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The West Coast Electric Highway

Charles Botsford, PE's picture
Program Manager CWB Energy Solutions

Mr. Botsford is a professional chemical engineer in the State of California with 30 years’ experience in engineering process design, distributed generation, and environmental management. He has a...

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The West Coast Electric Highway (WCEH) comprises 57 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in Oregon and Washington. It is one of the largest contiguous networks of direct current (DC) fast chargers in North America. These stations enable EVs to charge approximately 80 percent of their battery capacity in 30 minutes or less, which provides EV drivers the peace of mind to travel from city to city in the Pacific Northwest, untethered from their residential chargers.

WCEH is a public/private program partly funded by the United States Departments of Energy and Transportation (DOE and DOT) via three separate grants. The Oregon and Washington State Departments of Transportation (ODOT and WSDOT) are the program managers, with AeroVironment, Inc. as the prime contractor, owner and operator of the charging stations. This paper discusses program goals, site procurement, construction, and operation.

Program Goals

In a collaborative effort to promote the use of alternative fuels and foster sustainable transportation, the states of Oregon, Washington and California formed a tri-state initiative to construct an Alternative Fuels Corridor along the Interstate 5 (I-5) corridor from British Columbia, Canada to Mexico, thus connecting three states and three countries. Taking the lead in 2011, Oregon and Washington announced plans for the West Coast Electric Highway (WCEH) that would provide publically available Level 2 and direct current (DC) fast charging stations for EVs in the Pacific Northwest. This infrastructure would branch out to medium- and smaller-sized cities and towns, and would complement “EV Project” chargers funded by DOE that covered large metropolitan areas. Unfortunately, the prime contractor for the “EV Project” filed for bankruptcy, leaving gaps in the Portland and Seattle coverage. ODOT and WSDOT, however, remained committed to the goal, received funding from DOE and US DOT, formed a public-private partnership with core organizations, and continued forward with WCEH.

ODOT’s and WSDOT’s goal was to provide a safety net of EV fast charging stations at convenient intervals of 25 to 60 miles offering support for drivers traveling longer distances. As contracting agencies for the program, they wanted a long-term commitment, a single point of responsibility, and a turnkey service for EV charging equipment, site selection/procurement, design/permitting, installation services, construction, ownership, and operation. All stations needed to be networked for data gathering, monitoring and access control, and interoperable, that is, capable of charging any EV with the requisite access codes across Oregon and Washington. ODOT and WSDOT released three separate solicitations over the course of a year in the 2010-2011 timeframe, and subsequently awarded AeroVironment all three resulting contracts, enabling a seamless, integrated, and interoperable network of charging stations.

DC Fast Charging

55 WCEH stations have one CHAdeMO DC fast charger (50kW) and a supplemental Level 2 charger (7.2kW at 240VAC). DC fast charging at the 50kW power level enables EVs to charge to approximately 80 percent of their battery capacity in 30 minutes or less. A DC fast charger does this by rectifying 480V alternating current (AC) power from the grid to 400 to 500 VDC, which flows directly to the EV battery pack. Two stations have Level 2 chargers only.

In the US, the three types of DC fast charging protocols are:

  1. CHAdeMO Standard. CHAdeMO is an abbreviation of "CHArge de MOve", equivalent to "charge for moving.” This is a standard that originated in Japan, and was subsequently developed by an international collaboration of organizations and currently numbers 430 organizations. As of mid-2014, over 60,000 vehicles fast-charge using the CHAdeMO protocol. These vehicles are manufactured by: Nissan, Mitsubishi and Kia. In the US, over 600 DC fast chargers using the CHAdeMO standard have been installed. Tesla will reportedly offer a CHAdeMO adapter.
  2. Tesla Superchargers. This was developed solely for Tesla EVs. Charging ports are 90 and 120kW. Approximately 20,000 Tesla EVs are capable of using these stations. As of mid-2014, Tesla has installed 100 multi-port stations. Tesla EVs have much larger battery packs so that the higher power of the superchargers still charges Tesla in 30 minutes to an hour.
  3. Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) J-1772 Standard. This was developed in the US, along with an analog European version, by a collaboration of US and European automakers. The J-1772 standard is also called the “combo” connector because it combines Level 2 (AC) and DC fast charging in one vehicle port. As of Mid-2014, less than 1,000 EVs (GM Sparks, BMW i3s) were on the road and capable of SAE J-1772 fast charging, with approximately 25 stations installed nationwide.

