Reports confirm what experts had predicted: Electric car owners do most of their charging at home. Many of those same experts also agree that there will be a place for public charging stations, to inoculate against the much-feared “range anxiety,” or to provide EV owners the flexibility to take trips beyond the daily commute.
Earlier this month, I visited the campus of Portland State University (PSU), just south of downtown Portland, Oregon. I spent the morning with George Beard, Strategic Alliance Manager, PSU’s Office of Research & Strategic Partnerships. Beard and his on- and off-campus collaborators recently marked the six-month anniversary of one of the nation’s most important public electric car infrastructure projects. Below, I describe what PSU and its partners are up to; tomorrow, I’ll share 10 lessons learned thus far.
In August of 2011, PSU, with the City of Portland and Portland General Electric (PGE), launched a two-year research and demonstration collaboration called Electric Avenue. On one block of SW Montgomery Street, between SW Broadway and SW 6th Avenue, they transformed what had been a two-way street with on-street motorcycle parking into a one-way corridor for electric cars with six curbside EV charging stations (see map). Visitors pay to park but can plug in cars, bikes, and motorcycles for free. The charging stations deliver 100% renewable electricity supplied by PGE.
PSU’s involvement, Beard told me, was a natural extension of its commitment to urban mobility. “It’s not because we’re trying to pimp electric cars; we’re trying to glance into the future and anticipate what kinds of strategies and applications will work in the urban context.” Indeed, the most remarkable aspect of the project may not even be the electric cars and stations that charge them but the setting (see map).
Electric Avenue is surrounded by a panoply of mobility options. Portland’s pedestrian-friendly downtown is a 10-minute walk away; bike paths abound; the neighboring PSU Urban Plaza hosts a stop for the Portland Streetcar, which travels north to the city center and the Pearl District and south to the South Waterfront, where an aerial tram ascends to the main Oregon Health & Science University campus; and the nearby Portland Transit Mall offers bus and light-rail connections.
When Electric Avenue launched last August, the site was outfitted with six electric vehicle charging stations from several vendors (Level 2 stations fully charge a depleted battery in 3-4 hours; direct current [DC] quick chargers can do the same in about 30 minutes):
- Eaton Corp – DC quick charge (480-volt) station and Level 2 (240-volt) charging station
- General Electric – Level 2 (240-volt) charging station
- OpConnect – a dual-headed Level 2 (240-volt) charging station
- Shorepower Technologies – Level 2 (240-volt) charging station
- SPX – Level 2 (240-volt) charging station
On February 29, a second DC quick charging station was added. According to Beard, Electric Avenue is the only venue in the United States with two DC quick chargers. Provided by Japanese electronics firm Kanematsu, the quick charging station is the nation’s first to use battery-assisted technology. The battery pack, located about 20 feet from the charging station, supplies half of the power consumed at the charger, helping to ease strain on the local grid.
Electric Avenue is a jumping off point for visitors to central Portland; it is also an important node in an electric vehicle charging network extending 105 miles south to Eugene and north into Washington state. Beard noted that three high-volume roads (including Interstate 5 and State Highway 26) are within a “chip shot” of Electric Avenue’s seven charging stations. “A traveler coming down from Olympia, Washington, or coming up from Salem, Oregon, could easily stop in and grab a charge,” he said.
There are some 1,200 registered EVs in Oregon – a rounding error when compared to the state’s 3.3 million gas-powered cars. But, Beard said, three-quarters of Oregon’s 3.8 million people live within 15 miles of either side of Interstate 5. The state’s largest cities – Portland, Salem, and Eugene – straddle I-5. As more Oregonians become EV owners, convenient charging spots like Electric Avenue will facilitate journeys beyond the workweek commute.