Transportation Electrification

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Donald Karner, President and CEO of Phoenix-based eTec, discusses the $100 million grant his company was awarded to undertake the largest deployment of electric vehicles and charging stations in U.S. history.

Ted Simons: Hybrid glass and electric cars like the Toyota Prius have enjoyed a small degree of market success, but is America ready to go all electric? Some car makers think we are. They're getting set to release a new generation of all-electric vehicles over the next few years. Nissan is partnering with Phoenix-based eTec for what's being called the largest rollout of electric cars and charging stations in U.S. history. In August, eTec was selected for a nearly $100 million grant to deploy 5,000 electric vehicles and charging stations across five states. As David Majure reports, the company has been plugged into the E.V. industry since the last big push to bring electric cars to market.

David Majure: From an industrial district in downtown Phoenix, eTec is quietly planning to electrify the way we get around.

Garrett Beauregard: It was formed in 1996 as an electric vehicle infrastructure company. The founders of the company saw that General Motors and Honda and Toyota and Ford were coming out with on-road electric vehicles and there was a need to install infrastructure.

David Majure: So eTec installed charging stations all over the valley. They weren't used much and were eventually removed.

Garrett Beauregard: I wouldn't say it wasn't successful for our company. It gave us opportunity to get involved and do that. It certainly is the case that electric vehicles didn't catch on.

David Majure: Since the 1990s, they've remained active in the E.V. industry. It provides charging systems for electric vehicles at Sky Harbor Airport and in other industrial settings. And it's constantly developing new, more efficient ways to charge batteries.

Garrett Beauregard: This is a battery pack that you would add to a hybrid vehicle. This one is for a Prius. So it's essentially a smaller version of what you would see for an all-electric vehicle.

David Majure: Now ETEC's in the driver's seat, leading the way for what it hopes will be an electric car revolution. With a $100 million grant from the department of energy, eTec is partnering with Nissan to roll out 5,000 electric vehicles and the charging infrastructure needed to keep them running.

Garrett Beauregard: We're going to have an opportunity to deploy these chargers at home. What we roll out is going to be a fancier box that will have more functions, probably have a decision play, have the ability to communicate back data that we're going to be collecting.

David Majure: ETec will collect and analyze data from its charging systems to learn how and where people are most likely to use them.

Garrett Beauregard: We'll be deploying fast-charging systems that will allow vehicles to extend their operating range to a much wider area. And we'll look at what are the issues installing that, where do those need to be located. They're expensive pieces, so you want to deploy them in critical locations. So this is all you need to do at home to recharge your vehicle. Take the connector off the hook, plug it into the vehicle, and you're ready for dinner. You're certainly going to make a decision to buy an electric vehicle based on your driving habits. If you're driving all around state all day long, you're probably not the right person to be an E.V. owner. But if you're driving the average in the United States right now is under 40 miles a day, and an electric vehicle is perfect for that.

David Majure: With a range of 100 miles, electric cars like the Nissan Leaf may not be for everyone. But eTec homes they'll appeal to enough people to be called a success this time around.

Garrett Beauregard: We're very happy we feel very confident that eTec will have a strong position in this world as we roll out infrastructure this time, and really do think this is the final one that is going to catch on this time.

Ted Simons: Joining me now to talk about his company's efforts to electrify our transportation is Don Karner, president, CEO, and cofounder of eTec. Thank you for joining us.

Don Karner: Thank you. It's my pleasure to be here.

Ted Simons: $100 million grant. A surprise?

Don Karner: Well, we're very happy with that. We obviously have been working at this for some years. Trying to build a business around electric vehicle infrastructure. I wouldn't say as much as a surprise as a joy, perhaps, and an opportunity to really move forward infrastructure in a number of cities in the U.S. and to learn what it will take to develop mature infrastructure to support electric vehicles that are coming from a number of manufacturers.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, this is a lot of this is a test to find out really how consumers behave. What works, where it works, how it works. Correct?

Don Karner: That is correct. We will be deploying 5,000 much the Nissan leaf electric vehicles. That is the largest deployment of battery electric vehicles anywhere in the world. And it gives us an opportunity to look at what type of charge infrastructure is necessary to support the vehicles to maximize the use of those vehicles, to give people the feeling that they can go anywhere with the vehicle, and they're not limited by the range of a battery electric vehicle. So from the study of these five cities that we'll be deploying vehicles and infrastructure in, we hope to develop guidelines and protocols for the next 50, the next 500 cities to roll out their charge infrastructure as Nissan and other manufacturers bring battery electric vehicles to market.

