Chattanooga and Tennessee may be on the front edge of the plug-in electric car movement, but are we ready?
In October and November, 1,535 stations will be scattered across the state and extreme Northwest Georgia at rest areas, welcome centers, malls and big-box stores. Another 1,000 charging stations will be put in the homes of early-bird buyers of the all-electric Nissan Leaf, who are to get their cars in December.
The message, according to Dave Crockett, director of Chattanooga's Office of Sustainability and one of those new Leaf buyers, is that a new transportation and energy model is upon us.
"Suddenly, electric utilities are in the car business -one of their new businesses is doing things for cars," he said. "And how do we permit the recharging stations? How do we deal with power peak demand changes for recharging? How do first responders handle a fender bender? If something goes wrong on the road, how will small-town mechanics handle it?
"We're at the front end of rethinking all this," he said. "We are ready, but there's still a lot to be done."
Tennessee Valley Authority officials have acknowledged losing power demand to diminishing manufacturing, energy-saving homes and appliances, windmills and solar roofs, but they foresee potentially huge power demand for quick car charges.
Joe Hoagland, TVA's vice president for environmental science, technology and policy, has said some fast chargers use 10 to 12 kilowatts of power, while a house at peak power uses about 13 kilowatts.
But James Ellis, TVA's electric car project manager, said many of the fast chargers to be installed on local streets and interstates will be at least partially solar-powered. And the change ultimately will be cheaper for consumers, lessen the nation's dependence on foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gas pollution, he said.
"We've got plenty of energy if we use it at the right time," he said. "There's a lot of work we have to do in education and outreach."
Ellis said the cost of TVA electric energy needed to power a car is equal to paying 75 cents a gallon for gas, but there is much to learn about who will buy the cars. With a 100-mile range, where will they be driven - and recharged?
"What's interesting about transportation electrification is that research and development is happening at the same time as commercialization," he said. "It's a Catch-22. There are not really cars out there to study until they're launched."
Stephanie Cox, who is responsible for the implementation of The EV Project plans in Knoxville, Nashville and Chattanooga, said locations for public charging stations in Tennessee have not been finalized.
The five-state project is funded with $114 million from DOE and matches from technology company Ecotality and similar outfits to total more than $200 million.
It will rely on location "partners" such as chain groceries and big-box department stores, public libraries and large employers.
"We're absolutely ready," Cox said Tuesday, adding that Tennessee "has the largest project footprint as a demonstration project" for connecting cities - Chattanooga, Nashville, Knoxville and Clarksville.
Infrastructure in other states may not catch up for 10 more years, she said.
Jim Frierson is executive director of the Advanced Transportation Technology Institute in Chattanooga. He brought Nissan officials to Chattanooga two years ago to convince them that the city with the most electric vehicle experience in the state had to be part of the project.
Frierson said Tuesday that 5,000 Nissan Leafs will hit the road in five states in December, including about 1,000 in Tennessee.
The cars will provide Nissan and power utilities with information for coming generations of electric cars, he said. But the real tests will be done by people driving.
"Driving an electric car or hybrid makes you so much more aware of how your driving habits affect fuel efficiency," he said.
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