Going electric with our transportation grid is a win-win, both for the environment and our economy. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

where are these chargers currently (no pun intended)interested in the Seattle/Shoreline area

Tonia Buell said...

The number of public charging stations in Washington is growing daily. Here’s a link to open charging locations: said...

To whom it may concern,

Im a concerned electric car owner. I own a new Nissan Leaf. Of late it has come to my attention that Ecotality has gotten behind in their installation of charging stations. As the announcement was made almost 3 months ago on the decision to go with Aerovironment to install the fast chargers along parts of the I-5 corridor there's been no Offical word from anyone involved as to where they are going to be installed and when. The due dates coming fast!

The green electric highway website has'nt been updated in a long time. Perhaps a blog would help keep People up to date. I'm very interested in helping get this part of the project off the ground. If I could help in any way dont hesitate to contact me. My email is:

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