CHAdeMO chargers were chosen for WCEH because this was the only fast charger standard available at the time of program initiation (early 2011). As time went on, use of SAE chargers was considered, but development of the SAE standard and deployment of vehicles capable of using that standard experienced significant delays. Nissan invested heavily in CHAdeMO charger deployment, while no vehicle manufacturer made a similar investment in SAE charger deployment. By the end of the WCEH implementation, little choice was left but to continue with CHAdeMO chargers.

Several equipment manufacturers now SAE DC fast chargers, but EVs using the SAE standard are still a small percentage of the market, which makes the ownership business model a challenging proposition. As the EV market grows, future government-sponsored charging sites will likely require SAE in addition to CHAdeMO chargers to serve all makes and models of EVs capable of fast charging.

Table 1. WCEH Charger Types

Type

Voltage

Amps

Power (kW)

Charge Time

Level 2

208/240VAC

30A

7.2

2-8 hours

DC Fast Charger

~400VDC

120A

50

15-30 minutes

 

 

Candidate Sites and Venues

The original WCEH siting strategy called for stations sited along the I-5 corridor from Bellingham, WA south to Ashland, OR at approximately 50- to 60-mile intervals. As the WCEH program expanded, the partners agreed to a more aggressive target interval of 25 miles between stations to make the network more functional for a broader range of EV drivers. In Washington, the program expanded east-west along  Interstate 90 and State Route2.In Oregon, the program expanded along Interstate 84, and State Routes and Roads 101, 30, 97, 126, 26, 22, 35, 38, 18, 6, and 99W.

With the exception of two rest stops in Washington, all stations were sited at non-state land venues. The siting criteria included:

  • Access to 3-phase power, preferably 480VAC
  • Safe, quick, convenient access, typically from an exit, less than a mile from the highway. Easy ingress/egress, convenient parking
  • Extended hours venue, preferably 24-hours, staffed by at least one person on duty, preferably other venues nearby to occupy 30-minutes of the EV driver’s time (shopping, dining, entertainment)
  • Ability to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines
  • Minimal potential hazardous soil conditions and other potential hazards

ODOT and WSDOT provided the target exit or town locations for which typically three candidate venues were evaluated. AeroVironment’s subcontractor, Cascadia PM, coordinated and conducted site visits and obtained all documentation. After gathering data on the candidate sites for a particular exit or town, the partners prioritized candidates, and then Cascadia and AeroVironment conducted lease negotiations.

Venues

A variety of venue types host each WCEH station and are distributed as follows:

  • City properties (convention centers, visitor centers, parks, parking lots, etc.) – 10
  • Grocery stores – 8 (the 9th, a station at Brooking, OR, is in planning)
  • Restaurants – 8
  • Miscellaneous (country stores, office buildings, transit centers, etc.) – 8
  • Hotels and motels – 7
  • Gasoline stations – 6
  • Casinos – 5
  • Shopping malls – 3
  • Rest stops – 2 (Level 2 only)

The Lease Process

Lease negotiation was by far the most time-consuming, tenuous, and difficult part of the process to site and build a WCEH fast charge station. A common difficulty was the lack of knowledge by potential site owners of what a fast charge station was, what would be required of them to support it, and how it would benefit them to be located on their property. Concerns over losing a valuable parking space due to ADA requirements, as well as loss of additional real estate to add a transformer pad and the charging station itself were also prevalent. It was not uncommon for the priority candidate to drop out, followed by the second and third. Land owner legal review of the lease agreement typically required months. The longest negotiation period for a lease agreement procured involved the Government Camp site at the Mount Hood ski resort in Oregon, on US Forest Service land, which took two years of negotiations to secure.

