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UB installs electric car-charging stations on campus

Electric car charging

This electric car-charging station outside Bonner Hall on the North Campus is part of UB's effort to reduce its environmental footprint. Photo: Douglas Levere

By CORY NEALON

Published December 5, 2013

“In a good month, I use zero gas.”
Alan Rabideau, professor
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

In a good month, Alan Rabideau doesn’t stop at the gas station.

That’s not because he isn’t driving – the engineering professor commutes roughly nine miles to UB’s North Campus. Rather, it’s due to the university’s latest effort to make its three campuses more sustainable.

UB and partners recently installed electric car-charging stations at the university’s three campuses.

“From the Solar Strand, which generates enough clean, renewable energy for hundreds of student apartments, to composting food scraps and implementing an innovative first-of-its-kind bike share program, we strive to evolve, build resilience and minimize our environmental footprint on the future,” says Dennis Black, vice president for university life and services. “The car-charging stations are another piece of the puzzle to help UB become climate neutral by 2030.”

UB partnered with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and ChargePoint as part of a larger initiative to install 20 charging stations in Western New York and 80 throughout the state.

The UB effort, made possible by a partnership between University Facilities and Parking and Transportation Services, includes two charging stations at Bonner and Bissell halls on the North Campus and one at Diefendorf Hall on the South Campus, in addition to several already on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, where the university is moving its medical school.

A NYSERDA grant paid for 85 percent of the costs for the stations on the North and South campuses. More stations are planned at UB as demand increases.

Electric vehicles in upstate New York produce less carbon dioxide emissions than a 50-mile-per-gallon gas-powered vehicle, according to a 2012 Union of Concerned Scientists report. The organization, which advocates for increased fuel efficiency in vehicles, based its findings on the region’s mix of electricity sources and the emissions they produce.

Additionally, the cost of fueling an electric vehicle is four times cheaper than using gasoline; a typical electric vehicle owner saves $750 to $1,200 per year on fuel costs, the report says.

With sales tripling from 2011 to 2012 nationwide, there are more than 100,000 electric vehicles on the road from 10 different automakers, the report says. New York has one of the highest growth rates of electric vehicles; the number has risen from 1,000 to 5,000 in the past year, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

The growth is due in part to Gov. Andrew Cuomo who, along with the governors of California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont, signed an agreement in October that promotes electric vehicle technology, and the infrastructure and coordination needed to put 3.3 million electric vehicles on the road by 2025.

A professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering, Rabideau leases a Toyota Prius plug-in, which has a traditional gas-powered engine plus a small battery. When fully charged, the battery is good for roughly 10 miles. That’s just enough to get Rabideau from his Buffalo home to Bonner Hall. From there, he parks the car and plugs it into the charger — each station can charge two vehicles simultaneously. After three hours, the battery is ready for another 10-mile ride.

“In a good month, I use zero gas,” says Rabideau, principal investigator of Ecosystem Restoration through Interdisciplinary Exchange (ERIE), a multidisciplinary program at UB that includes scientists, engineers and students who conduct innovative ecosystem restoration research.

Rabideau isn’t the only one taking advantage of the charging stations. During the past few months, faculty, staff and community members have used them. They’re driving further, too. For example, the all-electric Nissan Leaf gets roughly 80 miles per charge and the range of Tesla electric vehicles is even longer.

These vehicles will help UB eventually displace hundreds of tons of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas and leading cause of global warming.

In 2007, UB was one of the first 150 institutions of higher learning to pledge to reduce or offset all of its greenhouse gas emissions by signing the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. The pact, now signed by more than 675 colleges and universities, requires signatories to inventory their carbon emissions and create a climate action plan to achieve carbon neutrality.

Addressing the impact of UB’s transportation system, which accounts for 25 percent of the university’s carbon footprint, is a key component of the plan. These stations, combined with other innovative technologies, additional transportation demand initiatives and other efforts, ultimately will allow UB to be more energy independent and move toward its 2030 goal.

For more information on UB’s electric vehicle program, visit the Office of Sustainability’s website.