Electric Vehicle Chargers at Grand Canyon Reduce ‘Range Anxiety’ for Park Visitors

PHOENIX – Electric vehicle owners can now drive to Grand Canyon National Park without worrying about dead batteries, thanks to new charging stations on the South Rim that opened to the public in late August.

Park visitors can now charge their EVs at six stations located around the park, including Yavapai Lodge, Canyon Village Market and Maswik North, the National Park Service said in a recent news release. In addition, NPS said, five charging stations were installed at the Grand Hotel in the gateway community of Tusayan and at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel in Williams.

The project – a joint effort by BMW of North America, which donated the charging stations, the Department of Energy, the NPS and the National Park Foundation – adds to a growing network of EV chargers in northern Arizona.

Visitors to Grand Canyon National Park can now charge their electric vehicles at six stations on the South Rim, including Yavapai Lodge, Canyon Village Market and these two at Maswik North. (Photo by Michael Quinn/ NPS)

“The automobile has long been central to the great American vacation in national parks,” P. Daniel Smith, deputy director of the National Park Service, said in the same release. “While our treasured landscapes offer familiar vistas time after time, the automobile has changed greatly, and parks want to meet the needs of our visitors who use electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. … Electric vehicle drivers will have more places to charge the car while recharging themselves with nature and parks.”

David Perkins, the sustainability director for Xanterra Travel Collection Grand Canyon, which operates restaurants, hotels and lodges in the park, said a number of factors were taken into account when deciding site locations, such as accessibility, number of visitors and the opportunity to get people to the park from travel hubs, including Phoenix.

“So they (BMW of North America) said they couldn’t do the in-park stations without also having en route going on,” Perkins said. “So I think that was a factor, you know, how well they could build the infrastructure, leading to the parks also.”

Perkins said one drawback to owning an electric vehicle is finding places to recharge.

Visitors’ feedback has been positive, he said, adding that he recently spoke with a Xanterra hotel guest who was considering purchasing an electric vehicle and had rented a Tesla to visit the Canyon.

“He was really grateful for a place to plug in, and said that if he’s going to be an electric vehicle driver in the future, then he’s hoping that more entities will try to do what’s happening in the park and add infrastructure for charging,” Perkins said.

The partnership, which began in 2017, intends to install 100 EV charging stations in and around 13 national parks across the United States, according to NPS.

Along with the BMW charging stations in Williams, travelers can also utilize a number of Tesla charging stations on their way to the Grand Canyon and around the Flagstaff area.

The Courtyard Marriott in Flagstaff houses 12 Tesla Superchargers, which can charge a Tesla up to 80% capacity in about 30 minutes. The catch is that, unlike Tesla Destination Chargers, which can charge other EVs with an adapter, the Superchargers only charge Tesla vehicles.

Jennifer Reyes, general manager of the Courtyard Marriott Flagstaff, said the goal is to reduce the hotel’s environmental impact as well as the popularity of the location, near the junction of Interstates 17 and 40.

“You can get to pretty much any state from our location,” Reyes said. “(If) you go to California and Albuquerque – you name it – you pretty much have to come through this area, and then with Route 66 and everything that Flagstaff has to offer, it just kind of makes sense.”

Ken Sweat, a principal lecturer at Arizona State University who has studied environmental science, endangered species and plant biology, said the transportation sector is one of the largest sources of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

“Let’s be honest, we’re not giving up our cars, but we can have cars with all the horsepower and all the things we want, that don’t burn fossil fuels,” Sweat said. “And making them easier for people to use with things like chargers at the Grand Canyon and access to that kind of infrastructure is going to increase the acceptance of that technology by other people.”

Perkins said Xanterra plans for more than half of its vehicle fleet to be either hybrid or electric by the end of 2021, and it’s also expecting more requests for charging stations.

“I know that in our build of Maswik South, the new hotel, that we’re allowing for infrastructure to be in places that it will be easy for us to install charging stations in the future, as the demand increases,” Perkins said. “So we’re prepared for the likelihood that it will occur.”

Sweat said any moves to reduce the localized impacts of auto pollution is important for future enjoyment of the parks, especially with the increase in visitors to national parks.

“I tell you personally, going to the canyon with my family growing up (are) some of the best memories I have,” he said, “and to be able to keep allowing families to build those kinds of memories, we’ve got to make sure that we’re not radically altering the planet and making that place unrecognizable from what it was in the past.”

BMW of North America donated the new charging stations to the Grand Canyon and other parks across the country , such as Olympic National Park, Everglades National Park, and Cape Cod National Seashore, from Washington to Florida.