Site Design, Permitting, and Condition Verification

AeroVironment provided architectural and engineering (AE) services to support site design as well as the development of approved zoning and construction drawings suitable for land use and permitting submission.

In addition, AeroVironment commissioned land surveys to define property boundaries, investigated city and utility easements, and prepared and submitted permit packages to the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), and attended city council meetings to provide background for land use and zoning issues. For the Oregon sites, soil testing was often a part of this process and was conducted in conjunction with ODOT to ensure identification and proper disposal relative to trenching activities. Potential for contaminated soil (by pesticides, oil, etc.) caused several potential sites to be excluded from consideration, and two sites required cleanup prior to construction.

Electric Utilities

A key part of the process was coordination with the local utility. WCEH has 22 separate utilities that provide power to the 57 stations. After concluding the lease negotiation process, which always had an important utility factor, the next step was to negotiate with each utility the placement of the transformer required to bring three-phase power to the station. Often, the transformer could be placed on an existing nearby pole (a consideration of site selection). Otherwise, the transformer would be placed on a concrete pad specially constructed for the project.

Utility upgrades and trenching were also important components of station cost, typically averaging $10,000 to $25,000 to bring three-phase power to the site. Ease of working with the utilities often depended on the knowledge of the utility planner. The site-specific conditions of the station also contributed greatly to the ease or difficulty of the process. Bringing power to many stations was simple, while other stations required extensive easement considerations and routing of the power.

Construction and Commissioning

Comparatively speaking, the construction portion of the WCEH process proceeded quickly, typically lasting one to two weeks after final clearance. To provide perspective, picking and investigating the potential sites at an exit or town might require several weeks, negotiating and executing a lease agreement with the property owner another several months, and receiving the permits and FHWA clearance another month after that. Thus, six months after initiation of the site surveys, AeroVironment would receive FHWA clearance and the station would be constructed relatively quickly.

Operations, Costs, and Business Models

ODOT and WSDOT used U.S. DOE and U.S. DOT grants to fund the majority of the equipment and installation costs. AeroVironment contributed services and in-kind funding to complete the program funding requirements. Ownership of the WCEH stations then devolved on AeroVironment, with the provision that AeroVironment operate and maintain the stations for a minimum of five years.

After construction completion, ongoing operational costs of the network have remained fairly stable. However, electrical demand charges from the utilities are the largest single component of the operational cost of the stations. Many WCEH electric utilities apply demand charges, and their methods for doing so vary greatly. Demand charge fees, which are based on the peak kilowatts (kW) used during a 15-minute average, can significantly impact the economic viability of a fast charge station. Less than half of the WCEH utilities apply demand charge fees. However, the demand charge fees applied to WCEH stations account for approximately two-thirds of the cost of the electricity bills. AV covers the utility costs during the agreement period and receives invoices from 22 utilities through, a separate electric bill for each station, totaling more than $10,000 per month.

For the first two years of the program, AeroVironment provided free charging at WCEH stations for all EV drivers to help drive traffic and promote use of the corridor. In April 2014, AeroVironment implemented a monthly subscription program for station users at $19.99 per month.

Although several WCEH stations have high utilization, working out a sustainable business model has been a challenge for operation in the early years of the program. As overall WCEH utilization increases over the next few years, the business case is expected to improve. Also, a dialogue with one utility in particular, which serves ten stations, should greatly improve the demand charge picture, lowering overall ongoing costs, and in turn greatly improving the business case.

A Leaf and Tesla EVs charging at Hood River and Mt. Hood, OR WCEH Stations

Leafs Charging at Skyhomish and Castle Rock, WA WCEH Stations

 

Partners and Awards

WCEH partners include:

  • Oregon Department of Transportation
  • Washington Department of Transportation
  • AeroVironment, Inc.
  • Cascadia PM
  • Advanced Electrical Solutions (AES)
  • Columbia-Willamette Clean Cities Coalition
  • Federal Highway Administration
  • U.S. Department of Energy
  • Oregon Department of Energy
  • Washington State Department of Commerce
  • Rogue Valley Clean Cities Coalition
  • Western Washington Clean Cities Coalition
  • Business Oregon
  • Drive Oregon
  • Energize Oregon Coalition
  • Oregon Electric Vehicle Association
  • Seattle Electric Vehicle Association

In 2012 WCEH partners received the Federal Highway Administration award for Exceptional Environmental Stewardship. In 2013, WCEH partners received the Federal Highway Administration award for Excellence in Air Quality Improvement and Climate Change.

