ECOtality, EV Project Power Up Chattanooga’s Electric Vehicles

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ECOtality hosted an educational forum on EV (electric vehicle) infrastructure rollout in Tennessee at the DoubleTree Hotel on November 19th.  Dubbed the EV Project and funded to a tune of 230 million dollars mostly by the Department of Energy, the push to deploy nearly 15,000 charging stations in six states (Oregon, Washington, California, Arizona, Tennessee, Texas) and the District of Columbia) is unfolding right here in Chattanooga.

The goal of the event was to educate local business owners and attractions on the program, and ask those interested to sign a Letter of Intent signifying interest to have charging stations installed at their place of business.  According to ECOtality, success of this program in Chattanooga (and other rollout cities) is the key to further deployment and possible mainstream adoption of EV’s.

Jim Frierson, an advocate and early adopter of EV’s, was among the presenters and talked about how Chattanooga came to be included in the project, his early experience with EV’s and how he got over “range anxiety” (fear of being stranded in an electric car because of insufficient battery performance)

Presentations were also given by representatives of EPB, Nissan, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Oak Ridge National Laboratory who are all EV Project partners.

Nissan and Chevrolet (also an EV Project partner) are banking on the program to help drive sales of their new EVs. Private owners of the soon to be released Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt will be eligible to participate in the EV Project and receive free residential chargers along with free installation.  A $7,500 federal tax credit paired with a $2,500 State refund (for the first 1,000 buyers of the Nissan Leaf) will make early adoption a more attractive option. According to a Nissan press release, the Leaf will retail for $32,780.

The EV Project will collect and analyze data to characterize vehicle use in diverse topographic and climatic conditions, evaluate the effectiveness of charge infrastructure, and conduct trials of various revenue systems for commercial and public charge infrastructure. A main objective of The EV Project is to take the lessons learned from the deployment of the first 8,300 EVs along with the charging infrastructure supporting them, and apply them to the streamlined deployment of the next 5,000,000 EVs.

Why should a business consider having a charging station installed?  For the moment it may be a bit of a novelty as electric cars are just now hitting the streets.  However, with that comes potential media attention (as with any early adoption).  Cracker Barrel received national attention soon after announcing they would install charging stations at restaurants along I-75 in Tennessee.  Affiliation with the ECOtality initiative could also help businesses further brand themselves as environmentally-friendly or “green” in the eyes of their customer base.

Drivers of EV’s would be likely to frequent establishments that cater to their power needs thus driving more business their way.  Companies in high traffic areas have little to lose since the cost of  the charging equipment and installation is entirely paid for by ECOtality.  The business would be barred from charging a charging fee, but only for the first year.

This demo of the BLINK charging station shows the potential of running advertisements on the screen (similar to how gas stations run ads at the pump), and charging for usage.  The potential is there for creative marketing campaigns to reach EV drivers.

Federal and State government initiatives (tax payer dollars) combined with local government cooperation (evidenced by Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield signing a Letter of Intent at the event) and a growing public sentiment towards less dependency on oil makes the goals of ECOtality appear more achievable.

Jon is a Digital Marketing Strategist and Creative Media Specialist who has helped companies of all sizes with their marketing efforts. As a board member of the Chattanooga Technology Council, and is actively involved in covering the emerging business tech scene. Find him on Twitter @jonfmoss