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Illinois Expanding Electric Vehicle Network Along Historic Route 66

A network of charging stations could make a road trip from St. Louis to Chicago more likely in an electric vehicle, without having to haul a generator.

by Mary Cooley, Belleville News-Democrat / December 16, 2014

(TNS)--Hopping in the car and going to Springfield is a pretty easy 90-minute drive that doesn't typically require much planning. Unless you're driving an electric vehicle with a range of 30 to 40 or 80 to 85 miles, in which case an EV driver would likely be calling for a tow somewhere just outside of the capital city's limits.

A network of charging stations could change that and make a road trip from St. Louis to Chicago more likely in an electric vehicle, without having to haul a generator. Gov. Pat Quinn's office in late November announced an initiative to add seven fast-charge stations between the metro-east and Chicago along the historic Route 66: Edwardsville, Carlinville, Springfield, Lincoln, Normal, Pontiac, Dwight and Plainfield.

The $1 million investment in greener technology comes from $400,000 each in federal and state sources, and $200,000 from BMW, Mitsubishi and Nissan, which all make electric vehicles. Each station would have a fast-charge station as well as a standard level 2 station, which are already scattered throughout the state and the metro-east.

Edwardsville, the only city in the metro-east in talks with the state and Nissan for a charging station, still has a number of issues to work out, including where the charger might be.

"We've narrowed down the choices," said Tim Harr, city administrator. The task now is in the engineering department, "because you have to get a rather high-powered voltage dropped to the location, it doesn't make sense for free station if it costs a hundred thousand to get a power drop."

Electric vehicles are still a small segment of vehicles on the road, but it is rapidly growing, says industry expert Andrew Barbeau, who is a consultant for Illinois on this project. There are about 10,000 electric and hybrid vehicles in the state now, he says.

"But if you look at the number of 300,000 (EV) in the United States -- two years ago that was 100,000. Two years before that was 30,000. We're tripling adoption every year, and there will be close to a million EV on the road by 2016 -- all of a sudden that's a major penetration," Barbeau says.

The additional charging stations are for those yet-to-come EV owners, Barbeau says.

"There are 10,000 electric vehicles in Illinois, they also want resources when they go on road trips. But it's not so much for them as the next 100,000 who get these cars over the next five years."

The stations most likely to be added, the CHAdeMO and SAE connectors, charge certain cars fully within 15 to 20 minutes, which appeals to the state as well. According to ChargePoint, a company that sells charging stations to businesses and maps the locations for drivers, the CHAdeMO serves the Nissan Leaf; and the SAE combination works with BMW and Volkswagen.

There are more than 20 types of manufactured electric vehicles. Adapters allow the various cars to accept different charging stations, but how long a full charge takes depends on whether a car is capable of accepting the speed, according to local EV drivers.

According to the Department of Energy, there are already 124 charging stations along the way, but only one in Springfield and a handful in Chicago are capable of charging a vehicle in 15 to 20 minutes. The other 120-some stations take six to 12 hours to fully charge a vehicle.

The state's interest in adding the stations is partly economic, Barbeau says.

"Plugging in and stopping at a business district is what we would do anyway," Barbeau says. "I think what the state is doing is smart, looking at the historic 66 corridor... Stop, get something to eat, grab some coffee," just like a driver of a gasoline car would do.

"People are stuck within the city now," said Wayne Garver, the current president of the Gateway Electric Vehicle Club. He advocates putting charging stations between cities. He's put about 10,000 miles on his VW Bug as an electric vehicle, which he converted in 1982. It then sat in his garage for a couple of decades as his children grew up, then he changed the lead acid batteries for lithium ion and gets about 80 miles on a charge. He also has a van for road trips.

"Unless I'm going on a road trip, 80 miles gets me anywhere I need to go," he said. But those road trips require some planning and sometimes some ingenuity.

"Last August I actually drove my car down (to Cape Girardeau for a EV convention), and there wasn't anyplace to plug in, so we put two generators in the back."

Garver stopped, fired up the gas generators, and charged his electric vehicle.

"I would love to take a trip to Springfield," he said, but won't do so until more charging stations are added.

Kevin Beeker has one answer to a lack of charging stations: A Chevy Volt, which is an "extended range vehicle." The range on his 2013 car is 37 miles in the winter, but the gasoline engine kicks in when the battery power runs out. He gets 340 miles on "pure gas".

With charging stations positioned as they are, and with the types of stations available, taking a road trip "would be like the old wagon days. Drive 43 miles, fine a place to charge it overnight. Drive 43 miles, find a place to charge it overnight," he said.

One downside to the so-called fast chargers is the compatibility between charger and vehicle. While adapters exist to pull power from any station to any vehicle, the vehicle may not pull in power optimally from just any charger.

"The car's only going to take what it can take," Beeker said. "It's going to take a 220 voltage, and the car's going to eat it as fast as it can eat it. I can't see where a 'quick charger' is going to make it charge faster."

Another type of electric car owner who doesn't have any so-called "range anxiety" is the Tesla driver. The Tesla S is a full-sized sedan with a typical mileage of 260 miles per charge, although, as with all electric cars, that depends both on driving style and outside temperature.

Craig Huegen, of Germantown, owns a Tesla and plans to buy another when the SUV-version comes out. He generally charges his vehicle at a Tesla-made charging station at home.

Even though he doesn't anticipate using them, "More chargers is good, I'll take more chargers anywhere they can be." He said with additional chargers, it would help in emergency situations where he was called back home soon after arriving at his destination.

"It's like gas stations," he said. "They had to plan auto trips in the 1920s (around where gas stations were). We're kind of that threshold, in next two to three years, I can go anywhere without having to pre-plan my trip."

Huegen says he'd like to take his wife and four sons to Orlando, but until more chargers are available they would have to drive to Chicago and then down the East Coast. Because there is no large engine and no gas tank, "that car actually hauls all six of us around, it's a normal regular sized sedan like an Impala, and storage is in the front. In the backseat are (his sons ages) 2 and 14, and the 6 and 8 year olds ride facing backwards."

John VonBokel, of Belleville, has more than 45,600 miles on his 2012 Tesla and makes excuses to drive it.

"Every day I go home and say, 'I wasted a hundred miles (left on the charge), I could have driven more,'" VonBokel said.

Like Huegen, VonBokel said the fast chargers the state plans are unlikely to help him much, but he's also "very much" in favor of the additions.

"It won't enable any more trips for me, but it could enable other drivers to take longer trips."

(c)2014 the Belleville News-Democrat (Belleville, Ill.)

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