INTRO: The first charging station for electric vehicles has been installed. It’s on the grounds of NextEnergy, the business incubator in Detroit. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus reports on how this new device could become part of a larger industry.
Richard Lowenthal was once the mayor of a small California town. Then about ten years ago, he figured there’s money to be made in the electric car business. He’s now the CEO of Coulomb Technologies. They make charging stations. They’re a key link in the electric vehicle chain.
“One of the things we know about the ev world is that if you can’t fuel your vehicle you won’t buy one.”
President Obama has pledged to put 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. Each car owner will need a charger at home and at work. The 900 chargers have been installed in other states. But this is the first one in Michigan. Says Lowenthal.
“Detroit’s high on our list because this is the heartbeat of the automotive world..”
The U.S. Department of Energy put $15 million into this program. It’s called ChargePointAmerica. Detroit’s car companies have also invested. The Chevy Volt and the Ford Fusion hybrid will both need electric plugs.
The Charge Point devices look like pay phones on a sidewalk. They cost about $4000 installed.
Right now, Lowenthal’s company is giving away almost 5,000 of them for free. But still, how does the user pay for the electricity?
“Most cities like our first customer San Jose, California, is not allowed to give away electricity. It’s a little bit like taking from the taxpayers and giving to the lucky owner of this vehicle. And you wouldn’t give away gasoline. You don’t expect your city to give away gasoline. So the city requires the driver to pay. We have a billing system so all the city will do is tell us how much to charge. Maybe it’s a dollar during the night when energy is plentiful and $2 during the day when it’s more expensive. And then we collect the money from the drivers and hand it to the city.”
Lowenthal says his products will allow consumers to solve international problems.
“The way we think of our role is enabling you to be part of the solution to air pollution to the Gulf of Mexico problem, to this dependence on foreign oil, to security issues to the balance of trade issues. We’re enabling the driver to go out and pick an EV that can be a part of that solution.”
Also speaking to the business people gathered at NextEnergy was Andy Levin. He’s the current Director of The Michigan Department of Labor, Energy & Economic Growth.
“So we need a charging station. We need the vehicle that needs the charging station. We need to figure out the smart grid. We need to figure out if someone is plugging in at night. Is there a separate connection and maybe a different rate that they could get. So many issues that our utilities, our auto companies our energy companies all have to work together on.”
DTE is the first utility in America to offer rates for time of use to charge an electric vehicle. Consumers Energy and The Lansing Board of Water & Light are also seeking state approval for similar programs. Anyone interested in a free charging station can go to chargepointamerica.com.
“As we get into electric cars we need to look at the whole question of how we are fueling our transportation.”
Ann Woiwode heads the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club. She’s been pleased that the Granholm administration has blocked construction of more coal fired power plants.
“If we’re using coal that’s not going to help us. In fact it has the potential, without a thoughtful approach, to set us back by making it appear that there is a need for us to have more coal as opposed to solar which we can generate in Michigan and we’ve built the panels right here.”
According to the Michigan Public Service Commission, 60% of the state’s electricity comes from coal, about 4% comes from renewables while nuclear and natural gas make up the rest.