Conclusions

The West Coast Electric Highway is an extensive network of DC fast charging stations, also equipped with Level 2 chargers, that enables EV drivers in Oregon and Washington greater range than residential-only, or workplace-only, charging allows. In completing this program, the public-private partnership required close coordination between many public agencies, AeroVironment, its subcontractors, 22 electric utilities, and the many lease holders. In the future, the WCEH may expand in Oregon and Washington to provide even greater fast charging service.

In early 2014, the California Energy Commission awarded contracts to provide DC fast charge infrastructure for several urban and corridor markets. This, along with the DC charging stations NRG eVgo will construct in California as required by their California Settlement Agreement, will provide California EV drivers a sense of range freedom enjoyed by their EV driving neighbors to the north. Thus, the vision of connecting three states and three countries from Canada to Mexico will finally be realized.

Acknowledgements

Many people and organizations have contributed to the success of the West Coast Electric Highway. DOE and DOT funding and the program sponsorship of Oregon and Washington were crucial. The many site hosts have been gracious in allowing such an advanced fueling technologyas a fast charge EV charging station to reside at their venue. The “Most Thankless Task” award must go to Jeff Colantino of Cascadia PM for conducting the site assessments and site negotiations. Ben Spurlock of AES has been a master of site construction. John Richardson, AJ Bock, Frank Wong, Justine Brody, Kristen Helsel, and Bill Campbell, formerly with AeroVironment, were the initial drivers and program managers involved at the outset of this venture.

Authors

Mr. Charles Botsford, P.E., M.S., Chemical Engineering.

AeroVironment, Inc., 181 W. Huntington Drive, Ste. 202 Monrovia, CA 91016, USA Tel: 626-357-9983, botsford@avinc.com, www.avinc.com

Mr. Botsford is a professional chemical engineer (California) with 30 years experience in engineering design, distributed generation, and environmental management. He has a wide range of experience relative to energy storage, renewable energy systems, electric vehicles, power electronics, and air quality issues. Mr. Botsford conducts technology and business development activities for AeroVironment’s EV Solutions Group and is a Qualified Environmental Professional (QEP), Emeritus.

Mr. Michael Stefun, P.E., B.S., Electrical Engineering.

AeroVironment, Inc., 181 W. Huntington Drive, Ste. 202 Monrovia, CA 91016, USA Tel: 626-357-9983  michael@stefun.net

Mr. Stefun is a professional electrical engineer (California) with over 20 years of experience in electrical design, construction, and project management. His background is diversified in electrical systems ranging from residential, commercial, and industrial applications.  Mr. Stefun provides application support for the DC Fast Charger and EVSE line of chargers from AeroVironment.  He is primarily responsible for all commercial construction projects for installation of chargers and their systems.

Ms. Ashley Horvat, B.A., American Public Policy and Environmental Studies

State of Oregon, Office of Innovative Partnerships & Alternative Funding MS 32 355 Capitol Street NE Salem, OR 97301-3871 USA Tel: 503-385-3293  ashley.n.horvat@odot.state.or.us

 

Ms. Tonia Buell, M.B.A.

Washington State Department of Transportation, 310 Maple Park Avenue SE Olympia, WA 98504-7395, USA Tel: 360-705-7439, tonia.buell@wsdot.wa.gov, www.westcoastelectrichighway.com

Ms. Buell is the Interim Director of WSDOT’s Public-Private Partnerships Office. She was instrumental in the electric highway project from conception to implementation. Ms. Buell co-developed the project scope, helped secure federal funding, and spearheaded the branding and marketing.  Ms. Buell manages Washington’s segment of the West Coast Electric Highway and leads the development of the state’s electric vehicle action plan.

 



 

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