Ted Simons: Why Nissan, why the Nissan leaf?

Don Karner: They're first out of the chute. It's as simple as that. Nissan is bringing a production vehicle to the U.S. market, and they are the first ones to bring a battery electric vehicle, so it's the first opportunity to do this study. And they were willing to work with us and with United States department of energy in putting this project together.

Ted Simons: I know that Tuscon included as well along with Phoenix?

Don Karner: Phoenix and Tuscon are a city pair. Then we have Seattle, Portland, San Diego, and then three cities in the state of Tennessee, Chattanooga, Nashville, and Knoxville, and of course Nissan's headquarters is in Nashville, so they felt pretty strongly about including those cities.

Ted Simons: We got that. OK. Why this cluster of cities? Is there a reasoning for this? Different climates? What's going on?

Don Karner: Nissan and eTec worked over a period of several months exploring a number of cities in the U.S., cities that have historically been friendly to alternative fuel vehicles and specifically to grid connected vehicles. I talked with the city fathers, and picked these cities because of their friendliness and their willingness to welcome with open arms this kind of experiment. Because we do need the involvement of city officials and of the community in trying to make this a success. And trying to learn as much as possible from the deployment of the vehicles and the charge infrastructure.

Ted Simons: OK, let's say I'm someone with a Nissan leaf. Do I have a charging station at my home? Do I have to fill out a log? How does -- how do we find out what my consumer behavior is?

Don Karner: The basic infrastructure that everyone will need is a charger at home. Or for a fleet, that will be a charger at the overnight location of the vehicle. And in this project with the department of energy, if you come in and you qualify to be a part of the project, then we would install the charger in your home at no cost to you. And that charger will be capable of collecting data on how much energy is used by your vehicle. We'll also install an equal number of chargers in commercial locations where you work, where you're entertained, retail locations, where you shop, so you can go out beyond just the radius around your home, do charging where you live your life. As I said, where you work, where you're entertained, where you eat, where you buy things, and the paradigm shift that we're look for with the electric vehicle is rather than taking your vehicle to a place where you fuel it, that you fuel your vehicle as just a normal part of your life.

Ted Simons: When you do go to a place, and I know malls are being considered, and these sorts of things, how long will it take? You can't just walk in there and ZIP and be out of there like you do with gasoline.

Don Karner: That's true. So we have two types of chargers. We have the overnighter, what we call a level two charger, which is what you'll have in your home, and will be deployed in commercial spaces. Like your work locations. So if you drive to work and plug in the morning and you're there eight hours, that's more than ample time for the charger to recharge your vehicle. But there will be times when you'd like to get a 50% charge and you want to do that in minutes rather than hours. So we'll also deploy a fast-charge network. These chargers, much higher power and will be placed in locations where you'll spend 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, and they will be able to recharge the vehicle in that kind of a time frame. So that in those instances where you need a quick charge because your plans have changed, you'll be able to do that through the fast chargers.

Ted Simons: If I go to the mall or the coffee shop with a charging station, who pays for that?

Don Karner: That's part of what we're working out with this study. Because at home, the charger and the vehicle are owned by the same person. That's the only place that that happens. Everywhere else, the chargers are typically owned by someone different than the vehicle owner. And we need to work out a bargain between those two that makes it worthwhile for the charger owner to provide a charge. And so there are a number of ways to do that. Actual exchange of revenue, advertising, retail promotions, you can see where a retailer may provide charging at their location as a promotional effort. An employer may provide it as an employee benefit. And so there are both the ALTRUiSTiC ways of doing it where there's no money exchanged, and there are sophisticated revenue systems for charging dollars for charging electricity.

Ted Simons: OK. Three-year experiment?

Don Karner: Three-year experiment. Actually two years of actually collecting data from the vehicles, six months of preparation, and six months of wrap-up on either end, and we hope to learn a great deal about the future of electric transportation in this project.

Ted Simons: We hope to hear what you've learned. Sounds fascinating, and sounds like electric cars are here.

Don Karner: We think they'll stick this time.

Ted Simons: Great. Thank you very much for joining us.

Donald Karner:President and CEO, eTec;

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