In October 2016, car manufacturer Volkswagen was ordered to pay $1.45 billion in civil penalties to various entities across the United States for their violation of the Clean Air Act as it pertained to their flawed emission technology in diesel-powered vehicles. The state of Indiana received a sizable $41 million settlement.
Now, Indiana is investing those settlement funds back into clean energy automobile initiatives — namely, a brand new electric vehicle charging network that will increase the number of charging stations in the state by over five-fold.
The Business Download: Clean Energy sat down with three individuals at the forefront of the project, who have been at the helm since the lawsuit was settled: Kerri Gavin, executive director and Kaylee May, communications manager of one of the state’s leading energy nonprofits — Greater Indiana Clean Cities; as well as Jordan Wallpe of Duke Energy, who oversees the rollout and operations of the soon-to-be EV charging network as well as other operations in the Midwest.
In the wake of the settlement and scandal, Indiana established an independent commission, frequently called the “VW Committee,” to oversee all repercussions. Once the settlement was awarded, the commission permitted up to 15 percent of the funds to be used for electric vehicle charging ports, installation and operation. The state is now using the maximum — $5.5 million — to initiate construction of a network made up of 61 quick and longer-term charging stations. Prior to this project, the state of Indiana only had 11 stations. Each charging station has a mandated minimum of two charging ports with no maximum.
The expansion of the electric vehicle charging network went through an extensive request for proposal by the state and was awarded this spring to Duke Energy, a major utility across various regions of the United States, and seven other local utility providers. Greater Indiana Clean Cities, also plays a pivotal role in the design and publication of the program, acting as a liaison between the public and private sectors. “We’re really a resource for our members integrating alternative fuels technologies and efficiency measures,” says Gavin.
The electricity providers include Duke Energy, NIPSCO, and AES Indiana as well as local utilities that have a deep understanding of the state’s power grid and customer base. “[These utilities] know the customers, they know their grid, they know how this is going to work out — and they’re ready to do this,” says Wallpe. “[They are] spread out throughout the state” and in different types of townships, giving a holistic view of how to optimize the network, says Wallpe, “it’s rural, urban, suburban.” The goal of the network is simple: provide increased electric vehicle infrastructure to all populations, promoting the feasibility of renewable energy-based vehicles.
Unlike many charging stations across the country, Indiana’s will be installed and run by those responsible for actually providing electricity to the stations.
According to Duke Energy, this unique program structure allows for the optimization of resources. Local utilities know when peak energy usage times are, grid capacity and areas that demand high energy usage. With utilities spearheading the operation, they will know where to put different types of charging stations as well as where the grid can handle the longer, more sustained chargers (similar to the ones that go in people’s homes, which use the same voltage as a laundry unit). It’s about finding the “sweet spot,” says Wallpe, “by shifting charging to off-peak [hours for recharging]…we are able to use our grid more effectively.”
Despite a 17 percent growth in electric vehicle purchases over the past five years in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center, state-led charging infrastructure initiatives to make renewable energy-powered cars a more universally appealing option is still desperately needed in most areas of the country, and Indiana falls into that category. This is, in large part, due to the lack of charging stations in many states, which leads to ‘range anxiety’ — or the fear of driving too far, losing charge, and not being close enough to a charging port to re-up. While smaller states or states with a higher concentration of electric vehicles seldom face the issue, less densely populated areas like the Midwest face an uphill battle when it comes to the transition from fossil fuels to electric vehicles.
“It’s always a huge concern for consumers in our state,” says Garvin, who has become an expert on the emerging phenomenon of range anxiety. Garvin says the new network of charging stations will have a two-fold impact. Firstly, it will allow Indianians to move freely within the state, recharging at commercial destinations like malls, movie theaters, or shopping plazas, while also potentially using their EV for longer trips too, if they have been fearful in the past. Secondly, it will encourage more interstate travel from Indiana’s neighbors, boosting tourism revenue and supporting local businesses. “[The state] is doing it because they realize it’s an economic development opportunity,” she says, “it’s all culminating into this perfect storm.”
Electric vehicle experts say that Indiana’s investment in various types of charging ports along highly trafficked areas could alleviate one of that range anxiety. By doing so, they hope to break down the barrier that stands between consumers and the growing EV market. The 61 charging ports will include both quick charging ports (also known as DC or direct current chargers) and Level 2 chargers, which are slower to power the vehicle, but offer more mileage per charge.
The most widely used is J1772, or “level two,” which is universal to all electric vehicles (Teslas come with an adapter). These chargers use 240V, the same as a laundry unit, and allow your car to reach full charge within 9 hours. As such, they are most commonly used at places of dwelling. Other types of chargers include “fast chargers,”which can offer around 80 miles of runtime from a 30 minute charge. There are three types of fast chargers: Tesla Supercharger, CHAdeMO — a Japanese style that is also universal, and CCS-1 — the American standard. At current, the fast chargers are anywhere from 60 to 100 miles away from each other in Indiana. With the new network, that distance will be cut in half.
“This program will help remove that range anxiety that might be holding [consumers] back from getting an electric vehicle,” Kerri Garvin said. She went on to say that she anticipates a surge of EV purchases once the chargers are in place.
In addition to range anxiety, groups have also expressed concern for strain on the power grid or electrical costs going up — both of which are highly unlikely to occur, according to experts. “With current adoption rates [of EVs]” says Wallpe of Duke Energy, all there should not be any strain on the grid for at least “the next ten years.” As for electricity bill cost, consumers should rest assured that average bill increases remain on the lower end. With off peak charging at home (where 70-80% of all EV charging occurs), Wallpe says the average consumer sees a $30 increase in their monthly electricity bill. Depending on the type of gasoline car they are switching from, consumers are likely to see cost savings.
The charging network is expected to be completed by the end of 2022, and fully functional by early 2023. In the meantime, Greater Cities has launched the “Drive Electric Indiana Program,” focused on statewide education and adoption of electric vehicle environmental and fiscal benefits for companies and individuals.