12/19/2011 - Asheville company unveils state's first solar-powered charging station for electric vehicles
by Dale Neal - Asheville Citizen Times
ASHEVILLE - -- Tourists could rent electric cars charged at solar-powered stations in the coming years to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway, or tour the Biltmore Estate and River Arts District, turning Western North Carolina into a green destination.
"You could drive our mountains fueled by sunshine," said Stan Cross of Biowheels Responsible Transportation Solutions.
That vision took a step closer to reality Monday when the alternative energy company unveiled its Brightfield charging station in the parking lot of the City of Asheville Public Works Building on Charlote Street.
"We can create quality jobs with North Carolina's first solar-powered electric vehicle charging station that was designed and manufactured here in Asheville from materials made in America," said Cross, who founded the company along with Matt Johnson and Patrick Sherwin.
With some 2,000 electric vehicles expected on the roads around Asheville area by 2015, the region will need to install some 900 public charging stations to serve those drivers. Making those stations solar could save 43,000 barrels of oil and reduce greenhouse gases by 80,000 tons, Cross said.
That math adds up for the potential to create some 1,500 jobs over the next few years in Asheville's clean energy sector.
The company's technology and potential to create jobs won praise from U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, who supported the company's bid for $376,000 in federal stimulus money funneled through the N.C. Green Business Fund.
"How could you not be for the innovation and technology and what these gentlemen are bringing to the community?" Shuler said.
Cross estimated that designing and building just the first Brightfield station has already created three new jobs and supported 24 jobs at local companies.
In the coming weeks, Biowheels RTS will open three more Brightfield stations at Land of Sky Regional Council off Leicester Highway, at the Reuter's Center on the campus of UNC-Asheville and down at the BioWheels bike shop on Coxe Avenue.
Now Biowheels RTS is looking at applying for a tourism product development grant from the Buncombe Tourism Development Authority. Cross said the company would like to work with a local rental agency to have a fleet of electric cars available for tourists to rent and drive locally.
John Bundy of Rosman was pleased to have yet another place where he can top off the battery of his all-electric Nissan Leaf for free. "My Leaf runs on the sun," said Bundy, who recharges his new car from solar panels already installed at his home.
But he's already saving money, cutting his dependence on foreign oil. Bundy figures he's paying about 4 cents a mile on electricity compared to 15 cents per mile on gas. "Besides making you feel good, it's a lot of fun to drive. The car is surprisingly peppy," Bundy said.
As electric vehicles start rolling off Detroit assembly lines and onto local roads and highways, drivers like Bundy can expect to see more public charging stations popping up around the region.
In addition to the Brighfield solar-powered stations, Land of Sky Regional Council is using proceeds from a federal grant for the installation of up to 25 stations. "We to have enough infrastructure so that drivers of electric vehicles don't experience any range anxiety," said Bill Eaker, who heads the regional council's Clean Cities Coalition.