Electric cars are charging into Milwaukee

Nearly every major automobile manufacturer in the world has either developed or is developing a plug-in electric vehicle. Some, including the Chevrolet Volt, have already been released to the Wisconsin market, and most of the others will be released in various markets across the country before 2013.

President Barack Obama, who recently expanded the number of electric vehicles in the federal fleet, has made it a goal to reach 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

Communities across the country will need to prepare for the expected insurgence of electric cars by investing in networks of public charging stations for electric car users.

“Despite their limited number, the Chevrolet Volts are already being sold at dealerships across Wisconsin,” said Jim Tolkan, president of the Automobile Dealers Association of Mega Milwaukee (ADAMM). “There will be a multitude of others coming in the very near future as other manufactures develop their own models. I suspect that, while sales may not skyrocket, they will continue to sell and only moreso once adequate charging technology is adopted.”

The Schlitz Park office complex in downtown Milwaukee recently became one of the first in the state to install an electric vehicle charging station in its facility. Milwaukee Area Technical College has charging stations located on its downtown campus and has a project planned for its Oak Creek campus.

Spring City Electric of Waukesha, a division of Milwaukee-based Pieper Electric, recently installed a charging station at its corporate headquarters.

“The electric car is coming,” said Mike Kelliher, branch manager of Spring City Electric. “As a company we want to stay ahead of all this stuff and get the right equipment in to the marketplace so consumers aren’t so fearful. We want people to feel comfortable enough to purchase these vehicles and take comfort in the fact that there will be a place to charge it when they need to.”

The majority of charging systems in the country are produced by California-based Coulomb Technologies Inc., the worldwide operator of the ChargePoint Network. Chicago-based Carbon Day Automotive and Brookfield-based Electricharge Mobility LLC are partners of Coulomb Technologies and operate primarily in the Midwest.

“We’re definitely the leader in electric vehicle infrastructure,” said Brian Levine, vice president of Carbon Day Automotive. “We have a number of significant projects in the state of Wisconsin, and we hope to expand on that relationship.”

According to Levine, the stations in the Milwaukee region, including those at the Technical Colleges and others at the Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva, are privately owned stations.

The company recently secured a contract from the state of Minnesota as well as Kansas City Power and Light to install stations.

“We work with a good mix of private station owners and municipalities as well as energy companies,” Levine said. “The beauty of it is that regardless of who owns the station, the owner gets to set their own pricing options within the network.”

According to Brian Manthey, spokesman for Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Energy Corp., the installation of electric charging stations is something the company is “paying attention to,” but any progress towards development would be done in conjunction with the Department of Energy and the state, he said.

Levine has indicated initial conversations with Wisconsin Energy executives have taken place, but it hasn’t progressed beyond just talking.

“We haven’t gotten any further than preliminary discussions with (Wisconsin Energy),” Levine said. “But we’re excited about the potential opportunity to work with them.”

Last fall, Carbon Day Automotive worked with Madison Gas and Electric to install 18 additional charging stations throughout Dane County, adding to the county’s six existing charging stations, Levine said. The development of the charging stations in Madison was made possible through a Department of Energy Grant.

Stations installed by any Coulomb Technology partner become a part of the expansive ChargePoint Network which provides multiple web-based portals for hosts and users to take advantage of, Levine said.

“All of our stations are connected by a national network,” Levine said. “Drivers can locate available stations near them by using a smart phone application for iPhone or Blackberry or simply by accessing the Internet. The power is in the network.”

Stations on the network will also send a text message to a driver once charging is complete or if the charging session is interrupted, Levine said.

“The network offers a certain peace of mind,” he said. “In addition, charging station owners can set and modify charging prices whenever they want and conveniently generate usage or revenue generated reports.”

According to Levine, the flexibility to set and modify pricing for peak hours or specific time periods is one of the key reasons municipalities are working with them.

“For America to get to 1 million electric cars by 2015 it is going to have to happen organically but it’s also going to take some progressive thinkers,” Levine said. “Progressive businesses are starting to look at electric charging stations as more than just a go-green marketing tool. It’s going to become a real amenity and the ability for users to access the Chargepoint Network will only enhance that because what good is spending the money to install a charging station if no one knows it’s there?”

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