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VOL. 127 | NO. 190 | Friday, September 28, 2012

Electric Charging Stations Create Driver Options

By Bill Dries

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Twelve of the parking spaces outside the visitors center at Shelby Farms Park come with a roof.

A Nissan Leaf owned by Clint Bray of Collierville is connected to a power line from a recently installed Blink Level 2 charging station in the parking garage of The Peabody hotel. 

(Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)

Construction of the solar-assisted electric and hybrid vehicle charging stations was completed in September.

The park’s conservancy and officials with the Tennessee Valley Authority recently marked the occasion as did car dealerships in the Memphis area that sell the vehicles. A row of Chevrolet Volts was parked on one side and the first Nissan Leafs arrived shortly after the press conference.

Meanwhile, a separate effort to build charging infrastructure without solar panels is touting a set of 12 charging stations on the Blink Network at six Downtown garages run by the Downtown Parking Authority, which is part of the Downtown Memphis Commission.

The Downtown effort, also involving the San Francisco company ECOtality, added charging stations to the Criminal Justice Center garage, the Front Street garage at 85 N. Front St., Riverfront Garage at Front Street and Monroe Avenue, Peabody Place Office Tower Garage, Gayoso Parking Garage and the 250 Peabody Place Garage.

“I believe it’s one of the futures of automobiles,” Henry Hutton, president of the Mid-South Chevy Dealers Association, said at the Shelby Farms Park event this week.

But challenges remain, Hutton said, because conventional gas-powered cars are breaking the 40-miles-per-gallon barrier and better infrastructure for them is in place than there is for electrics and hybrids.

And one of the most frequent issues he and other car dealers answer is the concern that the hybrids or vehicles that are all electric will run out of power suddenly between recharging station stops.

“There’s not enough infrastructure as far as free charging stations. But this is a start in the right direction,” he said. “I only charge my Volt once a day. I use it during the normal course of daily driving. Many days I don’t drive more than 40 miles.”

Hutton has been driving a Volt since January.

The park charging stations use solar panels made by the Sharp Manufacturing plant in Memphis. The charging stations also collect data that TVA will use in studying what is a significant change in driver behavior if the cars and – more importantly – the infrastructure continue to grow in use.

“It is intended to be a research station,” said Laura Campbell, customer service general manager for the western division of TVA. “The data that we gather from this … will be used later to help other people create basic practices in design and operation.”

In addition to the solar power generated by the panels, the park charging stations use conventional electric power generation as well as batteries.

TVA also will be looking at the charging time here and at similar stations in Chattanooga and Knoxville to see if a full or partial charge takes more time than the several minutes required to put gasoline in a car.

The conservancy estimates the average family’s visit to the park is for approximately three hours.

“That’s exactly why we picked someplace like Shelby Farms where you can come out and do something that’s part of your normal habits,” Campbell said.

Shelby Farms Park Conservancy director Laura Adams said the technology is in keeping with the park’s mission to stay in step with lifestyle changes that see those using the park using the Greenline more and mixing their transportation options to get places as well as for recreation.

“People get it. They understand that the park has to be at the leadership, even the cutting edge of embracing the new sustainable technologies. … I think it blends in well with the environment,” she said. “Our hope is that people understand there is a good and convenient way to keep their car charged here at Shelby Farms and take advantage of the natural resource and protect it at the same time.”

The solar-assisted stations at Shelby Farms Park are free.

The Blink stations in the Downtown garages are not research projects. Users pay the cost of parking in the garages. The charging stations in them operate at an additional cost of $2 per hour for those who don’t belong to the Blink network. The cost is $1 to $1.50 for Blink members.

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