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OU Parking Services Installs Electric Charging Stations

On Monday, AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report, updated daily, denoted that the current national average gasoline price rang in at $2.056 per gallon, slightly higher than Ohio’s current average of $1.984 per gallon.

Those prices have slowly risen in the past month — both the national and state averages were lowest in February, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report — yet likely still appear low relative to previous costs of gas. That has recently raised questions in publications such as Tech Times, The Verge and Forbes in terms of those low costs threatening incentives to drive electric vehicles.

Officials at Ohio University’s Parking Services Office, however, have a different perspective.

Parking Operations Supervisor Teresa Trussell said after receiving emails last year from an OU faculty/staff member and a few students inquiring about the availability of electric car charging stations, the Parking Services staff introduced the idea to make  commutes easier by installing a total of 10 charging stations around campus.

The stations became available in August, costing roughly $3,500 for a dual unit (one particular location that allows two vehicles to charge simultaneously). That rings the stations in at a total of about $17,500.

According to the Parking Services’ Student Vehicle Registration page page, dual units can be found at:

  • Lot 90 — Morton Hall.
  • Lot 111 — OUHCOM.
  • Baker Center Garage.
  • Lot 132 — Peden Stadium.
  • Lot 147 — Human Resources.

ClipperCreek Inc., a company that manufactures Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) throughout the U.S., provided the hardware at each of the five locations.

Stuart Irwin, ClipperCreek Inc. Business Operations Manager for the Midwest region, has been with OU Parking Services every step of the way, and said after installation, the stations themselves — level II rapid charge stations (220v) — should not need any maintenance.

Irwin explained that there are three charging station levels. Level II stations, such as the ones around OU, are the most common public charging stations for public charging infrastructure because they’re “able to charge relatively quickly and efficiently,” he said.

Marty Paulins, director of Transportation and Parking Services, hopped into one of four university-owned, 12-volt battery Nissan Leafs. The car started silently, with the push of a button rather than turning a key in the ignition.

“I’d never driven one (until) last spring, and I was like, ‘this thing will get to 0 to 60 (miles per hour) in 10 minutes,’ ” he recalled of his initial skepticism of electric vehicles before smoothly pulling the car to the station at the Human Resources building.

Stations can be activated using a meter, like any other used around the city of Athens; however, rather than inserting change, they are activated using the app, Park Mobile. The app allows users to buy a specific amount of time at the station, charged directly to a preset credit card account. Electricity runs only when a vehicle is in use, and it costs 75 cents per hour to charge.

Trussell said the number one reason her personal vehicle is still gas-powered is time — it takes approximately four to six hours to charge, depending on the car and how dead the battery is.

“The best example I can give, is I had to go to Virginia this spring to pick my son up. His wife was having their baby, and he’s in the military,” she said. “They wouldn’t release him until she was in labor, so we were in this real difficult situation where the doctor admitted her, but didn’t actually induce her yet. …I drove all night to (Virginia), picked him up, and drove straight back to get him back in time for her scheduled 8 a.m. induction so that he could be there for the birth of his first child.

“Had I been in an electric vehicle, I could not have made a trip like that because I would have had to have stopped several times for a long period of time (to charge),” she said. “It would have completely impacted my ability to do what I needed to do.”

Trussell expects gas prices to fluctuate, which is why the low gas prices don’t impact her decision to switch to an electric vehicle (and according to a Huffington Post blog, sales of electric vehicles were at their peak in December despite low gas prices anyway), and said that even if a vehicle has to charge for a few hours, at 75 cents per hour, it would cost much less to charge to a full battery than buying a full tank of gasoline.

If electric vehicle drivers take a road trip, such as Trussell’s drive to Virginia and back, they’ll have to budget charging time and determine charging station locations to map out their routes. But Trussell said that when the automobile was first invented, many gas stations were few and far between, too, so she’s confident that that particular issue is one of waiting for technology to catch up.

To aid those travelers, she pointed out, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuel Data Center offers an Alternative Fueling Station Locator online. Another site, Plug Share, is a virtual network on which drivers can see listed charging stations — both public and residential — where they can arrange to charge their vehicles. OU’s stations appear on both sites.

Athens resident Jack Chan, a Plug Share member, said he offers up his personal charging station at home to those in the network because “people (on that site) tend to be really accommodating. That is a community that I want to belong to.”

Chan is a two-time electric vehicle owner — a Chevrolet Volt, purchased in 2013, and a Tesla, purchased about a year later. He said one of the discontents that people have with electric vehicles is their limited capacity for distance. Many are fixed to a range of approximately 60 to 80 miles, so for longer drives — such as Trussell’s trip to Virginia and back— he bought the 265-mile-range Tesla, which he said makes a “huge difference.”

When Chan became an electric car driver, he recalled, gas hovered around $2.70 per gallon.

“The fact that I don’t need to buy gas is a great advantage,” he said. “Every morning, you come out of your garage with a full tank of gas,” after leaving the cars to charge overnight.

Another appealing advantage of the electric cars, Chan said, is the lack of maintenance. Although he said his Volt still uses oil in its engine — an Internal Combustion Engine that kicks in after the battery is exhausted and therefore needs the occasional routine oil change —  there isn’t much to inspect. Each year, he brings the Tesla to a specialized shop in Columbus simply to check things such as the wear and tear in the tires, but it doesn’t require oil, lube or the like.

When explaining how the Nissan Leaf works, Paulins pointed out a solar panel which keeps interior features, such as the radio, running. The main battery runs the engine, with no need for many parts that gasoline-powered vehicles use.

Paulins recalled one individual who once showed him his personal electric vehicle who “didn’t even know how to get under the hood because he’s never needed to.”

In addition to limited maintenance, Irwin said paying for electricity rather than gasoline can be a money-saver, as well as the fact that some electric cars offer very affordable leases.

“People are becoming more familiar with the technology, and more confident it’s good stuff and it’s safe. …(It’s) just different because you can’t pick up and drive across the country,” Irwin said,  adding, “The reason that they’re not (more common) is cost, and this is rapidly changing in the market. …I live in Michigan, not too far from where the Chevy Volt is manufactured, (so) I see 10 a day at least.”

He said new Chevrolet and Nissan models expected to be released this fall and in 2017, respectively, are expected to up the range from about 60 to 80 miles in previous vehicles to approximately 200 miles. Although he said those models will likely take longer to charge to accommodate the increased distance, on a day-to-day basis, the driver would hardly notice.

And, even before its unveiling, orders are pouring in for the upcoming Tesla Model 3, ringing in at $35,000, the New York Times reported Friday.

At about a 265-mile range, Chan has driven his Tesla all over the country and never had a problem, so he is optimistic about the upcoming models.

“The driving experience is totally different. You have that ‘pick-up-and-go’ like a high-performance car. …The pickup is incredible, and also it’s quiet and it doesn’t have that exhaust,” he said. “It’s good for the environment, it’s good for the economy of the country (and it) solves reliance on imported oil. …It’s one small thing I can do as an individual.”

Photos by Kelly Fisher, Staff Writer

 

Kelly is a senior who, aside from College Green Magazine, spends her time writing for WOUB’s culture blog, freelancing for the Athens News and editing Southeast Ohio Magazine. She’s fascinated by health news and loves data-driven journalism…

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