Saturday, March 5, 2011

Solar Assisted Auto Charging Station Coming to Tennessee

In yet another sign of Nissan's commitment to electric vehicles, the automaker wants to build a solar-assisted auto charging station — the first the automaker has built — at its Nissan Americas headquarters in Franklin.

The proposed 300-square-foot facility would have room for 18 electric vehicles and would use a solar panel array to help offset the power demand that would be needed to charge them. There are electric charging stations at the headquarters, but none that use solar power.

The drawback for those who have or are considering buying an electric vehicle is that the charging station would be available to Nissan employees only — at least for the time being. The station is expected to be operational by September, company officials said, assuming the project gets final clearance from city planners.

Franklin officials have made few comments on the project throughout the early stages of approval.

"Ultimately, there will be a way that the public can use it," said John Harris, director of facilities, environmental and systems engineering at Nissan North America. "We don't want to have our toys and not share them, if you will."

This charging station is a small part of a nationwide effort to build vehicle charging stations throughout the United States by next year. Nissan has been working with TVA, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Electric Power Research Institute in Knoxville.
Prototype exists in Knoxville

While this would be Nissan's first solar-powered station, similar ones have been completed, including a prototype built at the EPRI. Nissan officials declined to discuss the cost of the project.

Plans for its construction come on the heels of Franklin aldermen approving the installation of electric charging stations in the parking garages on Fourth and Second avenues as well as at Jim Warren and Aspen Grove parks. Green vehicle advocates recently had a minor setback when aldermen rejected a bid to establish a preferred parking program in downtown Franklin.

Though Nissan's charging facility would incorporate solar power, Stacey Crain, an electrical engineer with Nissan, said it would operate like any others.

Nissan researchers also want to use the facility to better study battery life in addition to the effects of drawing electricity from the electric grid and putting electricity back into it from the solar panels.

"It is a research project, so we're collecting data," Crain said.


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