With General Motors expected to roll out its Chevrolet Volt in New Jersey in a matter of months, the jockeying already has begun as to who will build the new infrastructure needed to move consumers from fossil fuels to an electric transportation system.
Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) hosted a caravan of the electric vehicles at its headquarters in Newark Friday, showcasing the Detroit manufacturer’s entry into the emerging field. The utility plans to test drive a few Volts in coming months to determine how the vehicle will affect its electric distribution system.
To PSE&G and its affiliate, PSEG Power, the transformation of the transportation system to an electric infrastructure offers two lucrative areas of growth. The first is building the charging stations in homes and elsewhere where drivers can recharge batteries. The second is making sure there is enough juice on the regional power grid to recharge without causing power outages.
"PSE&G supports the electrification of transportation, and we believe that electric vehicle adoption will be a reality sooner than later," said Ralph LaRossa, president and chief operating officer of the state’s largest gas and electric utility. "We are considering steps we must take to make sure the utility is 'plug-in' ready to accommodate electric vehicles in our service territory."
LaRossa offered few details of what those steps entail, a reflection, perhaps, that building the new electric infrastructure will likely to be a competitive process. Earlier this year, NJ Spotlight disclosed both PSE&G and NRG Energy, a Princeton-based independent power supplier, had made overtures to the Christie administration about building the infrastructure for electric vehicles.
The approach the administration takes is expected to be detailed in the Energy Master Plan being revised by the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Clearly, both agencies believe the electric vehicle could help fuel the state’s shift to a green economy.
"We support clean technologies for both environmental and economic reasons," said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, who attended the event at PSE&G’s headquarters and noted he hoped to soon acquire a Volt. "We’re enthusiastic about the availability of electric vehicles in New Jersey."
Electric vehicles are only one aspect of the state's overall green strategy. The administration has aggressively pushed plans to develop wind farms off the coast of New Jersey as a way of attracting green manufacturing jobs. Martin said the administration views electric vehicles as part of that plan. “We see New Jersey as the green hub of the East Coast,’’ he said.
Exactly how the state builds its electric vehicle infrastructure remains to be worked out, but the commissioner said he envisions utilities playing a role, although he added he believes competition is the best route to go.
PSE&G is waiting to see what the administration decides in its Energy Master Plan, but LaRossa agreed there is a role for the utilities to play, particularly out on the streets. The new system, however, offers jobs for a lot of people, he said, citing electricians who may be hired by homeowners to upgrade their electrical systems to make charging easier for owners of electric vehicles.
NRG Energy is already engaged in a pilot project in Texas, installing charging stations outside of the city of Houston. It sees building the infrastructure for electric vehicles as a big growth area for the company.
The Volt can be fully charged by a regular 120-volt, three-pronged electric cord, but it takes up to 10 hours, according to Britta Gross, director of Global Energy Systems and Infrastructure Commercialization for Chevrolet. For a 220-volt line, similar to that used for an electric dryer, the car can be fully charged in four hours.
Fully charged, the vehicle has a range of between 25 and 450 miles, depending on weather, driving technique and terrain. When the Volt’s battery runs low, a gas-powered generator seamlessly engages to extend the range another 300 miles or until the vehicle can be plugged in to recharge.
"For us to move people away from petroleum, you can’t give up convenience," Gross said. "In an emergency, you can drive across town."
The vehicle is expected to sell for $41,000, Gross said, but consumers will be able to shave some of that cost off with a $7,500 federal tax credit. GM also plans to lease the car for $350 a month, if the consumer puts $2,500 down.
At least initially, electric vehicles will not put any strain on the regional power grid, Gross said, and it will only cost between $1.10 and $1.50 to recharge a battery. "It’s a lot less expensive than driving and using gasoline," she said.
GM expects to begin selling the vehicle next month in New York City, Washington D.C., Austin, TX, and California, but plans to begin sales in New Jersey "within months," Gross said. The company expects to sell about 10,000 vehicles in year one and 45,000 in the second year.