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Advanced Energy Electric Plug-In Vehicle Forum (Part 18)

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Published on Aug 6, 2010

The Advanced Energy Electric Plug-In Vehicle Education Forum was a huge success. The free event was held at the Research Triangle Park headquarters and enjoyed full, gregarious attendance. The forum was put on in part to make RTP citizens aware of the coming advancements in electric plug-in technology, as well as to raise local interest in investing in charging stations. Spokespeople from Advanced Energy and Duke Energy took to the podium, delivering short presentations, answering questions, and leading discussions. Opening comments were made by N.C. House Representative David Price (D-NC, 4th District), and followed up by James Lim, director of @RTP programs.

Attendees were taught the history of the electric plug-in and BEVs (battery-electric vehicles), learning that the first electric car was not a Prius or an Insight, but the 1918 Detroit Model 75 (see picture). The Model 75 sold for $2650, and for a $600 upgrade, you could get an Edison-certified nickel battery. Skip ahead almost a century and look at the 2010 Tesla Roadster, the world's first all-electric sportscar: 244 miles per charge. 0-60mph in 3.7 seconds. Zero emissions. (Think Porsche, with no carbon footprint.) The Roadster has already seen limited market release, one model belonging to Duke Energy's John Langston appearing outside the forum in the RTP HQ parking lot. RTP social media intern Ross Maloney got a chance to sit behind the wheel and scope it out.

Now consumers await the release of the 2011 Nissan Leaf, with 17,000 reservations to date. The Leaf will be one of the pioneer BEVs to become available to the consumer market at large. Starting in December 2010, it will be tested on a trial basis in five core regions: Washington, Orgeon, Arizona, California, and Tennessee. Then, early next year, it will gradually release to the rest of the United States. Leafs are set to debut in North Carolina next April. Their batteries will be completely recyclable, countering the argument that electric cars will only generate loads of batteries to corrode in landfills and cause environmental disaster.

Battery-electric vehicles have special plug points to take charges from extension cords. Some are able to connect to regular wall outlets, though with the advent of the commercial BEV will come the introduction of public and private vehicle charging stations. For the most part, drivers are expected to charge at home, overnight, and at their place of work. Other common areas set for stations include shopping centers, schools and universities, parks, libraries, hospitals, and most social venues.

The cost of a full overnight charge is estimated at a little over one dollar, about $400 a year. Compare that, though, to the estimated $1800 the average American driver spends on gasoline over the same time. That's $1400 in net savings, even before factoring in things like repairs on internal combustion engines and inclining fuel prices.

Not to mention how much it helps out with reducing greenhouse gas emissions and weaning the U.S. off its dependency on foreign oil, presenters pointed out. "60% of US oil is imported," a spokesman from Advanced Energy showed in his slides. "40% comes from Persian Gulf, Venezuela, and Nigeria combined, regions not so friendly to us." The question then becomes where we will turn to glean the lithium for the batteries. As it turns out, North Carolina has one of the largest lithium deposits in North America, though there is a moratorium on extraction at the current hour.

Another challenge is figuring how to mitigate "traffic" during peak charge hours, assuming most everyone in a given time zone will be plugging their cars up to rejuice between 10pm and 7am. This is one cause for postponing the mass release of all-electrics. Energy companies are working to ensure safe and reliable power grids, immune to peaking crashes and difficulties from distribution upgrades. Presenters said the biggest lessons they've learned from testing and planning so far is to approach with a long-term, holistic framework and to remain technology-neutral.

Actual driving is said to be as smooth if not moreso than fossil fuel-based driving is now. Electrics deliver instant torque, cutting down on acceleration burps or expensive transmission fixes. There is no need to shift gears mid-acceleration to compensate for greater engine output. The Roadster only has 4 gears: Park, Reverse, Drive, and Neutral. Langston likened its ride to the ride of a roller coaster at Carowinds. "You'd think you're going 120 miles an hour when you're going zero-to-sixty," Langston said. "But zero-to-sixty in less than four seconds...that's something to get used to."

The figures look promising. By 2020, 36% of major manufacturer vehicles will be electric. By 2050, it will shoot to 62%, making all-electric the predominant mode of driving.

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