The first round of stations were installed at Thomas Edison National Historic Park in New Jersey after the launch of the project in April 2017.

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.

Gas is Tired: Rethinking our Fossil Fuel-Dependent Car Culture

LOS ANGELES – Car culture is a way of life in Los Angeles. More specifically, gas-powered vehicle culture.

The vast freeway system is teaming with with big, gas-guzzling SUVs and luxury vehicles at all hours of the day and night. There is even a charm to the vintage classics automobile collection that the city collectively owns. There is pride, power and a sense of safety in these giant machines. Cars and the infrastructures they rely upon are a system we depend upon for our livelihood and existence in Los Angeles.

Yet, they are more than just transportation for humans to get from point A to point B: “Cars have evolved into objects of culture, power, status, desire, image, and habit,” writes Edward Humes, author of “Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation.”

However, how does driving a gas-powered SUV fit in a world overwhelmed by global warming, climate change and the hope for a green revolution?

Car ownership in Los Angeles County is among the highest of metropolitan areas worldwide and it is growing at an exponential rate. In 2018, the DMV reported 7,744,896 million registered cars, trucks and motorcycles in Los Angeles County, an area that is home to nearly 10.2 million people. Each year, 1 million new cars enter Southern California — the equivalent to one-seventh of all U.S. auto sales. A report from the California Air Resources Board shows that vehicle transportation contributes 40% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions.

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Despite the region’s infamous congestion rankings, vehicle sales have increased and concurrently public transit use has decreased. Despite valiant efforts from the city to encourage and improve public transit, such as the Measure M tax, a recent report by LA TransitCenter and UCLA found that people do not use public transit because it is slow, not safely accessible by walking, is inhospitable, and many of the likely transit users cannot afford to live near the transit station. Overall, people prefer the privacy of their personal cars as a more comfortable and much more practical mode of transportation.

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So, if car culture is not going anywhere, is it possible for Los Angeles to be part of a green transition and curb our dependence on fossil fuels?

Buying an electric vehicle may seem like old news — and California is leading the way with electric vehicle ownership — yet electric is not projected to surpass the number of gas-powered vehicles on the road until 2050.

“Electric vehicles make sense from a financial standpoint, particularly in places like Los Angeles where car culture is so prevalent,” says Ben Holland, Senior Associate in Mobility Transformation at Rocky Mountain Institute, a think tank focused on transitioning from fossil fuel to renewable energy. “The more you drive, the more it makes sense to go electric, because the cost of electricity is so much lower than gasoline,” Holland says. “Long distance commuters can quickly pay off the premium they paid for an electric car.”

The two main hindrances keeping consumers from buying an electric vehicle are the lack of charging stations and the initial cost. According to Chargehub, there are less than 2000 charging stations in the city of Los Angeles, and only 7% of those are fast chargers. This challenge is currently being tackled by the city’s promise of adding 250,000 more charging units by 2025. The other challenges are more difficult.

Three converted Prius Plug-In Hybrids charging at San Francisco City Hall public recharging station. (Photo by Felix Kramer / Creative Commons)

Electric vehicle prices range anywhere between $22,000 and $72,000 before rebates and there are few subsidies or initiatives to make them attainable for middle and low-income individuals. “The problem is this is a luxury good, and in a lot of ways even a car itself is the ultimate luxury good,” says Ryan Popples, CEO of Proterra, America’s largest electric bus manufacturing company. “How are we going to get electric vehicle technology into everyone’s hands faster than just providing them with new cars? Transit.”

In a city with a declining public transit ridership, Popples says a transition to electric public transit should address the public’s concerns about the existing bus fleet. “[Buses are] loud, they’re dirty, they’re really heavy, incredibly inefficient and highly unreliable,” Popples says. With a goal of making electric buses 10 times more efficient than natural gas buses, Proterra’s buses are designed to be the exact opposite: quiet, clean, light, reliable and very efficient, he describes.

An older version of LA Metro buses. (Photo courtesy Port of Authority / Public Domain)

What Los Angeles needs more than cleaner buses to become a cleaner, more sustainable city, however, is to break out of a culture that depends strictly on single-user vehicles. “We need to start thinking about prioritizing the movement of people, not the movement of cars. That’s where transit comes in. If we can reverse auto-centric, single-occupant road design and maximize the movement of people, then transit will be a clear winner,” Holland says. “Buses, just like long distance commuters, travel many miles a day, so it’s a win-win from a climate perspective.”

Shifting a collective mentality by making transport more efficient as well as zero-emission could help change behavior and also substantially reduce the city’s fossil fuel consumption. Updating infrastructure with a fast-track lane for zippy electric buses and running them on a more frequent schedule would cut the transportation time for buses and put them back on the map as a viable transportation option.

