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Attention Shoppers: Free Solar-Powered EV Charging On Aisle 5

You know solar power has really gone mainstream when your local shopping mall offers free solar powered EV charging, but you’ll have to go over to Carmel, Indiana for this particular freebie. That’s where Duke Energy has teamed up with Toshiba and other high profile partners to install a “first-of-its-kind” solar electric vehicle charging station, at the Simon Property Clay Terrace Mall. So, free or no free, what difference does one little EV charging station make?

As it turns out, plenty. After all, when the nation’s most prolific producer of electricity teams up with a global tech leader and the largest real estate company in the world, what you have is no mere demonstration project, it’s the beginning of a revolution.

solar ev charging station with battery storage from Duke and ToshibaSolar Powered EV Charging Stations

Public solar powered EV charging stations are beginning to show up here and there, and EV manufacturers like Ford and CODA are promoting charging stations and solar power in private homes, but this particular installation has some unique features that push it to the front of the pack.

Namely, the “Plug-In Ecosystem” includes Toshiba’s advanced energy storage system based on a 75 kilowatt lithium ion battery. That enables excess energy from the 10 kilowatt roof-mounted solar panels to be stored on site, where it’s available for vehicle charging at night and in cloudy weather.

In other words, EV drivers looking for a 100 percent clean energy charge can get it at one of these charging stations, practically any day of the year. In contrast, your typical grid-connected charging station without energy storage could be fired up with coal, gas or nuclear power.

More significantly, the storage system will help buffer the grid from usage spikes and excess load during peak periods that are bound to result from EV charging. A two-port station with a 10-kW array won’t make a ripple but as the number of EVs on the road multiplies, the energy management end of things is going to be increasingly critical to a stable, efficient grid.

Distributed renewable energy is already starting to play a role in grid management, so this project fits right in with Duke Energy’s existing projects for distributed rooftop solar power.

Turning Shopping into a High Tech Experience

Simon Property Group really is the world’s largest real estate company, so you might be wondering why they chose a mall in Indiana to launch what could turn out to be a significant feature in the future energy landscape.

On one level it’s all about offering a top level, up-to-date shopping experience in the hyper-competitive retail market. The reasoning will sound familiar if you’ve ever visited a rundown mall before and after it gets a Simon makeover (disclosure: yes). It makes even more sense when you realize that this isn’t Simon Property’s first foray into EV charging.

As explained by the company’s Senior Vice President of Sustainability, George Caraghiaur:

“The majority of our shopping malls across the state [of Indiana] are now equipped with electric vehicle charging stations, and we’re seeking to upgrade this infrastructure just like we work to enhance every aspect of our customers’ shopping experience. We’re proud to play a role in perfecting this new technology and offering it to our customers.”

Okay, So What’s the Big Deal About EV Charging Stations in Indiana?

EVs are a plenty big deal in Indiana, which aside from being home to the legendary Indianapolis 500 has been building cred as the go-to state for testing and demonstrating EV technologies and related systems.

A couple of years ago, energy companies and other stakeholders organized in Indiana to form the Energy Systems Network with the aim of vaulting the state (and points elsewhere) into the advanced energy future. Part of that effort is aimed squarely at promoting EV infrastructure through an initiative called Project Plug-In, of which the Clay Terrace charging station is the latest example.

Also helping things along is Indiana’s growing solar power and wind energy profile, thanks in part to the Recovery Act of 2009.

Note: The Clay Terrace solar charger is free as of this writing, no word on how long the promotion will last.

Image: Solar EV charging at Clay Terrace Mall courtesy of Energy Systems Network

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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