Advances in electric vehicles and solar canopies

Report on a webinar from the Energy and Climate Action Committee, February 14, 2024

The Energy and Climate Action Committee (ECAC) invited Don LaRuffa, Jr. and Adam Thurrell of Revision Energy, reportedly the largest solar installer in New England, to speak to the committee and the public about advances in electric vehicles and solar canopies. The program was conducted and recorded via Zoom. The recording can be viewed here from the hour mark.

Electric vehicles now offer greater range and some of the electricity production
LaRuffa said that last year one in five vehicles sold worldwide were all-electric. There are 2.5 million electric vehicles registered in the United States. He predicts that both figures will soar in the near future because, he claims, electric vehicles offer “a better driving experience.” According to LaRuffa, they are quieter, perform better, handle better, produce fewer greenhouse gases and require less maintenance. Former Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has decreed that by 2035, all vehicles sold in the state must be fully electric.

Rebates of $7,500 are available for many EVs from federal and state government programs.

Most electric vehicles today have a range of more than 400 kilometers. Even a small EV, like the Chevy Bolt, has a 60 kWh battery, which is equivalent to 10 Tesla power walls in their ability to store electricity. A Rivian truck has a battery of 105 kWh, an electric school bus battery is 155 kWh. LaRuffa said one of the most exciting developments in electric vehicles is their ability to communicate with the power grid. This is especially true for school buses, which sit idle for most of the day and throughout the summer, but can be used to power air conditioners or other systems, or to serve as an emergency power source during an outage. The Massachusetts cities of Concord and Beverley have converted most of their school bus fleets to electric buses.

One of the problems with electric vehicles is that charging stations are not as common as gas stations, but there are incentives to improve the situation. Most EV owners charge their cars at home at night or at work during the day. A level 1 charger (normal wall socket) only provides a range of 5 to 8 km per hour; but a Level 2 charger, the most common type, is four times faster and produces a range of 20 to 40 miles per hour. Level 3 fast chargers are usually found near highways and are used intermittently, usually for 15-25 minutes at a time. They produce a range of up to 300 miles per hour.

The federal government, state and electric utilities all offer incentives for adding charging stations. National Grid and Eversource have contributed $420 million for chargers, covering the full cost of infrastructure improvements, and $60,000 per charging station for the hardware. However, there is a complicated procedure to get a refund.

ECAC member Dwayne Breger noted that he uses his gas-powered vehicle instead of his electric car for long trips. LaRuffa said Massachusetts lags somewhat behind its neighbors in its EV charging infrastructure, but is working on a plan to expand the number of charging stations along major corridors.

Julian Hynes asked if city vehicles qualify for the $7,500 rebate. Amherst Sustainability Director Stephanie Ciccarello said yes, but the recently purchased police cars are hybrids and therefore do not qualify. However, she said the city will have to replace vehicles with an electric car from 2025 if a suitable model is available.

In response to a question from Shoshanna King, Ciccarello said her department is trying to take advantage of “make ready” programs to provide charging stations for apartment complexes.

Carports: the perfect place for solar energy
Thurrell noted that half of greenhouse gases come from transportation. Electric vehicles are part of the solution to reducing this number, but it would be better not to charge them with electricity produced using fossil fuels. Solar canopies over parking lots provide an ideal location for energy production because there is no need to cut down forests or use agricultural land. Additionally, solar carports provide cars and drivers with protection from the elements, keeping them both cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, and improving vehicle performance by up to 25%. They also reduce maintenance costs by protecting the parking lot’s asphalt from snow and rain.

But, he said, the real benefit of solar carports is their dual use for both parking and energy production.

There are different types of awnings for parking lots. The single slope cantilevered model can cause problems when removing snow, so the slope is optimally placed so that the snow falls to the edge of the plot. V-shaped structures, where two panels slope toward each other, are usually preferred for cold climates. The water can drain through an opening at the lowest point. Finally, the most energy-dense option is a long-span carport, which provides full coverage of a parking space. This style can even be built on the roof of a parking garage.

Although solar canopies over parking lots are efficient producers of solar energy, their disadvantage lies in their upfront costs. In addition to the costs of the photovoltaic panels, there are the costs of steel or concrete for the support pillars. There are also significant costs associated with geotechnical investigations to ensure that the soil supports the structures and that stormwater management is adequate. Due to the necessary investments, the state offers more incentives for larger carport installations.

LaRuffa and Thurrell said they will be at the Amherst Sustainability Festival on April 20, 2024, and look forward to answering more questions from residents.

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