A Proterra electric bus at its charging station. (Photo by Sounder Bruce / Creative Commons)

Last year the California Air Resources Board voted on a proposal for Innovative Clean Transit Regulation to replace all public transit agencies with zero-emission buses by 2040. The proposal’s most recent Notice of Decision from December 2018 states: “The ICT regulation requires California transit agencies to gradually transition their buses to zero-emission technologies… and to implement plans that are best suited for their own situations.” There is no deadline for this transition.

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The Irony of an Electric Car Named ‘Tesla’

Thomas Edison became a household name for inventing the first practical incandescent light bulb. But because of what happened in a small town in Colorado, his bitter rival Nikola Tesla won the bigger prize to electrify our modern grid. Over a century later, could revenge be in the offing?

DENVER – In the late 1800s there was a battle raging. It wasn’t over territory, ideology, or settling old grudges. It was a clash over how we—and for that matter the world—were going to get our energy. Although the ability to generate electricity had been established, just how to deliver it to the masses—primarily for the purpose of lighting—was still unanswered. It was a contest that about a century later inspired a rock band to name itself “AC/DC.”

The “War of the Currents” as it was called was between Thomas Edison, who backed direct current or DC, and Nikola Tesla, who was promoting something different—alternating current or AC.

Without getting too far into the weeds, the main difference between the two is the way the electrons move. DC travels in only one direction and is the electricity that comes from batteries. AC reverses direction at regular intervals and is generated by moving a magnet through a coil of wire. But one of the most important differences at the time was that AC could be transmitted long distances—an advantage that would prove decisive.

Suffice it to say there was a lot at stake over which system was going to electrify the nation, and at times it got a bit ugly with Edison launching a propaganda campaign — what today we might call “fake news”—by doing things like electrocuting animals with AC to try to prove its dangers. Tesla meanwhile had teamed up with entrepreneur George Westinghouse, who saw electrification as an enormous business opportunity and had purchased Tesla’s patents.

This high stakes war ended with a victory in, of all places, Telluride, in southwest Colorado. Back around 1885, mines were a huge industry in the state, but they were starting to fail because they lacked a power source to operate. Nearby forests had been cleared for fuel and the cost to bring in coal by burros was too expensive. The Gold King mine above Telluride (not to be confused with a mine of the same name near Durango, which had the devastating spill into the Animas River a few years ago), had a lot of ore left in it, but production costs were getting too high to make it feasible.

The Telluride mine also had a river nearby — a fork of the San Miguel. A man named Lucien L. Nunn, who was a major investor at the time, thought it would be a perfect source of hydropower—if only they could get the electricity transmitted the two miles up the mountain to the mine. So Nunn approached Westinghouse to try out Tesla’s idea for alternating current.

Interior view (c.1900) of Ames powerhouse showing switchboard on left and generator on right. (Public Domain)

Tesla himself did not come to Telluride. Westinghouse sent a team of engineers to Colorado to build the Ames Hydroelectric Plant based on his designs for the generator and induction motor. On the 19th of June 1891, they flipped the switch and sent electricity along newly constructed transmission lines up to the Gold King, which was at 12,000 feet in elevation. The engineers were so amazed—and nervous that it worked—that they didn’t turn it off for thirty days. When they did turn it off—and turned it back on—it continued to work, and the Ames plant made history as the first hydroelectric facility to generate and transmit alternating current for industrial purposes in the U.S. The success at Ames proved that AC was a viable option, and, shortly after, the same design of the plant was built on a much larger scale at Niagara Falls.

Lucien Nunn went on to install similar systems at other mines and eventually provided electricity to Telluride—making it the first town in the country to be powered by alternating current. The Ames hydro plant runs to this day and is owned and operated by Xcel Energy. Mychal Raynes, a plant specialist, says it’s only needed a few improvements and otherwise is still using the original equipment.

Directly Back to the Future?

So the rest was history and alternating current won. Or did it?

As Stephen Frank, a research engineer with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) near Golden, Colorado, explains, a home built in the 1950s would probably have all its fixtures and appliances running on alternating current. But that all changed with the advent of the transistor in the 1950s, which opened the door for power electronics that help convert electricity for use in numerous devices we use today. Pretty much everything in a modern home—from computers and televisions to lights and washing machines—are all using direct current because of the electronics inside. That white cube that plugs into the wall to charge your phone? It’s a power electronic converting AC to DC.

But every time these conversions happen energy is lost in the form of heat—something undesirable in the middle of summer. And given that you might use an air conditioner to cool down a building warming up from multiple appliances, conversions are wasting electricity.

