Electric vehicle chargers latest in University’s green efforts

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s new electric vehicle charging station in the Cajun Field parking lot is a slender apparatus about 6 feet high. It stands much taller in terms of its impact on sustainability.

It’s the first public electric vehicle charging station in the city of Lafayette and the state’s first EV charging station powered primarily by solar energy. It’s the first of several such stations planned at UL Lafayette as part of the University’s Sustainability Strategic Plan. The comprehensive, three-year plan outlines campus environmental practices and goals through 2021.

A key objective of the plan is “to reduce greenhouse emissions that harm the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, by 15 percent over the next three years,” said Gretchen LaCombe Vanicor, director of the University’s Office of Sustainability.

The charging station sits close to the corner of Bertrand Drive and Cajundome Boulevard, near the University’s Photovoltaic Applied Research and Testing Lab in University Research Park. That’s by design. The lab’s 4,500 solar panels generate 1.1 megawatts, or 20 percent of the electricity transmitted to southern portions of campus, including Cajun Field, each year.

Reducing the amount of electricity drawn from the grid, which is produced with fuels such as coal and natural gas, also reduces greenhouse gas emissions, said Dr. Terrence Chambers, a professor of mechanical engineering who leads the PART Lab.

“Because the electricity to power the station will come partly from the University’s solar energy facility, the result will be even fewer emissions,” he explained.

Batteries of two electric vehicles can be charged simultaneously at the new charging station in the Cajun Field parking lot.

An electric vehicle with a full charge can travel between 70 and 300 miles, depending on make, model and battery size. Power can be transferred from public charging stations or at home. At home, a special cord inserted into EVs or hybrid electric vehicles is also plugged into a standard household outlet. Charging an electric vehicle at home can take all night, Chambers said.

Beyond quicker charging times, public stations provide convenience for drivers too far from home to recharge, and also give people a place to refuel during long trips. Chambers said most electric vehicles that utilize the University station will be able to completely recharge in just a few hours. Public stations are also often used by people “who simply want to top off” their vehicle batteries.

Drivers will power up from one of two electric cables that plug into ports on the exterior of vehicles, similar to the hoses used to put gasoline in standard automobiles. They will do so on a first-come, first-served basis. Users will establish an account by downloading an app, and pay 99 cents per hour for EV parking and charging.

Installation of a partially solar-powered EV charging station was made possible by a $4 million investment in the PART Lab by Louisiana Generating LLC. The new EV charging station will enable researchers to study how EV charging and solar energy affect the grid.

The University has submitted a proposal to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality that would fund six additional charging stations on campus. Based on industry and government projections, Chambers anticipates 750 electric vehicles will be driven on Lafayette streets in the next five years, provided there are public stations where owners can recharge.

“Electric vehicles suffer from a chicken and egg syndrome. Consumers are reluctant to buy electric vehicles until charging structures have been built. But, until you build the infrastructure, you may not have enough EV customers to justify building it,” he explained.

Chambers said the Sustainability Strategic Plan calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in other ways, including promoting bicycling, walking, and ride-sharing among employees and students.

This article first appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of La Louisiane, The Magazine of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Photo by Doug Dugas and Rachel Rafati

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