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If you build it, they will come. At least that is what the state of Indiana and its suppliers hope for with charging stations and electric vehicles.

Indiana is lagging behind on infrastructure for plug-in vehicles, while some of its Midwestern neighbors and other states across the country are moving forward with installing charging networks.

It’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem: without more people driving electric vehicles, companies won’t want to invest in installing stations and expanding infrastructure. But without the infrastructure, drivers do not know whether they can get from A to B and are hesitant to buy electric vehicles.

Garvin

“I’d say the state of Indiana lacks electric vehicle infrastructure, and I don’t think anyone would argue that,” said Kerri Garvin, executive director of Greater Indiana Clean Cities, a nonprofit specializing in vehicle advancement concentrated with alternative fuels. “This is a big deal.”

A few hundred all-electric models are expected by 2025, and annual sales of electric vehicles are forecast to exceed 1.2 million in the same year. That growth – and the environmental and economic benefits that come with it – could pass Indiana by if the state doesn’t take big strides, Garvin said.

So that’s exactly what it does.

The state of Indiana has undergone a major change as part of the multi-billion dollar deal with Volkswagen that resulted from the manufacture and installation of defective emission control devices in hundreds of thousands of diesel vehicles. Indiana uses some of this money to give grants to build an electric vehicle charging network across the state.

The largest of these $ 5.5 million grants was recently awarded to a group of utility companies to add more than 60 fast-charging stations – or those that charge in about half an hour – across the state.

Still, many say this is just the beginning.

“I don’t think we could have expanded this way or to that extent at all without the grant,” said Beverly Gard, chairman of the VW Fund Mitigation Committee. “I think Indiana would have been set back years without this funding.”

Eliminate fear of distance

The Indiana VW Committee was formed in 2017 to pay Indiana’s share of the funds raised in the Volkswagen settlement for clean air violations. The settlement came about to clear up allegations that the company installed equipment in its diesel engines that emitted dangerous air pollutants via EPA regulations.

Therefore, the funds from the comparison must be used to replace diesel emission sources with cleaner technologies. Indiana received approximately $ 41 million.

While the bulk of this funding goes to heavy-duty vehicles – such as buying electric school buses, city buses, and heavy trucks – states can set up to 15% for light vehicles or electric cars.

Indiana settled on the full 15%, or $ 6.15 million. About $ 600,000 is for level 2 chargers, or those that charge more slowly while drivers are in a mall or movie theater. The rest is for the DC quick chargers or DC chargers that can charge a car with more than 80 miles of range in just half an hour.

Some states are further than others, and Indiana is not at the very top of the pack.

    A fully electric i8 from BMW at the 2020 Indianapolis Auto Show

A fully electric i8 from BMW at the 2020 Indianapolis Auto Show. (IndyStar)

There are currently around 215 Level 2 chargers across the state, but these aren’t designed for hub-to-hub travel, said Shawn Seals of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. When it comes to DC fast chargers, there are only 19 in Indiana that any make of car can use – there are also 15 Tesla Superchargers.

Clean Cities’ Garvin said that’s the biggest obstacle to buying electric vehicles: range anxiety.

Even if drivers only plan a long trip once or twice a year, it creates fear as to whether these cars can get them there, she said. That is why they need the fast charging network along their route.

“It’s really important and it’s happening in a lot of other states,” said Gard. “It would be a shame to have grids everywhere and then you would come to our state and not be able to drive your electric car through Indiana.”

Utilities provide the fuel: electricity

In May, the Indiana VW committee granted a group of eight utilities across the state $ 5.5 million to install 61 of the state’s fast chargers. This group includes Duke Energy, NIPSCO, AES Indiana (formerly IPL) and several other smaller providers.

Over the course of several months, the state considered four different finalists for the installation of the fast chargers. The various factors they looked at included how many chargers they wanted to install, the suggested locations, the distance between chargers, and the cost effectiveness or cost per charger.

At 61, the supply group suggested the most chargers of any group; the others suggested only about half, between 30 and 40. The chargers in the utility’s proposal were also the cheapest: it was planned to only cost about $ 90,000 each. The cost for the others was at least $ 40,000 more per charger.

But the utilities have something else that sets them apart: They are the direct suppliers of the fuel for the charging stations.

“If anyone can invest in this infrastructure, it’s the ones who control and manage the fuel or power that goes to the chargers,” Garvin said. Each of the other companies would have to coordinate with the utility companies to get the power, she added, and that costs time and money.

Jordan Wallpe

Wallpe

The utilities first got together with this idea about four years ago to help expand the network and knew that some funding would be available for that, said Jordan Wallpe, Duke Energy’s Midwest electric transportation manager.

“We’re already in the neighborhoods, we know the customer base, we know the locations they need to visit, and we have access to the hardware and equipment vendors,” said Wallpe. “We have the knowledge and the basis, and that is how the whole journey began.”

The stations are located on all major Indiana highways: I-65, I-70, I-69, I-64, and the I-465 loop. They will also run north and south along US 31, as well as be scattered along I-64 in south Indiana and I-90 in north Indiana. In addition to the few chargers currently on the market, most won’t be more than 80 to 100 miles apart, said IDEM’s Seals.

In choosing the best locations, utilities focused on those that are within a mile of an exit, have adequate power, and good amenities nearby such as a mall, gas station, or restaurant. Each utility picks its own hardware, Wallpe said, but there will be minimum speed times for charging.

The aim is to get the funds on the road as quickly as possible. According to Wallpe, some of the utility company’s first fast charging stations could go online this year. But most of the stations will be ready in 2022 and the last ones will be ready in early 2023.

Catalyst for electric cars

The utilities don’t yet know how much it will cost to charge at each station, Wallpe said, but it will vary depending on the utility that oversees the station.

There are still many unknowns, added Wallpe, such as how many drivers will use the stations. Based on these utilization rates, the stations could be self-sufficient and amortize themselves in order to keep track of maintenance.

If the infrastructure is in place, the demand for electric vehicles will follow shortly, especially as their costs continue to fall. And if there is demand, then supply should follow, said Garvin. Most people who want to buy an electric car have to go to Chicago right now, she said because the opportunity is there.

Garvin said she remembered the time gas stations were installed and the next one wouldn’t be another 50 miles, but now they’re at every exit. She believes it will be the case with EV stations, not because it is needed, but for convenience like gas stations.

She sees the current efforts of the state as a catalyst.

“Will there still be places where charging stations are needed? Sure, ”said Garvin. “But that’s a very good starting point.”

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