Drive Electric Minnesota, a consortium of private businesses, nonprofit entities and utility Xcel Energy, is working to bring EVs and a plug-in charging infrastructure to Minnesota. It plans to install 30 public charging stations along a key transportation corridor in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Up to six of these will be solar-powered EV charging stations.
SolarChargedDriving.Com interviewed Xcel Director of Account Management Greg Palmer to get some insight into the decision to include solar-powered charging stations as part of the project. Our interview follows below.
SolarChargedDriving.Com: What/who was the original impetus behind the planned solar-powered EV charging stations?
Palmer: The goal is to integrate renewable energy to the maximum extent possible. It was the collective vision of the group and not one party. One driver was that the Twin Cities is in danger of not meeting national air quality standards and the goal was to help improve air quality. The second driver was that solar energy has significantly shorter financial payback when used to replace liquid fuels as opposed to grid supplied electricity. We wanted to showcase the viability of solar in the market where it was most competitive.
SolarChargedDriving.Com: How does you Xcel generally view solar-powered EV charging stations — do you think they are something that will take off — in Minnesota, nationally, internationally?
Palmer: We believe there is potential if the upfront cost of electric vehicles and the cost of solar energy continue to come down. With today’s technology, payback can be reduced to five years with tax credits and rebates available for solar installations. The ability of auto and solar manufactures to reduce cost and improve performance will determine whether the market can grow after subsidies are eliminated. Xcel Energy’s goal in this effort is to understand the market, its impact on the electrical grid and the viability of the technology in our service area. We have a responsibility to provide safe reliable service regardless of the technology chosen by our customers. This is an attempt to deploy and understand the technology so we can adjust our systems and training prior to larger scale deployment.
SolarChargedDriving.Com: At this point, do you know when and where the solar-powered EV charging stations will go?
Palmer: The partners in the deployment are working on the site analysis right now. We expect the locations will be highly visible and help create awareness of the opportunity. The first locations are likely going to be near the capitol, a major park, a sports arena, and a theater.
SolarChargedDriving.Com: How big — kW, number of panels, etc. — will each solar array for each station will be?
Palmer: Each location will be different. The smallest will likely be 3 kW.
SolarChargedDriving.Com: Who (which solar companies, EV charging station companies, etc.) will install and build the stations?
Palmer: The contracts will be bid out. The State of Minnesota issued a bid for charge station and the parties chose Eaton for the fleet facilities and Coulomb for the public charge stations. Solar will be bid out separately from the charge stations.
SolarChargedDriving.Com: Who will have access to them — will they be public, will there be a charge to plug-in?
Palmer: The solar charge stations will all be public stations. The Coulomb charge stations were chosen because they provide an ability to charge the customer. We currently have one public charge station installed. The charge is $2.50 flat rate per charge.
SolarChargedDriving.Com: Who does Xcel anticipate might use the solar-powered EV charging stations (and other non-solar ones) along the Energy Innovation Corridor?
Palmer: The stations will be available to the public. The goal of Dive Electric Minnesota is to get 15,000 electric vehicles deployed in Minnesota by 2015. Most of these will be in the Twin Cities and near the Energy Innovation Corridor.
SolarChargedDriving.Com: Do you know if there are any other solar-powered EV charging stations in Minnesota, in other words, will these be a first?
Palmer: There is one today. It is used by HourCar which is a nonprofit vehicle rental firm. The car is rented on a one-hour basis and helps people who need transportation but who do not want to own a car. The station is used to charge a converted Toyota Prius.
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