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New infrastructure needed for the coming wave of electric vehicles

by Ron Wood | May 16, 2021 at 4:49 a.m.
Kris Williams, director of energy services for Ozarks Electric Cooperative Corp. demonstrates how one of the cooperative‰Ûªs Tesla Model 3 electric vehicles is charged Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at the cooperative‰Ûªs offices in Fayetteville. It can be challenging to find charging stations for electric vehicles in rural areas of Arkansas, but both the state and private companies are working to change that. Visit nwaonline.com/210518Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Electric vehicles work well around town, but finding a place to recharge them can be a challenge.

More charging stations is sort of a chicken-and-egg conundrum.

To fully adopt electric cars, drivers will need a lot of easily accessible, affordable places to charge them. But there need to be more electric cars on the road before installing charging stations will be worth businesses' financial investment.

Arkansas ranks 42nd in electric charging outlets per 10,000 vehicles, and ranks last in overall electric vehicle purchases and charging infrastructure, according to U.S. Department of Energy data that was analyzed by QuoteWizard, an insurance comparison site.

Of the 4.1 million vehicles registered in the state, about 2,000 -- less than 0.01% -- are electric, according to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.

Arkansas has just over 200 electric vehicle charging stations with about 450 plugs, but publicly accessible charging stations are available in only 38 of the state's 75 counties. Most are in Northwest Arkansas and the Little Rock area.

Drivers, transportation planners, electric utilities and the Arkansas Transportation Department all have different perspectives on what the electric vehicle infrastructure should look like.

Gary Berger, a Bentonville resident and founder of the Tesla Owners Club of Arkansas, said state government needs to embrace electric vehicles, buy into the technology and provide incentives.

But, different brands of electric vehicles use different kinds of adapters, and there's a hodgepodge of third-party charging stations and payment methods.

"Arkansas can't fix that," Berger said. There "needs to be a standard."

Tesla has standards for its vehicles and it's own network of charging stations across the country, he said.

It also has destination chargers -- in places where drivers may stop for reasons other than recharging, such as hotels, restaurants and shopping centers.

Other brands of electric cars rely on "third-party charging when you're away from home," Berger said.

Charging is a nonissue for electric vehicles driven only around town and plugged in at homes, he said. It's more of a problem for people who live in apartments or condos.

"It's not mandated yet, at least in Arkansas, that when you build a new apartment or condo complex, you have to put in charging, but I think they're going to get there," he said.

The challenge for regional planners is understanding the bigger picture, said Tim Conklin, assistant director at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission.

"Every day I see something with regard to moving away from fossil fuels -- gas-powered vehicles -- to this technology that will require new infrastructure. It does exist, but it's not everywhere, and it's probably not convenient to everybody as they transform how they power their vehicles to electric."

He thinks a network of high-speed chargers will be key to increasing the use of electric vehicles.

Several automakers say they're going all, or heavily, electric by 2035, and that's a short time frame, he said.

He wonders how gas stations and convenience stores will adapt to the new technology.

"Their whole business model is based on the gas-powered engine and the need for gas or diesel."

Kris Williams with Ozarks Electric said the utility is adding charging stations within its service area in Northwest Arkansas and northeastern Oklahoma.

"We've installed six commercial stations at different locations, a hotel, the Naturals' ballpark, our offices, just to try to get some out there and see what type of interest there is," Williams said. "It's hard to really build when the cars aren't there."

He said the utility is betting that the electric vehicle industry will depend on home charging, at least in the short-term.

"When members get home, they plug it in when they pull in the garage, and it's fully charged the next morning," Williams said of vehicles. "And, we have charging stations that our members can purchase, with a rebate and a wiring incentive, just to get them in the home because that's really going to be the best practice, the best foundation for owning electric vehicles."

Ozarks Electric plans to offer a "time of use rate" later this year to give owners an incentive to charge their cars during off-peak hours, he said.

"That's our biggest concern, members getting home at 5 and plugging it in when our peak is occurring," Williams said.

Current ranges for electric vehicles are about 3oo miles, which is adequate for most local travel, he said.

"We see a lot of people commuting, home to work to entertainment then home, the 300 miles will get them throughout a day very easily," Williams said. "It's the people who are on cross-country trips we've got to have infrastructure in place for -- going up and down I-49."

Arkansas has a long way to go to prepare, he said. Oklahoma is placing stations every 50 miles down the main highway stretches.

The Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment launched a program in February to install more charging outlets in the state. The program is using about $1 million from Volkswagen's environmental mitigation fund to provide rebates to public and private applicants that install Level 2 charging stations. Level 2 stations can charge electric vehicles in eight hours or less using a 240-volt output, according to the department.

