As Jennifer Sensiba and others have been pointing out recently, rural areas need electric vehicle charging stations too. Electrify America is stomping across the country building out a large ultrafast charging network, and it has clearly learned a great deal about these needs and the challenges serving these needs in the process. One challenge in rural areas is they may not have the best electricity capacity to power new ultrafast charging stations, or any charging stations at all. A solution? Good ol’ solar power.
In the state of California, which leads the nation in both electric vehicles and solar power, there is no doubt that people love driving on sunlight — on electrons from the sun’s rays. So, Electrify America did the most sensible thing it could imagine for 24 communities across this large state. It built off-grid solar-powered charging stations. They aren’t ultrafast chargers, but they are chargers nonetheless and do have some extra special aspects.
Offering Electric Access to More People, Solar to More Cars
First of all, in an effort to help make EV life more affordable for people not making San Francisco incomes, Electrify America is making charging at these stations complimentary. In other words, it’s free to charge there.
Of course, Electrify America was created out of Volkswagen Group’s settlement or punishment from the whole “dieselgate” mess. I’m not sure of the fine print and if anything like this is required, but whether Electrify America is fulfilling fine print or is nobly serving the spirit of the final agreement, it seems logical that a network like this 1) should help provide charging access to less financially advantages communities and 2) isn’t going to make money on certain stations in “the middle of nowhere” anyway but should build them in order to make sure the network is connected enough to be useful, practical, and loved.
“The off-grid, standalone chargers are strategically located throughout the Central Valley and inland areas of Southern California, intended to provide greater access to sustainable EV charging for drivers in rural parts of the state,” the company writes.
“Electrify America’s EV charging infrastructure plans in California include a commitment to increasing access to EV charging infrastructure in rural areas of the state, to both facilitate regional travel and drive adoption of EVs in rural communities. With complimentary charging, the new solar units help combat two of the biggest barriers to EV adoption in these locations – access to public charging and affordability. The network ensured that more than half of these chargers were located in disadvantaged and low income communities, demonstrating the company’s ongoing commitment to serve these populations.”
I like you more already, EA.
Nina Huesgen, senior manager of home and ecommerce at Electrify America, hits more buzzwords for us: “Electrify America’s mission centers around increasing access to electric vehicle charging infrastructure to meet the differing needs of drivers across a diverse set of communities and lifestyles. We believe adding renewable energy to our offerings and expanding access to public charging in rural communities will help continue to spur EV adoption in the state.”
New Solar Charging Station Details
The solar-powered EV charging stations power 24 cities and towns, but there are 30 of them in total. (Some locales are double-dipping.) Of these new stations, 20 are at health care centers. Does that seem odd to you? I wondered if there was some Covid-19 connection (funding?), but it turns out the connection is more general: “With input from public and private stakeholders, Electrify America identified educational and health care institutions as ideal charging points due to high amounts of traffic and extended hours of access. Locations were selected after further analyzing communities with the greatest need for charging, existing charging options and local travel patterns, among other factors.”
The stations themselves are “EV ARC” charging stations from Beam Global (previously known as Envision Solar). That’s a California company, so Electrify America is also helping to create or support more state jobs with this rollout. Energy storage is built into the stations, allowing for charging at any time — whether it’s night, stormy, or the region is facing a blackout.
The full list of stations can be found here. Whether you’re looking for a station in rural California or anywhere else in the United States or Canada, you can use the company’s “Locate a Charger” tool. The app also indicates if the station is solar powered, which warms my heart.
Driving on Sunshine
Naturally, there are other ways to ensure you’re driving on sunshine, and practically for free. With rooftop solar power or a solar carport, you can collect sunlight, have it transformed into electricity, and have it pumped into your electric car. If this system was already installed for other electricity use, and if you have the capacity to fulfill those electricity needs while also charging your car (perhaps due to more efficient home appliances or less energy use for other reasons), then charging your car comes at essentially no extra cost. (If you get paid for any excess electricity you generate and send back to the grid via a net metering agreement, then the matter gets more complicated.)
Electric vehicles and solar power fundamentally transform our energy systems, more than anything since discovering how to make fire. Before, to create electricity, you had to burn something (oil, coal, natural gas, or nuclear fuel); to power and propel your car, you can to burn something (gasoline or diesel from oil, biofuel, or in some cases CNG). Whether using a solar-powered Electrify America charging station, home solar panels, an elegant solar carport, or perhaps electricity from wind turbines, there is no more burning. Nothing is burned to make the electricity and nothing is burned to push the car forward. It is a new era. Electrify America is a great name, but in this case we can say that it’s also helping to solarize America.
All images courtesy of Electrify America.
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