A solar EV station grows in Brooklyn

The sun shines on New York City's first solar-powered electric vehicle charging station. Beautiful Earth Group brings photovoltaic panels, steel shipping containers, and an electric MINI Cooper together at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge.

I rode my bike to Brooklyn Bridge Park's newest bit of greenery last night. It wasn't the onset of spring, but an electric vehicle charging station that runs on solar power.

I've actually passed by it a few times without realizing what it was. Comprised of two re-purposed shipping containers stacked together, the structure holds an array of 24 photovoltaic panels angled up from one end for southern exposure. The 5.6-kilowatt solar station powers the park's fleet of 5 electric service vehicles and their electric Mini Cooper, the MINI E.

One concern regarding a possible EV revolution is where the electricity will originate. While many grids across the country offer at least some mix of power from renewable and traditional sources, filling an EV with electricity from coal-fire plants isn't exactly Earth-friendly.

The charges from this station in Brooklyn come only from the sun.

Beautiful Earth Group (BE) recently donated the station to the park, bringing the portable building (it's collapsible!) from nearby Red Hook to its new home. This 85-acre swath of land in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge has changed much in recent years, transforming from an industrial eyesore on the East River to well, one of my favorite places.

I spoke with David Gibbs, an engineer for BE. Gibbs said the off-grid station's capacity couldn't go as far as lighting the greenspace's many lampposts, but it could take on more EVs and fill some power needs for park maintenance. For the park's dark nights and cloudy days, a battery bank (at right) from the Trojan Battery Company will store the solar power.

According to the Brooklyn-based company, the station could save Brooklyn Bridge Park $200,000 in gas money over the project's 25 years. They say it will also cut electricity costs by tens of thousands of dollars. In another measurement of value, it will offset an estimated 530 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. The project supports the PlaNYC initiative, which aims to cut the city's carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030.

The move to combine the solar power and electric vehicle industries, however, doesn't end under the bridge. I wrote last summer of a similar effort to shade parking lots with "solar trees." The California start-up Envision Solar has since been integrating EV charging within solar parking spaces that it has provided for a handful of companies around the country.

In his NY Times blog, Jim Motavalli reports the concept for solar EV chargers is also sprawling out to the suburbs. A Metro-North train station in Westport, Connecticut has begun planning for a 30-kilowatt solar set-up. The idea is to charge EVs while their drivers continue with their commute on the train. Different from the Brooklyn Bridge Park facility, this one would be able to sell electricity back to the grid when not needed.

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Image: Beautiful Earth Group

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com