So because our infrastructure is still running on AC but a lot of end-use or “load” is DC, Frank and his colleagues are doing much research on direct current technology to save energy, especially in buildings. In the aggregate, Frank says, “we’re talking about maybe being able to save 5-10 percent of all of the electricity that we consume in this country. We’re talking about roughly the amount of electricity that the state of Oregon uses in a year.”

Changing the grid itself is not something that would happen in the near term, but finding places to increase efficiency is the focus of much research. However, right now if someone wanted to design a new building to run completely on direct current, it would be challenging because they can’t go down to a home improvement store and pick up a DC outlet. The marketplace isn’t there yet. Frank says in order for there to be a change, standards need to be developed about everything from the shape of outlets to how to reuse AC wiring.

The bottom line about whether DC is the right choice for a new building Frank says, depends on a lot of factors: the availability of products, electricity rates, and capital cost of the equipment—many factors that don’t have anything to do with efficiency difference between the two systems. All factors have to be considered in order to make an informed choice about which system is best on a case-by-case basis.

But there may be a very compelling reason to incorporate more direct current into the grid—the surging sales of electric vehicles (EVs) that need charging stations for their batteries.

“Vehicle diversification is happening rapidly,” says Greg Martin, an electrical engineer who works at the energy systems integration facility at NREL, and that raises several questions: What is the impact to the grid? Where does it make sense to do the conversion to DC? If you want to rapidly charge your car in five minutes you really want to be hooked up to a DC charging system. Martin adds that in light of trends in transportation there’s a question about to what extent do we want to generate and distribute DC to support it. “These are topics in research right now as we speak.”

The ubiquity of power electronics and the trend toward EVs is a twist that should make fans of Edison smile—if not feel some vindication. As Frank says wryly, “I find it deeply ironic that an electric car using battery storage and charging with fast DC chargers has Tesla’s name on it.”

This article was first published by H2Oradio.org on March 22, 2019, and is republished with permission. You can find the original article here.

If Colorado Wants Green Energy, Bigger Better Batteries are Part of the Puzzle

DENVER — If you plug in an electric car today, chances are you’re drawing electricity that comes from fossil fuel sources, not renewable energy. Gas- and coal-fired power plants generate 78 percent of Colorado’s electricity. Wind, solar and hydro power make up just 22 percent.

Colorado has a long way to go in pursuit of 100 percent green energy. An important key to a future with renewables though will be storage.

“Batteries will help us integrate more clean, carbon-free renewable energy sources like solar and wind,” said Paul Denholm, a scientist who studies battery technology at Golden-based National Renewable Energy Lab.

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Colorado utilities are quietly moving to build bigger better batteries. United Power recently deployed the state’s largest battery at their facility east of Longmont. The 4 megawatt/16 megawatt-hour system can deliver power for four hours. Down in Colorado Springs, Fort Carson launched a smaller 4.25 megawatt/8.5 megawatt-hour system that can deliver power for two hours.

United Power said its battery could offset daily energy consumption for 600 homes.

Compared to existing and planned projects in California, Denholm said these Colorado batteries are small. The stated goal in California is for batteries to replace peaker power plants, which typically run on fossil fuels when demand is highest in the summertime.

That will eventually become the goal in Colorado, too.

“With all the projections we’re seeing from battery venders in the next few years, we’ll see more and more places where batteries can straight up beat new peaking capacity,” Denholm said before he added that, “We haven’t quite reached a tipping point.”

While the Centennial State won’t see any giant battery deployments soon, Xcel Energy has three projects planned for 2022. Two systems in Pueblo County, and one in Adams County will total 275 megawatts of storage.

Even though it could take up to three years to deploy the batteries, Delholm said there are side benefits to utilities’ quest for more storage. The effort will drive down battery production costs. Bigger cheaper batteries will find their way to electric vehicles. The whole effort could make future EVs cheaper and boost their range.

That, in turn, could lead to more widespread adoption.

Gov. Jared Polis already hopes to goose the profile of electric car. He issued an executive order in in mid-January to get more electric cars and busses on Colorado’s roads.

Arizona Adopts First Rules to Encourage Electric Vehicles

PHOENIX – Tesla recently announced major layoffs across all its operations, hoping to cut costs and price its electric vehicles to be more competitive with gasoline-powered vehicles. The move came after the Trump administration pledged to end Obama-era federal tax credits for electric vehicles of up to $7,500.

