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Upstate drivers slow to plug into electric vehicles

electric vehicle charging station from ChargePoint
Jenna Flanagan
Innovation Trail

In his 2013 State of the State speech, Governor Cuomo said he wanted to push the state towards a clean tech economy. With that he introduced the Charge New York program intended to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. One visible sign of the support network for electric vehicle drivers are the newly-installed charging stations around the state. But what affect are they really having on vehicle trends? 

Drivers of electric vehicles can charge up their car battery at locations like the downtown Albany Holiday Inn. There’s roughly 10 charging stations in Albany.

This may seem like an unusual place for the clean energy revolution to take off. Unlike the familiar locations we use to fuel our cars, Rick Lipinskas, a Chevy Volt owner and driver says charging an electric vehicle can happen anywhere.

“The thing that’s different is when you get home, you pull into your garage, you plug it in just like we’re plugged in here.”

The difference between charging your car at home or at a station is voltage. A typical household outlet carries 110 volts of electricity. Plug in your car there and you’ll probably get 5 miles of electricity for every hour of charging. Plug into a charging station that carries 220 volts and you’ll get 20 miles for every hour you charge. Scott Miller, VP of Sales for the Eastern United States for Charge Point says affordability isn’t an issue.

“The cost of electricity is a whole lot less expensive than the cost of gasoline. You’re literally paying 1/5 of the cost to fill up your car and that’s not at a free station, that’s at home where you’re actually paying for the electricity”

Right now, several of these charging stations are free. Business' with charging stations on their property have the option of charging or electricity or not and several consider providing free electricity part of a business plan to encourage patronage.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, NYSERDA, partnered with a variety of organizations to help install charging stations. In the Capital Region, a number of stations were installed via NYSERDA's partnership with National Grid and ChargePoint, a private company that produces charging stations. The aim of these projects, and others under Charge NY, is to install 3-thousand public and workplace charging stations around the state by 2018.

A 50-million dollar, 5 year investment from the governor is spurring this effort.

Drivers who sign up with Charge Point receive a ‘tap’ card allowing them to unlock the station plug and ‘top off’ their battery free of charge.

Charge point electric vehicle charging station with two plugs
Credit Jenna Flanagan / Innovation Trail
Electric vehicle charging station at the Homewood Suites Hotel in Colonie

Electric Vehicle enthusiasts like Michael Stella, a Nissan Leaf owner/driver credits the new charging stations with improving his commute.

“Before this was installed I had to drive conservatively, I hardly ever put the heat on. I drove 55 on the north way instead of the 65 and I was able to go 60 miles one way on one charge.”

Battery charge is an issue for electric vehicles. An average battery can hold between a 50 and 100 mile charge, depending on its size and the vehicle model.

Anthony Kossmann is the Chair of the Automotive Technologies Department at Hudson Valley Community College.

He says the Charge New York program is a noble effort but he says the technology has a ways to go before it gets real traction, particularly in upstate New York.

“Temperature… When we start to get to lower temperatures, 0-10 degrees, that takes more energy out of the battery or the battery just doesn’t store as much energy and therefore the range goes way down.”

He says everything from turning on the heat, to switching on the windshield wipers and headlights all drain energy from the car's battery.

There are currently 6-thousand electric vehicles registered in New York State.

Kossmann says these cars can work great, for commuters.

“In most cases because you couldn’t drive the car to grandma’s house for the holidays if she lives more than 50 miles away, you’d need a second vehicle.”

Federal tax credits and decreases in price are helping to make electric vehicles more affordable to everyone. Drivers like Lipinskas insist they work just as well as long as you keep the battery charged.

“It could fit in to probably anybody’s lifestyle, like I said there’s nothing weird about it. It’s a question of if you have 2 cars maybe one will be electric and that will be your commuter car that you use every day, you don’t use it for trips. If you have one car you might want to get a plugin hybrid.”

John Gilbrook is Senior Project Manager for National Grid. He says he expects the program to expand successfully, providing clean energy to more cars across the state.

“The fuels we generate electricity from are increasing cleaner… we have a lot more natural gas, a lot of hydro-power and a lot of renewables being introduced into the electric grid, so our energy mix here is so clean that in a lot of ways electric vehicles are better for the environment here then they are throughout the entire United States.”

The state expects its multi-million dollar investment to be well spent.

NYSERDA is expecting a significant increase in the number of electric vehicles in the state, as much as 40-thousand by 2018 and 1-million by 2025.

two parking spots marked for electric vehicles to use charge point charging station
Credit Jenna Flanagan / Innovation Trail
Electric vehicle charging station at Chilli's Bar and Grill in Colonie

To find the nearest charging station to you visit chargepoint.com.

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