Detroit’s NextEnergy Charges Ahead With First Michigan Power Station in Electric Vehicle Program

8/31/10

A common refrain among skeptics of electric vehicles is that there’s a “lack of infrastructure” to support their widespread adoption.

On Thursday, Detroit will see a what could be the beginning of the end of that circumstance when NextEnergy introduces Michigan’s first ChargePoint America electric vehicle charging station. ChargePoint America is a program sponsored by Campbell, CA-based Coulomb Technologies to provide 4,600 electric vehicle charging stations to nine regions of the United States. Coulomb developed the technology and federal Recovery Act dollars, administered through the Department of Energy, support the implementation. The objective is to accelerate development and production of electric vehicles.

NextEnergy, located near TechTown on the campus of Wayne State University in Detroit, is a nonprofit founded by the state of Michigan in 2002 to serve as an accelerator for renewable and alternative energies. As of Thursday, it will also be the location of Michigan’s first (and, for the time being at least, only) ChargePoint America charging station. Other regions that will get a charge under this program include the San Jose/San Francisco Bay Area and Bellevue/Redmond, WA.

Gary Gauthier, NextEnergy’s director of business development, predicts that eventually the corridor between Detroit and Grand Rapids, MI, is going to be “reasonably well-populated” with plug-in electric vehicle charging stations. He says NextEnergy has been actively involved in a number of programs focused on Michigan and national readiness for the age of the electric vehicle, including the Michigan Public Service Commission’s PEV (plug-in electric vehicle) Readiness Task Force. Another is a Michigan group just forming, Get Ready Michigan, which will be a local chapter of a national group called Project Get Ready launched by the Rocky Mountain Institute. Project Get Ready’s mission is just what it sounds like—to prepare cities for the introduction of plug-in hybrid vehicles.

It was at a Get Ready planning session about a month and a half ago that representatives of Coulomb Technologies approached NextEnergy and said the Detroit location would be a natural spot for a charging station, considering it’s already a kind of crossroads for much of Michigan’s electric-vehicle development.

Coulomb is also providing free charging stations for owners of the soon-to-be-released Chevy Volt hybrid electric vehicle.

Of course whenever a big push is made for a particular technology there’s always the question of whether it’s the right one. There’s a chance of betting on the wrong horse. A few years ago, corn ethanol was all the rage. These days, not so much. And where do hydrogen fuel cells fit in?

“I’ve been involved in plug-in electric vehicle activities now for almost five years, and I was also involved in fuel cells before,” Gauthier says. “They are certainly two different technologies as it relates to the transportation market and I think over time both of them will have a place. It’s more the level of development at this point in time that has the impact and also the source of the energy. We’ve got a monstrous electrical grid out there that has power that we can use. There’s not a lot of hydrogen to be had at this point in time.”

Gauthier says both technologies have a future as parts of the solution to our energy problems as time goes on. But for now, he indicates, we are entering the age of the electric car.

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