An innovative, battery-boosted fast charging station could prescribe much-needed electron therapy for “range anxiety” in Colorado’s small towns, with utilities and the state Energy Office collaborating to open a new rapid charger in Julesburg.
The new rapid charger is open at the Wagon Wheel Conoco, a high visibility watering hole serving Interstate 76, Julesburg, northeastern Colorado and western Nebraska. It’s 30 miles from the next charging station, considered a minimum goal for electrifying the state.
Electrification experts and consumer surveys say drivers want access to fast chargers that can give them 50 to 100 miles of range in 15 to 30 minutes of plugging in, to feel completely comfortable switching to electric-only vehicles.
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In planning to join the fast charging grid, a problem for many small towns is that their electrical grid is often relatively low-voltage. Fast chargers using DC current to speed the fill-up need to draw from a high voltage or three-phase grid.
A tech company called FreeWire has solved the rural problem with battery modules that can be installed or moved to new locations with a forklift. The modules take the low-voltage feed and build it up to a boost that provides a fast charge similar to those available in higher traffic areas under brand names like Electrify America or ChargePoint.
“The number one inhibitor to EV adoption is range anxiety,” said Matt Fitzgibbon, beneficial electrification manager for Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association. Tri-State supplies the electricity used by retail co-ops like Highline Electric Association in Holyoke, which built the Julesburg charger with help from grants by Tri-State and the Colorado Energy Office.
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“As you look out into the rural parts of Colorado, that is definitely a challenge to find DC fast charging, so that you can bring in the tourism, support commercial driving that comes through, and local residents who want the ability to charge away from home,” Fitzgibbon said.
FreeWire says it can’t announce other specific locations yet, but will have more Colorado installations in the coming year as federal and state officials look to spend $7.5 billion in charging improvement money included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
“There’s a lot of ‘TBD’ there, but there is an emphasis on deployment” with that funding, said FreeWire spokesman Daniel Zotos. Site approval, wiring and construction for more traditional fast charging stations can take up to two years, Zotos said, and “we can go much faster.” FreeWire touts its battery-based charging package as “shovel ready.”
The system can charge at 150 kilowatt capacity, meaning EV drivers can usually get to 80% of capacity within 30 to 45 minutes. Without the fast or Level 3 chargers, even Level 2 chargers can take hours to deliver significant range.
Tri-State contributed $100,000 to the Julesburg project, utility spokesman Mark Stutz said. The state Energy Office added $50,000 through its competitive Charge Ahead Colorado grants, with the total cost of the project at $200,000, according to Highline Electric Association.
“In some cases, installation of battery storage can eliminate the need for costly infrastructure upgrades and line extensions, as was the case with the Wagon Wheel project,” said Christian Williss, the state Energy Office’s managing director of transportation fuels and technology. “We expect to see more of these types of applications in the future.”
In May, Colorado had about 54,000 EVs on the road, with 4,150 fast charging ports at Level 2 or 3, analysts said.
That was about 90 combined Level 2 and DC fast charging ports for every 1,000 vehicles, better than the U.S. Department of Energy recommendation of about 43 ports for every 1,000 EVs. But Colorado is also near the top of the list on EV adoption by car buyers, so it will need to continue that fast pace of charger construction in order to keep up with the growing EV fleet, they added.
For a Level 2 charging station, Colorado gathers federal, state and Volkswagen lawsuit settlement funds and can cover up to 80% of the cost, up to $9,000, state officials have said. For the extra-fast DC chargers alternatively called Level 3, the 80% grants can be $35,000 or $50,000, depending on speed.
The grants continue to be popular, with three or four applications for every grant slot. That’s why the state welcomes the addition of millions in federal stimulus funding for state electrification through the infrastructure spending law, Energy Office representatives said.