Science

What would it take for all cars in Madison to be electric?

A Chevy Volt electric-drive vehicle charges while parked at the UW Car Fleet lot at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

Image By: Jeff Miller

Following the success of Tesla Inc., automakers like Volvo, BMW, and Ford are investing heavily in electric-car technology.

BMW plans to release 25 electrified models by 2025. Volkswagen recently approved a $40 billion investment plan to focus on electric vehicles.

Ford motor company is increasing its spending to $11 billion by 2022 for hybrid and fully electric vehicles. Daimler AG (Mercedes-Benz, Maybach) is aiming for 100,00 electric car sales by the year 2020.

With shifting market demands and advancing technologies, many of the world’s largest automakers are spending billions of dollars to fund the next generation of electric vehicles. But how are cities responding to such a fundamental shift in vehicle technology?

"Electric vehicles are popular and they’re coming,” said Peter Skopec, director of the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG), to the Capital Times. “So if state and local officials want to plug into this opportunity they have to implement policies to make the transition as smooth and as fast as possible.”

Public interest groups like WISPIRG have requested that cities across the country strengthen their investments in electrical infrastructure to include things like public charging stations, but the pace of this rollout doesn’t match the aggressive push the automotive industry is making.

Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group discussed in a recent report that to meet current demand, Madison will need 328 public charging stations. There are currently 64 within Madison, and just 19 in the downtown area.

Many electric car owners charge their vehicles either at their place of work, or at home in their garage or on their driveway. This method has worked well for suburban living as electric vehicles have grown in popularity.

However, a challenge arises when looking at the hundreds of student vehicles parked across campus streets. How will these vehicles be charged if electric vehicles (EVs) become commonplace?

As the streets of Madison once again surge with the returning undergraduate student population, the idea of students one day walking past dozens of charging vehicles may seem like something in a sci-fi movie.

But as this reality approaches, some fundamental changes need to take place in city infrastructure, area student housing, as well as university buildings.

Students wanting to charge vehicles at home will need a way to get the electricity from their apartment or house to their vehicle parked on the street. Simply running a cord from their residence is an imperfect solution for multiple reasons.

Firstly, using a standard three-pronged cord would involve level 1 charging. This level of charging adds 4 to 5 miles of range per hour, which means that an EV running on empty will take roughly 10 hours to get 50 miles of range.

A level 2 charger requires an instillation of 240V outlets, which is what electric dryers use. This installation would likely have to be paid for by either the city of Madison or local housing, as most students’ housing leases are typically a year or less.

While running a standard cord from an apartment to a street-parked vehicle may theoretically work for students commuting around the metro area, its simply not a secure method of refueling a vehicle. As safe as Madison’s streets may be, any pedestrian would have the capability to unplug a vehicle as they pleased.

While some EVs like the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3 have locks on their plugs, and Tesla’s chargers lock automatically when the doors are locked, vehicles like the more affordable Ford Focus Electric do not.

Some University buildings have implemented a small amount of charging stations for employees, and Madison Gas and Electric continues to expand its charging station grid throughout Dane County, but student availability remains lacking.

As the next generations of students approach college age, their forms of transportation could fundamentally shift as the consumer market shifts to alternative fuels and as such, the city of Madison will need to apply appropriate changes to respond to this proliferating technology.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Cardinal.