Electric vehicle drivers in the Charlottesville area have a new publicly-accessible place to charge up at the University of Virginia.
The project that brought a charging station to the second level of UVa’s Central Grounds Garage was spearheaded by fourth-year student Kyle Smalkowski with support from the university’s facilities management and parking and transportation departments.
About 25 people gathered around a Chevrolet Volt on Friday morning for a brief plug-in ceremony.
“This is kind of a pilot project,” said Smalkowski. “We really want to see how it impacts the electric vehicle community and kind of monitor whether it spurs the electric vehicle movement to expand in Charlottesville,” he said. “There’s definitely a market and we think that installing the infrastructure kind of helps grow the market further.”
The Charlottesville area has about 50 registered electric vehicles. Virginia has about 2,000 overall, according to Michael Phillips, a program coordinator with Virginia Clean Cities, a statewide nonprofit coalition that advocates for environmentally friendly and sustainable transportation initiatives.
The Central Grounds Garage unit is a level two charger, which is more powerful than a standard 120-volt residential wall connection. The more powerful connection is not required to charge electric vehicles, but it does speed up the process.
A 500-watt solar array on the roof will support, but not directly power, the charging station. The unit will draw about 7.2 kilowatts of power from the garage’s grid, according to a project announcement.
Charging station users will pay the regular parking rate, plus a $2 flat fee on the honor system at the garage’s exit booth to support the station's upkeep.
The project was funded by about $11,000 in grants from the UVa Parents Committee, the Green Initiatives Funding Tomorrow fund and RideForward, a student group.
Smalkowski, a chemical engineering major, was assisted by fellow students Christian Speck, a fourth-year electrical engineering major, and Olivia Jeffers, a fourth-year civil engineering major, according to the project announcement.
“One of the things we pride ourselves on at the University of Virginia is that students take the lead in so many things that happen here,” said Allen Groves, UVa’s dean of students. Groves made the first official plug in.
“It was a lot people’s efforts to make this come off, but it started with an idea from our students, and our students were the ones to carry it through,” Groves said.
The nation has about 5,700 electric vehicle charging stations, and roughly 100 of them are in Virginia, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s website.
Earlier this year, Gov. Bob McDonnell amended legislation to reduce a hybrid and alternative vehicle fee from $100 to $64. Phillips said the pressure McDonnell received from hybrid car owners and environmental groups to reduce the fee — coupled with the growth of registered electric and hybrid vehicles and an increase in the number of alternative fueling stations — is a sign that a slow but steady shift is underway in Virginia.
“I think the question is whether businesses, governments, and consumers are going to be on the front end of this or whether they’re just going to wait and see what happens,” Phillips said.