Westport, Connecticut commuters who escape traffic jams by taking the commuter rail may soon be able to escape tanking their car with gas and fill up with sun at the Westport train station — if they trade in their gasoline car for an electric vehicle.
Westport is proceeding with a plan to install a large solar array complete with EV charging stations in the town’s train station parking lot, a move which would make it the first town in Connecticut to link the environmental friendliness of commuter rail with that of solar-powered EV-ing.
Solar makes sense—solar power emits no emissions, is clean, and is renewable. –John Rountree, Principal of Westport Solar Consultants
The station’s roof is waiting to be outfitted with a 30 kW photovoltaic system that will produce an estimated 35,538 kWh of electricity a year.
According to Steve Smith, Westport’s head building official, the solar system will be capable of charging up to 20 electric cars.
EV owners will be able to plug in at 110-volt Level 1 charging stations, and the electricity will be offered at no cost for at least the first year. After the first year, the costs will be reevaluated to see if a fee is necessary.
Additionally, an annual parking fee will still be mandatory for all commuters–for drivers of a gas powered vehicle and for EV drivers.
According to one of the project’s architects John Rountree, the project will serve as a model for how people can integrate solar energy with electric vehicles (EVs).
“Though electric cars are clean and don’t emit CO2, if the energy being used to charge an electric car is being produced by a plant that emits pollution—such as a coal plant—then the environmental side effects are not really being eliminated,” Rountree explained.
“Solar makes sense—solar power emits no emissions, is clean, and is renewable,” added Rountree.
As one of the leading principals for Westport Solar Consultants, a company that designs solar electric and solar water systems, Rountree specializes in building integrated photovoltaic systems.
Rountree notes that the roof on the town’s train station is the perfect size for hosting this solar project.
“This project will be a demonstration and a prototype for other projects like it, in Connecticut and in surrounding states as well,” Rountree said.
EV charging station will decrease traffic & increase parking “We live in a community where a lot of people move to Westport because it’s an easy commute to New York City,” said Smith.
However, there are factors that challenge Westport’s commuters as they try travel between town and the big city. One issue for those who prefer to take the train is limited parking at the train station.
“We have a four year waitlist to get a parking space at the train station, and if we utilize a smart car concept—a two passenger electric vehicle—the car is half as long as a regular car, and you can get two of these smart cars into one regular parking space, then we can double the capacity of parking at the train station,” said Smith.
Smith wants to encourage the use of EVs by creating an incentive for people to park their cars at the train station.
“If you are on the waitlist, you can go to the top of the list if you have an electric car,” Smith said.
We are hoping that this becomes a prototype or model for other communities and other train stations, not just limited to Connecticut, but for the country. –Steve Smith, head building official for Westport, Conn.
“We are trying to promote the sale and use of these smaller electric vehicles. We have a lot of big Suburbans and SUVs here. I recognize that [EVs] are not for everyone—it’s in its infancy as far as battery technology, but the range will increase,” Smith added.
Smith explained that the traffic on the I-95 Corridor—the main thoroughfare from Boston to Connecticut—is also a major issue for Westport’s commuters.
“A lot of people who can’t take the train drive their car, and, as a result, we are putting a lot of people on the road,” said Smith.
Smith hopes that the additional parking spaces, made available by the smaller size of EVs, as well as the charging stations will enable more people to utilize the train station, and in turn ease traffic on the roads.
According to Smith, an effort to create efficient and sustainable mass transit is not just important for Westport.
“We are hoping that this becomes a prototype or model for other communities and other train stations, not just limited to Connecticut, but for the country,” he said.
Solar station will power neighborhood According to Rountree and Smith, the project will be a net metering system, meaning that when the solar panels are generating more energy than what is being used, the energy will be put into the grid.
“It’s an integrated system,” said Smith, who explained that this energy will help to offset moments of high power demand in the community, such as in the summer when more people have their air conditioning on than what the production of the electric plants can handle.
“When the sun is shining, and no cars are there drawing on that energy, like on weekends, then you are generating more electricity than what the cars are using,” said Smith.
“That actually spins the electric meter backwards and pumps electricity back into the grid, and someone down the road can use it,” he explained.
Smith added, “The ideal situation is that during a typical day when you plug your car into the system in the morning, it might charge off the grid, but by noontime the car will be charged fully, and solar generation will be going back into the grid, supplying homes in the area.”
This will go a long way towards people accepting electric vehicles. –John Rountree, Principal of Westport Solar Consultants
According to Rountree, times when the system will be overproducing and selling power will be sunny days when few cars are parked at the station, like on a Sunday.
“With an interactive system of buying and selling, the hope is that at the end of the year it will net at 0,” said Rountree. “We’ll be monitoring it pretty closely.”
The amount of energy that the cars draw from the system will also depend on how charged the cars are when they are plugged into the station’s system.
“The intention is that commuters will park, plug-in, and when they come back from a day of work their car will be fully charged. We should be able to do that, but it depends a lot on the charge level of cars that come in,” said Rountree.
“I can’t think of any negatives,” said Rountree, “Other than, some people might find it visually unappealing. It is a historical train station, and the visual impact of solar panels to it might be offensive.”
According to Rountree, the positives results of the project include being able to produce energy that fuels clean cars, and showing the synergy between solar and electric technologies.
“This will go a long way towards people accepting electric vehicles, while not having an adverse effect on the environment by nuclear or coal powered plants to charge these cars,” said Rountree.
Financial support and getting started Smith proposed the idea of not only renovating the town’s 1850s era train station, but also adding an energy efficient system.
“We are fixing up the old station, breathing life into it, getting it activated,” said Smith.
Smith said that the renovation of the building is paid for by the Railroad parking fund, and that the solar electric installation will be funded outside the renovation costs.
Smith has been working for a year to find the financial support needed for the solar energy side of the project.
“I’m learning a lot about how government works, and how inefficient we are, and that things take forever,” said Smith.
Initially, Smith requested $330,000 of federal funding, and the support was denied.
Smith then reapplied for funding through the state’s Clean Energy Fund, asking for $215,000.
When Smith presented the idea to the Director of Strategic Initiatives, David Goldberg and with a Clean Energy Fund committee, they responded favorably to the project.
“They love it, they are 100 percent behind it,” said Smith, who is keeping his fingers crossed for the approval, which he expects to hear back about in the next few weeks.
Smith explained that the Clean Energy Fund doesn’t believe in funding projects completely, so he could only request a portion of project’s true costs. This means the project budget will be about $50,000 short.
The budget shortfall means details of the plan have to be altered or omitted, such as scratching Smith’s idea to buy an electric vehicle, which was going to be parked at the station and used as a promotional tool.
The rest of the project’s funding will most likely be secured through private sources. However, if the Clean Energy Fund decides to support the project, there will be enough money to get started.
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