Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Electric charging comes to Como Park


Electric car charging stations have been getting installed fairly quietly across the country in recent years and a handful of stations have already been added in the Twin Cities—usually tucked away in parking garages. Two new installations at Como Park in Saint Paul will probably be the most visible in town because they're out in the open and have solar panels installed above. The panels are too small to directly charge cars, but should generate enough power to offset the foreseeable usage in the next few years (I should do the math again, but my best guess based on previous calculations is that each installation could generate about 1,000 to 1,500 miles worth of power for a Nissan Leaf over the course of a year).

These stations are part of the ChargePoint Network, an initiative from the charging stations' manufacturer, Coulomb Technologies. According to the Star Tribune, the two stations each cost $35,000, though Xcel Energy knocked that down by $4,200 through a rebate program. Sure makes home charging stations look cheap by comparison. I imagine the solar part (and its big metal support) is a big chunk of the cost, if not the dominant cost.

It'll be interesting to see if/how these different station locations get used. The first picture is of the station at 1155 Jessamine Avenue, just off of Lexington Parkway at McMurray Field, an area where traffic gets dominated by families carrying their school-age kids to and from soccer games (plus some other sports that also get played there—and there are also teams of people in their 20s and 30s who play there too). The second station is at the Como Park Pavilion along Como Lake. The station at the pavilion is probably going to be difficult to get at unless parking restrictions get put in place. Those are pretty desirable spots. The spots along Jessamine are probably used a lot less, and the charging pylons down there are placed such that three or four different spaces could be used by electric vehicles as they charge up.  I suppose the same might be true of the spaces at the pavilion, if you don't mind dragging the charging cord along the asphalt by a car width.  As long as your car's charge point is near the front of the vehicle, the cord seems long enough that it should work.


Each of the stations has two charging pylons, and each pylon has two ways of providing electricity.  The best option is a 30-amp, 240-volt plug using the North American SAE J1772 standard connector.  It's got a gun-style grip with a button on top that you push down to unlatch the plug.  Alternatively, there's also a NEMA 5-20R socket contained within the housing. I haven't actually seen it yet, but that's what the website says.  That's a fancy way of saying that it's a fairly standard wall socket, though it has a notch in one of the holes to allow 20-amp plugs (a plug with one of the blades turned 90 degrees).  However, that socket only allows charging at 16 amps and 120 volts.

The District 10 community council mentioned on Facebook that the price for charging at these stations will be $1/hour.  That sounds high at first glance, though the 30A/240V plug can put out 7.2 kilowatts, which is theoretically only 13.9 cents per kilowatt-hour—not a bad price, in my opinion.  We'll have to see if that turns out to be the actual price once the stations are officially activated.  Around town, there are chargers in downtown Saint Paul which charge $3.00 per session (up to 8 hours) and some at the Mall of America that charge $2.49 per hour.  There are chargers in downtown Rochester which cost $1.50/hour, and it appears that some stations in downtown Minneapolis don't seem to have any cost.

These stations appear to require customers to have an RFID card of some type in order to pay.  ChargePoint has its own RFID cards that people can sign up for, or you can use a RFID-capable credit card from Mastercard, Visa, Discover, or American Express.  This at first seems like an odd barrier to entry, though that's a minor thing compared to actually having an electric car or plug-in hybrid in the first place.

I'd love to fiddle with these things more, but my car runs on diesel.

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