Mobile and its surrounding industries are taking more steps to electrify their businesses. From changing how work is done to supporting how employees get around, the use of all-electric solutions is helping overcome one of the biggest obstacles to an electric vehicle future.
“It’s the old story of the chicken and the egg,” said Alabama Power Marketing Specialist Rick Ramirez. “You want to make the move that is cost-effective, getting an electric vehicle (EV). But that requires you to be comfortable that you will be able to charge the battery. And others won’t be as inclined to install the chargers until they know there is a real demand.”
Innovators such as Tesla are tweaking the algorithms that play a direct role in how cars start and stop, and over time can be programmed to get more efficient. This may be the step that gets most people past what Ramirez calls “range anxiety.”
“Once you get up to about 500 miles on a charge, most people don’t want to drive any more than that in a day anyway,” Ramirez said.
Charging on two fronts
The promotion of electric solutions happens in the two places people spend the most time: at work and at home. In addition to expanding EV awareness, a key cog in the effort to make them more abundant is using other parts of the port as a demonstration project.
For example, McDuffie Coal Terminal converted its diesel loading systems to all-electric. Pinto Island, where large slabs of metal come through from Brazil on the way to AM/NS Calvert steel mill, now offloads those slabs with three large electric cranes.
“Downtown Mobile now has 28 spaces where electric vehicles can park and charge,” Ramirez said. “We are almost at a point now where longer ranges and greater confidence of having a place to charge will get more people to make the switch.”
The most economical way to make that work is for EV owners to do their charging at home. They can sign up for a special time-of-use rate, that allows them to charge their cars overnight when demand is low at a lower cost per kilowatt hour.
“Right now, we have about 50 customers in the Mobile area that have signed up for that rate,” said Alabama Power Electric Transportation Manager Cedric Daniels. “That’s a start, but in the coming years the math is going to really tilt things toward electric.”
Making vehicles “smarter” with SmartCharge
Among the difficulties in getting wider adoption are the unknown impacts when electric cars are used at scale.
A new partnership between Alabama Power and FleetCarma will allow the company to track data about how the batteries charge and discharge – and the impact of everyday use on the systems. The additional diagnostics provided by SmartCharge will be useful for EV owners to be wiser about how they use their cars, and beneficial for utilities to know which programs and offerings make the most sense for customers and for the electric grid.
Plugging in new leadership
One of the organizations promoting EVs has a new point person. Michael Staley, a longtime chief of staff to former U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus, has joined the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition (ACFC) as the organization’s president. Staley will lobby and advocate for policies and programs that will make electric vehicles easier to own and use.
“Michael will make an immediately visible positive impact on the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition,” said Phillip Wiedmeyer, chairman of the ACFC board of directors. “His knowledge of the issues and experience working with business leaders and officials at local, state and federal levels of government will be a tremendous asset to this organization going forward.”
“We are going to build on past success, strengthening Alabama’s position as a leader in the development and deployment of alternative fuels technologies,” Staley said. “I’m excited to be tasked with engaging our members and stakeholders to advance our mutual goals.”
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced this week that the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) will be working with ACFC to expand electric vehicle charging stations throughout the state.
“This plan will allow for grant funding opportunities that expand access to EV charging stations along heavily traveled areas of our state and invest in Alabama’s future by supporting consumers’ choice to adopt electric vehicles,” Ivey said. “This is the beginning stage of a great project that will continue moving Alabama forward as more automotive companies, including Mercedes Benz and the numerous other manufacturers here in Alabama, develop EV technology.”
Ivey said the plan will use $3.2 million from the state’s $25.4 million portion of a national $14.7 billion settlement with Volkswagen. ADECA manages the VW settlement for Alabama. Additional EV infrastructure funding has been allocated by the Alabama Legislature.