Getting Mileage From The Sun

Combine Chicago’s reputation as a leader in green initiatives by its consistently adopting innovative environmental solutions with the park district’s motto, “Open Active Green Connected,” and the result is leadership in progressive environmental stewardship.

“We have 52 BigBelly solar-powered trash cans along the lakefront and in neighborhood parks; recycling in all of the parks, facilities and field houses; the field houses are powered by 25-percent green power,” says Brendan Daley, director of Green Initiatives for the park district, which manages over 7,700 acres of land covering 570 parks. “We also have lawnmowers powered by propane, and a fleet of hybrid vehicles including golf carts, Priuses, SUVs, pickup trucks and Segways.”

Charging A Fleet

Like many other cities and parks in the United States, Chicago is opting for fleets comprised of electric vehicles. The need for recharging stations is increasing as the number of these vehicles increases. Add in the number of commuters switching to electric vehicles, and it is important for cities and parks to find a way to recharge these vehicles without creating environmental problems.

After Carbon Day Automotive was commissioned by Chicago’s 26-member 2016 Olympic bid committee to create an electric-vehicle charging infrastructure, it hired Adrian Smith+Gordon Gill Architecture, which specializes in the design of high-performance, energy-efficient and sustainable architecture, to help design the Solar Plug.

“Our goal is to create a zero-emissions transportation infrastructure. The Solar Plug brings together the ChargePoint Network system with Networked Smart Grid Charging Stations from Coulomb Technologies,” says Scott Emalfarb, director of marketing for Carbon Day Automotive, specializing in network electric-vehicle charging stations utilizing the ChargePoint Network and working with retailers, municipalities, utilities and property owners. “Chicago is a very progressive city in sustainable technology, and the park district took the initiative to offer this solar-powered charging station not only for fleet vehicles but for the public as well.”

“The solar plug-in station incorporates a bi-directional meter connected to the software-driven network, and is the only Smart Grid charging station available to the public,” says Brian Levine, vice president of Carbon Day Automotive. “The two-car station delivers 3.2 kilowatts of solar power that it pulls in from 12 solar panels located on the roof.” Additionally, the station owner can log in and see in real time how much energy is flowing in or out.

Up And Running

The station was initially installed at the city’s west side Douglas Park, but in mid-2010 it was moved to Northerly Island, located near the bustling metro and tourist area of Lake Shore Drive, Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, Solider Field and other major cultural attractions. The new location provides greater exposure in a higher traffic area.

The initial installation took about three months and cost $62,000 dollars, which was paid for through capital funding.

“It is a functional product as well as a demonstration to show that you can drive a car by using the energy of the sun,” says Daley. “We partnered closely with Commonwealth Edison to make sure the infrastructure meets its standards since the Northerly Island location will be connected to the grid.”

Artistic And Functional

Artistic isn’t probably the first term that pops into one’s head when regarding a piece of transportation infrastructure as technical as a solar-powered, electric-vehicle recharging station, that can also charge users a fee for usage and is tied to the electrical Smart Grid. “What surprised me the most was how the station looks like a piece of art,” says Daley. “It is functional and it is an attractive-looking piece of equipment.”

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