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Colorado Co-op Cuts The Country In On The EV Revolution

In some past posts, I’ve shared the story of Freewire’s Boost DC fast chargers. Normally, these chargers require a pretty hefty 3-phase power source to charge cars, but they’re essential to BEV adoption because they help people go beyond half the range of their EVs (because you need to get home, too) on reasonable timescales. It’s a real struggle to not have these available in an area, so they’re needed outside of large metro areas.

There’s a problem, though. In many rural areas, the kind of power that’s needed to install a DCFC station just isn’t there. There might be a relatively weak wire leading to a small town, rest area, or other place where a charger would be useful to EV drivers (and potential future EV drivers). This leads to only being able to have Level 2 charging unless the station’s owner is willing to pay for tens of miles of new, more powerful transmission lines into the area.

Most people would assume at this point that EV drivers can probably get away with not having a station there, because many models now have over 200 miles of range (in theory), and that they wouldn’t be willing to pay for what it would cost to charge at such a station. So, the station never gets put in.

This becomes a problem for rural EV owners for several reasons. First off, you don’t always get the EV’s rated range due to terrain, temperature, or something as simple as just forgetting to plug the thing in. Add to that the fact that a driver just might run more errands than usual in rural areas, and just need a few more miles to get that last thing done and head home. Nobody wants to have to drive dozens of miles to go get a charge when that’s about as much charge as they’d need anyway. Rural EV drivers do need a station, even if only for occasional backup use for unusual circumstances.

Fortunately, the Highline Electric Association, a rural electric co-op in Colorado, found a solution that I’ve suggested here before: Freewire’s DCFC stations with integrated battery storage.

“The FreeWire direct-current, fast charger is one of the first of its kind in Colorado in that it can use existing single-phase conductors, in combination with battery storage technology, to charge vehicles comparable to charging times for systems currently available in the market today,” said Dennis Herman, general manager for Highline Electric Association. “This represents a breakthrough in efforts to offer reasonable charging times with the distribution systems we have available in rural areas.”

The FreeWire charger can use up to 27 kilowatts (kW) of electricity from a single-phase conductor to charge the 160 kWh battery. With an EV charging capacity of 150 kW, EV drivers can normally reach an 80% state of charge within 30-45 minutes, depending on their battery size. But because this technology is integrated with the battery itself, it opens up opportunities for more charging stations in rural areas, where charging times would otherwise be much longer.

The ability to charge two automobiles at once from a single source, in addition to the reduced electrical power input required, makes use of battery-integrated storage technology a time-saver for consumers.

HEA and FreeWire have established this charging technology at the Wagon Wheel Conoco, situated just off the busy US Interstate 76 near Julesburg, Colo. Data collection from the charging station is excellently located 180 miles from Denver, and 30 miles from the next nearest charging station. HEA hopes to utilize this data to expand its stations to other locations in rural areas that currently lack easy access electric cooperative’s service territory desire easier access to renewable energy resources.

This Is A Promising Recipe For Rural EV Fast Charging

Some versions of this concept have already been implemented, but there are some key distinctions. Tesla and Electrify America both employ Tesla battery storage at many locations to achieve the same end, although it necessitates complicated wiring, a separate location to store the batteries, and plenty of labor time. All of this could be easily resolved with a self-contained box from FreeWire that can be installed in only a matter of hours, as opposed to waiting for months on end for a complex installation to get its wiring inspected and approved.

Another important aspect is that this isn’t necessary for 3-phase power (but if it is, you may use it). This makes putting up the charging station a lot easier. These can reduce the amount of wiring and new services required to tie into the electric company without adding demand charges to a company’s energy bill. When you pair the various pieces together, it’s easy to see why this system is a lot less expensive to install than other, larger ones. It also provides 100-200 kW of charging power when a driver does park up.

Another benefit is that the station can be relocated with ease. It doesn’t necessitate a multi-million dollar wiring and infrastructure project hidden beneath the pavement or behind walls. Everything is contained in one box, so you just move it to another location with electricity if you need to.

This all does a much better job of serving rural needs than other systems that had a city-based installation in mind at the time of design.

States Need To Consider This With Their Infrastructure Bill Plans

Another thing I’ve noticed is that many states’ plans for using Infrastructure Bill funding to install charging stations aren’t aware that this kind of technology exists. In some cases, they’re seeking waivers to skip installing stations on some stretches of roads because there’s no power there right now, or very little.

Instead, state DOTs need to think about what Freewire offers. By installing it in a small town with limited power, or installing them in the middle of nowhere with a modest house-sized solar array, they could provide rapid charging in remote areas without having to break the bank doing it. Yes, these stations would be very limited in how many cars they can charge daily, but pricing them higher than the other chargers would limit their use to those who need it the most.

Hopefully this latest installation leads to more awareness of the potential for this technology, and we start seeing it being used more often. It’s a great way to quickly expand rural charging infrastructure without having to wait for years for the electric grid to be upgraded.

What are your thoughts on this? Let us know in the comments!

Featured image provided by Freewire.

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Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.


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