Catonsville college campus offers outlet for electric cars

One could think of the two electric vehicle charging stations on the Catonsville campus of the Community College of Baltimore County as points in a widening state-, region- and nation-wide grid.

But tucked away in a fenced-in storage lot behind the school's automotive department, they don't get much use.

Though available to the public, their presence has not been widely advertised.

Most of their use comes in charging a low-speed car and a high-speed car owned by the college and used to train future technicians on electric vehicles.

While most cars come with 110 volt chargers, the ones on campus are 220 volts — cutting an 8-10 hour task to four hours.

But the stations could become more frequently used in the future.

According to the Maryland Energy Administration, more than 80 charging stations will available for electric car drivers at 40 locations across the state this fall.

Most of the stations either already are, or soon will be, located along the Interstate 95 corridor, as well as in Charles and Frederick counties.

Stations are already located or planned for 14 sites in Baltimore City, three in Baltimore County, five in Anne Arundel County, four in Montgomery County, two in Prince George's County and one each in Carroll, Charles, Frederick, Harford and Howard counties.

The two on the CCBC-Catonsville campus were installed in October with grant money from the Maryland Department of Energy as part of an initiative to install 55 stations across the state, said Terry Wolfe, associate professor of automotive technology at CCBC.

Those on the Rolling Road campus were installed to allow veterans from the Veterans Administration to learn how to do site preparations at potential charging sites in order for licensed electricians to install the equipment.

This was done in partnership with affiliated companies Autoflex and Vetcars.

Eaton Corporation supplied the training materials and the actual charging stations.

"We really think that electric vehicles are going to be important in terms of powering Maryland's long-term energy future,"said Ian Hines, a spokesman for the Maryland Energy Administration. "So we've done a number of things to help stimulate the growth of that industry in Maryland.

"The reason for that is because electric vehicles face a sort of 'chicken or the egg' paradox, where folks who may be interested in building a charging station would be reluctant to do so if they weren't confident that there were electric vehicles on the road to serve as customers," he said.

"And visa versa," he said. "Individuals who may be thinking about buying an electric vehicle can be reluctant to do so if they're not sure that there are charging stations available for them to charge their vehicles while they're out on the road."

And so the state used stimulus money to help with the initial costs of 65 charging stations through partnerships with grantees.


Planning for the future


"Electric vehicles aren't just sort of this nice idea that's made possible by the state of Maryland," Hines said. "It's really an important part of our economic future and the private market is recognizing that and investing in it as well.

"Our role in the process was not to build the infrastructure, but to get the ball rolling."

CCBC was the first to offer this type of training for site preparations for charging sites. There are now plans to implement it on a national basis through the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium -- a nationwide group of community colleges and schools that offers alternative fuels training, of which CCBC is a charter member.

Electric cars are best suited for commuting short distances, such as to and from work, and their owners may still want to have a second vehicle for longer trips.

The range they can travel in an electric car is likely to increase, however, as battery technologies improve.

"It's not that much of a lifestyle change to save some money," he said. "Now, if it becomes your only car, then it's a lot of lifestyle change."

Wolfe noted that charging stations will gain more widespread use in the future as more manufacturers come out with high-speed electric vehicles.

"As the electric vehicles become more and more prevalent, every manufacturer is going to have to do a percentage of their fleet in electricity, simply to meet the new CAFE (corporate average fuel economy)," Wolfe said, referring to the number of miles per gallon that car manufacturers must average across all of the vehicles on their fleet. A recent study commissioned by the philanthropic arm of Google and conducted by McKinsey & Co. projected that by 2030, the cost of electric vehicles is likely to drop below those of equivalent-sized internal combustion vehicles.

The McKinsey & Co. study also predicts that electric vehicles could capture 90 percent of the light vehicle market by 2030.

"We think it's going to be very similar to the way hybrids work," Hines said. "When they first came on the market, it was pretty rare to find one. They weren't very common.

"But within a couple of years, it started to become very common and now you see them all the time.

"That's sort of how we expect the electric vehicle market to develop in Maryland."

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