The department has allocated $215,563 in annual funding to Level 2 electric vehicle charging station rebates through 2024.

Charging station options are expensive, according to the state Department of Transportation. Level 1 charging, which provides 2-5 miles of range per hour charged, can cost up to $100 per plug to install.

A Level 2 station, which adds 10-20 miles of range per hour charged, costs $1,800 per plug for a home unit and $4,500 per public plug.

DC power fast charging stations, which goes directly into the battery, can cost up to $120,000 per plug.

Kris Williams, director of energy services for Ozarks Electric Cooperative Corp. demonstrates the navigation system of the cooperativeÍs Tesla Model 3 electric vehicles assists in planning a route to a destination with consideration of where charging stations are located Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at the cooperativeÍs offices in Fayetteville. It can be challenging to find charging stations for electric vehicles in rural areas of Arkansas, but both the state and private companies are working to change that. Visit nwaonline.com/210518Daily/ for today's photo gallery. 
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
Kris Williams, director of energy services for Ozarks Electric Cooperative Corp. demonstrates the navigation system of the cooperativeÍs Tesla Model 3 electric vehicles assists in planning a route to a destination with consideration of where charging stations are located Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at the cooperativeÍs offices in Fayetteville. It can be challenging to find charging stations for electric vehicles in rural areas of Arkansas, but both the state and private companies are working to change that. Visit nwaonline.com/210518Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
Kris Williams, director of energy services for Ozarks Electric Cooperative Corp. shows a graph of the energy usage of one of the cooperativeÍs Tesla Model 3 electric vehicles Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at the cooperativeÍs offices in Fayetteville. It can be challenging to find charging stations for electric vehicles in rural areas of Arkansas, but both the state and private companies are working to change that. Visit nwaonline.com/210518Daily/ for today's photo gallery. 
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
Kris Williams, director of energy services for Ozarks Electric Cooperative Corp. shows a graph of the energy usage of one of the cooperativeÍs Tesla Model 3 electric vehicles Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at the cooperativeÍs offices in Fayetteville. It can be challenging to find charging stations for electric vehicles in rural areas of Arkansas, but both the state and private companies are working to change that. Visit nwaonline.com/210518Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
Kris Williams, director of energy services for Ozarks Electric Cooperative Corp. demonstrates how one of the cooperative‰Ûªs Tesla Model 3 electric vehicles is charged Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at the cooperative‰Ûªs offices in Fayetteville. It can be challenging to find charging stations for electric vehicles in rural areas of Arkansas, but both the state and private companies are working to change that. Visit nwaonline.com/210518Daily/ for today's photo gallery. 
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
Kris Williams, director of energy services for Ozarks Electric Cooperative Corp. demonstrates how one of the cooperative‰Ûªs Tesla Model 3 electric vehicles is charged Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at the cooperative‰Ûªs offices in Fayetteville. It can be challenging to find charging stations for electric vehicles in rural areas of Arkansas, but both the state and private companies are working to change that. Visit nwaonline.com/210518Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
Kris Williams, director of energy services for Ozarks Electric Cooperative Corp. demonstrates how one of the cooperativeÍs Tesla Model 3 electric vehicles is charged Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at the cooperativeÍs offices in Fayetteville. It can be challenging to find charging stations for electric vehicles in rural areas of Arkansas, but both the state and private companies are working to change that. Visit nwaonline.com/210518Daily/ for today's photo gallery. 
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
Kris Williams, director of energy services for Ozarks Electric Cooperative Corp. demonstrates how one of the cooperativeÍs Tesla Model 3 electric vehicles is charged Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at the cooperativeÍs offices in Fayetteville. It can be challenging to find charging stations for electric vehicles in rural areas of Arkansas, but both the state and private companies are working to change that. Visit nwaonline.com/210518Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
More News

Charging up

Here’s a look at the the various kinds of electric vehicle charging technology:

Level 1 Charging Station — Uses a standard 120-volt household electrical outlet. For a Nissan Leaf, charging this way yields four to five miles of range per hour of charging, or about 22 hours for a full charge. Most drivers need less than a full charge daily.

Level 2 Charging Station — Uses a 240-volt outlet like used by a clothes dryer. Stations vary in output from 3.3 kW (40 miles of range for three-hour charge) to 16.8 kW (40-mile range with 40 minutes of charge).

• Level 3, DC Fast Charging —Uses direct current, which is different than the alternating current available in homes and most commercial buildings. The charge can go directly into the battery, speeding up the process.

Source: Staff reports

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