NCSU to give cars a charge

Staff writerAugust 18, 2010 

N.C. State University plans to start work today on what university officials say will be the first public high-powered electric vehicle charging station in Raleigh.

Such "Level 2" stations operate at 220 volts and can charge a typical electric-powered vehicle in perhaps five or six hours compared with about twice that for a station working at standard household power levels, said Stacy Fair, director of the university's Joyner Visitor Center just off Western Boulevard, where the charging station is being built.

It's the first of about 200 fast chargers planned for the Triangle in the next couple of years and about 350 across the state. Power companies, local governments and others are preparing for all-electric vehicles - Nissan's Leaf will be the first - which are expected to begin reaching showrooms next spring.

NCSU's E. Carroll Joyner Visitor Center is converting a minivan to electric power for no-emissions tours of the campus, and the center will house an educational display on the technology.

It's perhaps no surprise that NCSU is building the station, since the university is performing key research and development of technology crucial to making electric vehicles more practical, such as a smart power grid and better batteries.

Because many visitors come through the center, it's a smart place to share the technology with the public as part of NCSU's traditional missions of outreach and extension, said Anne Tazewell, who runs the Clean Transportation Program at the N.C. Solar Center, one of the sponsors of the new charging station and several others planned for the area.

"Having this sort of charging station at the visitor center in particular is a great opportunity to demonstrate that this technology works, and it's available right now and ready to use," Tazewell said.

The station should be finished by the end of the month. NCSU plans to build a second one at the nearby McKimmon Conference Center, another location on campus that gets thousands of visitors each year.

Free to the public

The public can use the station free simply by registering at a log book at the center, Fair said.

For awhile, though, there may be more amps than takers, because only a handful of fully electric cars are in the area, Tazewell said.

"There's a pretty aggressive list of electric vehicles on the horizon, but there are almost none around right now," she said.

Peter Eckhoff, president of the Triangle Electric Auto Association, a group of enthusiasts, said there were perhaps a couple of dozen electric vehicles in the area but most probably weren't set up to use the station.

Clearly the problem of which comes first - charging stations or cars to use them - is a chicken-and-egg situation, Eckhoff said. But it's great that the university is building stations, he said, given that the Nissan Leaf and other models are on the way.

"Our hats are off to them," he said. "It's at least a good start."

jay.price@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4526

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