Some states have policies to subsidize and encourage electric vehicle use, but Arizona only recently has taken its first steps in that direction. The transition to EVs will require major investments in incentives and infrastructure, but the price could actually be less than the environmental and health costs of the status quo.

Europe on Track

Outside the U.S., electrification technologies are more widespread and accepted, and not just in passenger cars. At Formula E races across Europe, electric cars compete for coveted international titles. There are 22 cars from nine manufacturers on the FIA-sanctioned circuit, all powered by electric motors that can propel the cars to nearly 150 mph.

ON Semiconductor of Phoenix designs and manufactures the computer chips used in these racing motors, whose whine sounds a lot like a blender with a missing blade. ON also designed chips for Tesla to develop its pilot technology.

“We’re now entering season five of Formula E racing, which is taking the race cars and electrifying them. So now it’s going from a combustion engine that’s burning gas into a battery-powered vehicle,” said David Somo, senior vice president of strategy and marketing for ON.

Racing Formula E in Europe was a natural fit for the technology, he said. Europe has enacted several environmental policies that support alternative fuels designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Somo said. In the U.S., electricity is considered an alternative fuel under the Energy Policy Act of 1992.

It’s not like Americans aren’t buying EVs. According to Green Tech Media, 2018 was a record year for electric vehicles, with 361,307 units sold. But electrics still represent a small fraction of vehicles on U.S. roads.

“Americans are buying SUVs and light duty trucks at a much, much higher rate, where last year we sold a little less than half a million electric vehicles. We sold over 10 million SUVs and light duty trucks,” said Paul Lewis, vice president of policy at the ENO Center for Transportation, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit think-tank focused on transportation issues.

“Transportation has been particularly difficult to decarbonize. And in fact, vehicle-miles traveled is growing, and so are the emissions related to transportation. So we have a huge environmental challenge in front of us related to transportation.

“Having everybody drive alone in their own cars is becoming untenable and not workable in a modern economy where you need to have densities and you have lots of people being very productive working closely together. And that’s where we have to kind of think more holistically about our transportation system.”

Tourism and population growth

It’s a particular challenge for a state whose top industry is tourism.

That means as a growing number of travelers come to Arizona, more cars will be on the road. That will be in addition to the increasing number of drivers added as more people continue to move to Maricopa County each year.

“The effects of climate change are here now,” said Dan Lashof, the U.S. director of the World Resources Institute, a D.C. nonprofit that researches sustainability issues. “We have a very short window of opportunity to really transform the way we produce and consume energy, eliminate emissions of heat-trapping pollution into the atmosphere.”

At one time, Arizona drew people seeking relief from respiratory problems. Now, Maricopa County receives a grade of “F” almost every year from the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” report. Phoenix ranks as the eighth most polluted city in the country, measured by ozone level.

Ryan Cornell of Phoenix drives a Tesla Model 3, the latest of several electric cars he has owned. Yes, the car was expensive – prices start at more than $45,000 – but he sees it as an investment.

“Whether it’s five years, 10 years or sometime beyond that, we need to go to 100 percent, and we need to go to 100 percent renewable energy,” said Cornell, whose master’s thesis at Harvard Extension School compared the costs of EVs with the those of vehicles powered by internal combustible engines.

“Clean air is clean air. A liveable climate is a liveable climate. And I think people forget, too, that … the EPA was founded by (President Richard) Nixon. There’s no reason that everybody can’t be on board with some of these policies.

“We can’t tell someone who has health problems related to pollution, ‘Well, that’s a fake cost, that’s not a real cost.’ Like, that’s just as real as paying for car insurance or your monthly payment on the car or your electric bill.”

In December, the Arizona Corporation Commission adopted new policies to encourage Arizonans to switch to electric vehicles and utilities to invest in infrastructure to support it.

“Because of the nature of the power that electric vehicles are going to use, you have to be ahead and start developing programs and policies and tell utilities to prepare for it,” Commissioner Boyd Dunn said.

“Now, some are already doing that. The Salt River Project, that we don’t regulate, is already out there promoting electric vehicles … locating charging stations on their infrastructure. I know APS (the state’s largest power provider) has a program already, but they’re small.”

Dunn also noted the economic advantages EVs could bring to the state, such as the Lucid Motors plant planned for Casa Grande.

“We want to encourage the electric vehicle industry to locate in Arizona,” he said.

The commission received several letters objecting to the new policies.

“And I’ve heard from individuals who say, ‘Well, I don’t intend to have an electric vehicle. I don’t want to be paying a subsidy to let others have electric vehicles,’” Dunn said.

Electric cars are expensive, and building infrastructure to support those cars comes at a high cost – one residents may not be willing to pay. But at what cost to human health and the environment?