Local firm seals deals to charge electric cars
By Bryan McKenzie
January 18, 2010
Around the country and the world will be getting a charge out of Albemarle County-based Aker Wade Power Technologies, if the company has anything to say about it.
The manufacturer of fast-charge devices used to repower forklifts and other battery-operated equipment in manufacturing plants and industry has entered into an agreement with Japanese carmakers and power companies to build quick-charge devices for electric cars.
The company also has signed an agreement with Coulomb Technologies to create fast-charge electric vehicle “fueling stations” as part of Coulomb’s ChargePoint Network of electric vehicle charging stations.
One of the first stations is expected to be built in the Charlottesville area as part of a $1.98 million earmark of federal funds in 2008 given to establish a rapid charging station for a small fleet of cutting-edge plug-in electric vehicles.
The companies believe that establishing a series of charging stations designed similar to gas stations will encourage more people to purchase and use electric vehicles.
“Most people who are interested in electric vehicles have what has been called ‘range anxiety,’ in that they worry about whether they’ll have enough charge in the vehicle to get to where they’re going,” explained Bret Aker, CEO of Aker Wade. “Studies have shown that if drivers know there are charging stations available, they increase the use of electric vehicles by 50 percent.”
The agreement with the Tokyo Electric Power Co. will make Aker Wade’s stations compatible with Japanese electric cars expected to hit the U.S. market in the next year, including the Nissan LEAF, Mitsubishi iMiEV and a car being made by Subaru that is currently aimed at the Japanese market.
The Tokyo company is a pioneer in using electric vehicles and has worked with manufacturers to provide standards for charging devices to make recharging easier for drivers.
Aker Wade is a leading provider of fast-charge stations for worldwide industry and is adapting proven technology for electric vehicles, company officials said.
John Aker, the company’s president and chief technical officer, said charging stations will
encourage drivers to consider electric vehicles but the stations will be familiar.
“Charging stations look like gas stations because, in a way, that’s what they are,” he said. “They are serving the same purpose so drivers will feel at home using them. Because private industry can run them like current gas stations and make a profit, they have a reason to build stations.”
The stations would even benefit the nation’s power grid, taking electricity in at off-peak hours to power the storage systems and returning power to the grid as needed during peak times.
“It makes sense as part of an integrated energy distribution system. When power is produced at off-peak times it can be stored in the charging stations,” he said. “If it’s needed somewhere down the line, the grid can take a little power from several stations to equal out demand.”
It also makes economic sense, Aker said. Charging stations would charge customers a fee based on kilowatt hours and would also get paid by power companies that need to take stored power to level out energy grids.
“The charging stations would take in power when rates are about three cents per kilowatt hour and, if the power company needs to take some power back into the grid, it would do so at 40 cents per kilowatt hour,” he said.
Currently, the company’s fast-chargers are capable of providing a full charge to vehicle batteries in about 30 minutes. Technology is being developed that would provide an 80 percent charge in about 15 minutes, allowing drivers to stop in, plug in and shop a convenience store while the car gets rejuiced.
The technology is gaining interest as the public becomes more interested in electric vehicles. Aker Wade officials said they attended the recent auto show in Detroit and saw electric car displays attracting consumer and corporate attention.
“It makes sense because, as the Chinese and Indian markets grow, the cost of gasoline and petroleum is going to rise because the resources are scarce. I can easily see gasoline at $5 a gallon in the next five years,” Aker said. “That’s going to make electric cars more appealing.”