Published March 18, 2021
UB leaders are hoping some new developments on campus provide a jolt to the use of electric vehicles (EV) among members of the university community.
The university recently installed a series of new EV charging stations on the North and South campuses, increasing by 30 the number of plug-in opportunities available.
UB Facilities and PlugIn Stations crews installed eight dual-head (16 plugs) charging stations in the Jacobs B lot on the North Campus, and seven dual-heads (14 plugs) in the Parker lot on the South Campus. (Folks on UB’s Downtown Campus are encouraged to take advantage of the numerous options available on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.)
Both were made possible through funding from the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority, National Grid and UB. “The partnership and support of NYSERDA and National Grid was critical to making this project happen. We truly wouldn’t have been able to do it without them,” said Chief Sustainability Officer Ryan McPherson.
UB previously had only three charging stations, installed in 2013 as a pilot project.
“We obtained a lot of great information from those original three stations, which has demonstrated a clear and overwhelming need for electric vehicle charging infrastructure as demand outpaced supply. To meet the growth in EV users across campus, this represents the next step, and we hope to expand even further upon what we’ve just installed,” says McPherson.
He notes that the new chargers tie into a key strategy — Greening Our Commute — in the updated climate action plan, called UB’s 10 in 10, which the university unveiled last year on Earth Day. Faculty, staff and student commuting currently accounts for approximately 35% of UB’s current carbon footprint.
“The additional charging stations are game changers because they make it more convenient to use my EV to commute to campus,” says R. Lorraine Collins, associate dean for research in the School of Public Health and Health Professions. “I think that providing more charging stations, at minimal cost to drivers, is an effective and practical way to promote UB’s sustainability goals,” adds Collins, one of approximately 450 EV drivers on campus.
Electric vehicles are gaining in popularity as battery technology advances. Many newer models can travel upwards of 250 miles on a single charge, essentially eliminating the so-called “range anxiety” that may have prevented motorists from purchasing an EV in the past. Many traditional auto manufacturers, such as General Motors and Volkswagen, are even pledging to phase out combustible engine vehicles within the next 10-15 years.
UB has seen a steady growth in EV drivers and anticipates a big increase in the coming years. Toward that end, the university conducted a forum in 2019 to solicit feedback from EV drivers on campus, and has been working diligently to stay abreast of trends and best practices across higher education.
Since then, university leaders have been working to develop greater infrastructure and an equitable policy geared toward electric vehicle usage on campus. Beginning with the fall semester, there will be a permit policy and modest fee for EV owners.
UB employees and students who own or lease an electric vehicle and plan to park on campus will need to register their vehicle as part of the normal parking pass process, except they will also be given an additional EV parking tag, which will allow them to park in designated charging spots while charging their vehicle at any of the stations on campus. Guest permits will be available for visitors.
“In addition, and like our existing charging practice, EV drivers will also be directed to set up a Chargepoint account online and then will access their account upon starting a charge,” says Christopher Austin, director of parking and transportation services and chair of UB’s Greening Our Commute Climate Action Plan Working Group. “Participants will be billed directly through their account for the electricity they use, which is estimated to be between $1 and $2 an hour.”
Drivers with an EV hang tag will be allowed to charge on campus for up to three hours, enough for approximately up to 75 miles of range (depending on the vehicle). This time limit will allow for UB to provide charging opportunities for a greater number of students, faculty and staff. Rates will increase after three hours, giving users a financial incentive to move their vehicle.
UB officials are excited about the new policy. “A lot of time and thought went into learning from our peers across the country and thinking about different ways we could construct a user-friendly and financially sustainable system for EV owners to charge their vehicles on campus,” Austin says. He adds that the fee to charge up for a few hours on campus will most likely be less than what EV owners would pay using their own residential power supply at home.
“We won’t be making money off of these,” Austin says. “The goal is to supplement and assist students and employees charging needs, as well as to cover the university’s cost of purchasing the equivalent amount of electricity, and to provide maintenance on the infrastructure when needed.”
The EV work is just the beginning for the Greening Our Commute Climate Action Plan Working Group, which plans to advance additional climate-friendly options and policies.
I think that the proposed rate is too high. $1-$2 an hour is about $0.16 per kWh at the L2 delivery rate of ~6 kW, which puts it at or above residential commercial rates for both National Grid and NYSEG service in our Western New York area. That seems much higher than a cost recovery model would dictate. For instance, I pay an average of $0.15/kWh and this includes 2.5 cents per kWh more to get all green energy. So, most customers of National Grid should pay less than 13 cents per kWh. NYSEG rates are even lower. I hope UB considers carefully the cost recovery pricing for EV charging and brings it under these commercial rates.