Tennessee Installs Solar Charging Stations

By Stephen Markley  on January 25, 2011

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As mainstream electric vehicles like the 2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2011 Nissan Leaf begin to hit American roads, the Tennessee Valley Authority is getting into the EV game with solar-assisted recharging stations that will hopefully prove convenient to drivers and alleviate stress on the electric grid.

The TVA and the Electric Power Research Institute, where the first stations will be built, have come up with an innovative design that will deliver power from solar cells on top of a carport to three "refrigerator-sized" battery packs stored indoors. When drivers plug in, they will draw from the solar cells but also from the grid. The idea is to have the cells partially charging vehicles when they're plugged in but also sending electricity back to the grid when no one is charging. The storage capabilities of the batteries allow cars to recharge first with stored energy before drawing from the grid.

Eventually, the two organizations hope to have 125 of these TVA Smart Stations running in the state by the end of the year, mostly in the Chattanooga, Knoxville and Nashville metropolitan areas.

Beyond encouraging electric vehicles and adding clean energy to the grid, researchers hope the stations will give them an insight into the best practices for EV infrastructure. What are the best types of batteries to use for storage? Since batteries are sensitive to extreme heat and cold, what are the best ways to regulate temperatures? How long and how often will drivers actually use public recharging stations?

Most importantly, each station will cost between $50,000 and $100,000, but will initially give away the electricity for free. To make the economics work on a widespread scale, the TVA will need a mechanism for selling the electricity.

If You Build It, Will They Charge? (New York Times)

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