Thursday, March 4, 2010

Solar-Powered Electric Vehicle Charging Stations Taking Off

Electric vehicles have long been an environmentalist's holy grail - they are clean, produce no emissions, futuristic, and are generally silent. Numerous environmental activists, from Elizabeth Kolbert to Al Gore to Jeremy Rifkin, have advocated a total manufacturing shift to producing electric and fuel-cell vehicles as a means of cutting our total emissions and protecting against global warming.

However, the source of these vehicle's electricity is rarely considered, despite its enormous weight on the overall carbon footprint of implementing any viable electric vehicles charging grid. Conventional fossil fuel sources, logically, have a much greater carboon footprint than renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, or geothermal. Unfortunately, more than 70% of the electricity generated in the United States comes from fossil fuel sources, including coal (48%), natural gas (21%), and petroleum (1%). Nuclear energy (19%) and hydropower (6%) are less harmful to the environment but still carry significant local impacts. Truly "renewable" sources of energy account for just 3% of our generated electricity, according to the US Department of Energy. 

Several startup firms have taken that message seriously and have made major steps to create networks of electric vehicle charging stations that are truly carbon-neutral.

The E-Move Charging Station prototype, designed in Bozen, Denmark, by Valentin Runggaldier, charges vehicles through solar energy absorbed by eight solar panels on its roof. According to Inhabitat
"no word on how long the filling stations require to charge different devices, but unless people have the capacity to wait all day while a plug-in car is charged, the stations might be best suited for smaller devices."
The City of Chicago's Fleet Department used the ChargePoint technology created by Coulomb Technologies and adapted it to use solar power. By independently creating its own power source, the solar powered charging station does not draw upon the rest of the city's electric grid and does not cost the Fleet Department's electric bill. The only obstacle for wider adaptation of this type of solar-power charging station is the cost, which must be below what it would cost to use conventional electric sources to be practical. 

New York City just opened its first ever solar-power charging station within the last six months, through a partnership with the sustainable energy company Beautiful Earth Group.

In order to promote more of this type of synergy between the solar energy and electric vehicle sectors, certification regimes like Evergreen Fleets play a crucial role in promoting renewable-based electric grids over conventional ones.

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