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Solar and grid-powered EV chargers coming to more of Wisconsin in 2022?

The solar EV charger outside the ADAMM office at 10810 W. Liberty Dr., Milwaukee
Chuck Quirmbach
The solar EV charger outside the Automobile Dealers Association of Metro Milwaukee (ADAMM) office located at 10810 W Liberty Dr, Milwaukee, WI.

In mid-December, a solar-powered electric vehicle charging station was installed in the parking lot of the Automobile Dealers Association of Metro Milwaukee.

The 117 new car dealers in that association still sell, almost exclusively, vehicles that run on gasoline, but electric vehicles (EV) are expected to become much more common over the next decade.

A solar-powered EV charger, as the name suggests, doesn't use electricity from power lines to charge the charging station batteries. Instead, the electricity coming from the charger outside ADAMM comes from 54 solar panels mounted just off the ground a few yards away.

The panels send energy to the batteries, and then, after going through a control system, the energy is then sent through more wires into a nearby electric car.

A Menasha-based firm, EnTech Solutions, built the charging station. On a recent cloudy day, EnTech's Mike Collom held a computer tablet with an app showing the energy flow.

"What we're showing right now is, the car is drawing a little bit more than 10 kilowatts of power continuously to charge [and] 8.6 kilowatts are coming from the storage battery, and 1.7 kilowatts are coming from the solar panels," Collom told WUWM.

Mike Collom, of EnTech Solutions stands next to the EV charging system and his company's Ford Mustang Mach-E.
Chuck Quirmbach
Mike Collom, of EnTech Solutions stands next to the EV charging system and his company's Ford Mustang Mach-E.

With the brand name X-Cape, this solar charger unit can charge two EVs at a time. However, it's not a so-called fast charger. Instead, it's what's known as a Level 2-type. So, it would take five or six hours to get a typical EV from 20% charged to 95% and relieve what drivers call range anxiety or fear of running out of power.

Collom hopes one of the selling points of the solar charger is that it's not electricity coming from a utility like WE Energies, which generates most of its power from nuclear energy or carbon-based fuels like coal or natural gas.

"If you're reducing the demand on the utility, then you're generating less carbon by that utility. It's a little bit for one individual, but a lot of these put together are going to make a big difference," Collom said. "There are about 500 EV chargers in Wisconsin right now. About 100 are fast chargers, and 400 are this size. If we could do a percentage of those, take them off the grid, charge them with solar, we can certainly do a lot of good for the environment."

A sign outside the ADAMM office, and some of the 54 solar panels.
Chuck Quirmbach
A sign outside the ADAMM office, and some of the 54 solar panels.

At a price of about $70,000-90,000 for a charging unit and the solar panel set-up, EnTech doesn't expect to sell a lot to homeowners. But the company hopes to sell or lease the units to corporations and governments that are moving toward greater use of EVs in their fleet vehicles. Also, the expectation is that auto dealers will eventually offer more EVs and need to keep their vehicles charged before customers take cars for a test drive.

Maria Redmond is among those watching the growth in solar EV chargers. She directs the state Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy.

Redmond calls solar chargers promising, especially for rural areas along major highways.

"You know, trying to get somebody from Chicago all the way to Minnesota, coming through Wisconsin. We've got to ensure that the charging is there," Redmond said.

Redmond said eventually, some of the solar panels powering the EV chargers will be owned by power companies promising to reduce carbon emissions and make more use of renewables. Plus, she said WE Energies and other utilities are promoting EV benefits and pledging to work together on charging networks regionally and nationally.

"Coupling those together, I think we're going to see more of the solar charging, or renewable energy charging. That's something that will be expanded a lot faster," Redmond said.

Maria Redmond, Director, Wisconsin Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy
Photo supplied by the Wisconsin Department of Administration
Maria Redmond, Director, Wisconsin Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy

Redmond said there's more driving the change. The Biden Administration recently gave the state one million dollars to help plan electric vehicle infrastructure, and Wisconsin firms might be part of the supply chain. Another 79 million dollars is coming to the state over five years to support the expansion of EV charging networks.

But Redmond said the reality tempers her enthusiasm that the great majority of vehicle buyers are still acquiring gasoline-fueled ones and hope to hold on to the vehicles for years.

"While they are way more efficient than they used to be, they're not zero-emission vehicles or low-emission vehicles. Not all of them are. And so, we have to also look at the transition of the legacy fleet and the number of vehicles that are out there. That will take time," Redmond said.

Redmond also said the transition of most trucking companies to electric vehicles would take a while.

But as of this month, the local auto dealers group has a solar EV charger outside its building, with ADAMM president Jim Tolkan calling it a "perfect partner for electric vehicles."

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