Pre-wired homes for EVs

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It is critical for the mass adoption of electric vehicles to have companies like KB Home leading the industry by offering this pre-wire option, as the majority of electric vehicle charging will be done at home overnight. Not only is it convenient, but when managed correctly, charging overnight, at home, will put less strain on the grid than opportunity day-time charging at public charging stations.” –Matt Mattila, project manager for the Rocky Mountain Institute’s “Project Get Ready”

Here’s an interesting development in the home building market that could help increase a shift in the U.S. to alternative vehicles: pre-wiring homes with electric vehicle (EV) charging stations.

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Homebuilder KB Homes is rolling out this optional feature for its “Built to Order” new home construction package – providing built-in technology so owners can recharge either EVs or plug-in hybrid vehicles in order to skip the hassle of retrofitting their domiciles themselves.

“It’s a great feature for homebuyers who currently drive electric cars, or for those who want to build their new home to accommodate these cars in the future,” noted Jeffrey Mezger, KB Home’s president and CEO, noting that this is just one way the company is trying to create more “earth-friendly” products to be more relevant to the way homebuyers are living now and in the future.

The nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute is helping spur such options via its recently-launched Project Get Ready, a program that aims to help communities prepare for and support plug-in vehicles – both all-electric and hybrid models. The whole idea is to make it super-easy for the average person to use these vehicles, without any extra heavy lifting required when it comes to re-juicing the batteries.

This is but another step in a broader – albeit piecemeal – effort to create “recharging infrastructure” in major cities across the U.S. to make EVs and plug-in hybrids more practical for daily use.

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For example, last year, the Electric Transportation Engineering Corporation (eTec), a subsidiary of ECOtality, received $99.8 million in funds from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to test and analyze electric vehicle usage and charging infrastructure – with eTec partnering with Nissan North America on a project to deploy up to 5,000 electric vehicles and 12,750 charging stations in five U.S. markets.

One of those test markets is Portland, OR, with Portland General Electric (PGE) handling the deployment of eTec’s recharging technology. Dependent upon ongoing contract negotiations, up to 1,000 Nissan electric vehicles will be made available at Oregon Nissan dealerships in the fall this year, with 2,500 charging stations to be installed at homes and businesses beginning in the summer of 2010 for residents and businesses that choose to participate, said Jim Piro, PGE’s president and CEO.

He noted that Level 2 (220 volt) charging systems will be installed in residential, public and commercial locations, with Level 3 “fast-charge” systems installed in high-traffic areas and strategic locations to allow consumers to charge on-the-go and extend daily driving range.

“This is … an important step forward to develop the critical infrastructure necessary in Oregon to support next-generation electric vehicles that are coming to market in 2010,” Piro said. “This project will give us a better understanding of how the charging of electric vehicles can effectively be integrated into a smart electric grid at the lowest possible cost.”

Joe Barra, PGE’s director of customer energy resources, added that the utility is in discussions with several all-electric truck manufacturers as part of a plan to include such trucks as part of this electric vehicle pilot program. The key to making this program work, he said, is going to be the recharging infrastructure.

“Battery development has held back electric vehicle for some time and despite recent advancements in Lithium Ion batteries have led to improvements in power density … range will be limited to 100 miles at least for the first generation of electric vehicles,” he said. “A robust charging infrastructure will be important in allaying range anxiety and assuring prospective buyers that this, in fact, is not a test."

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That’s why the move by KB Homes is also a critical piece of this infrastructure-establishment effort, Jennifer Watts, senior manager-marketing & communications for the Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA), told me.

“It’s all about getting the big worries about EV ownership out of the way,” she explained. “It’s about making it convenient and easy to re-charge such vehicles at home and while at work or while out shopping.”

She said one of the reasons there’s a big push to establish re-charging stations at shopping malls, public parking garages, and other areas also addresses the need by electric utilities to better manage increases in electric demand if EV use takes off.

KB Homes’ effort to offer optional pre-wiring of its custom homes for EV recharging systems is also part of the homebuilder’s effort to capitalize on what it sees as increasing demand by consumers for “greener” homes that are not only “earth-friendly” but save them money as well.

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Its company-wide initiative is to build all homes to the Energy Star standards; meaning such homes are up to 45 percent more efficient than a home built as recently as 10 years ago, with Energy Plus certified models another 15 percent more efficient than that, at least according to their calculations.

This includes maximizing the efficiency of the heating and cooling equipment, providing additional insulation in the floors, walls and attic, installing energy-efficient products like appliances and ventilation fans, tightening construction and seals on ducts and controlling air flow in and out of the home, KB Homes noted.

Once completed, the home is tested, rated and certified by a third party Home Energy Rating System (HERS) rater to ensure that the upgrades meet the Energy Plus requirements. Other options include using only Energy Star-rated appliances, installing low-flow plumbing fixtures, plus recyclable carpets, just to name a few.

“Our customers are seeking out information on how they can reduce their energy costs and their carbon footprint in their everyday lives,” said Wendy Marlett, senior vice president of sales, marketing and communications for KB Home – not only reducing their carbon footprint, but their monthly utility bills as well for years to come, she added.

That may also include reducing their monthly gasoline and diesel fuel bills, too – perhaps even eliminating them in some cases – if this works out like everyone hopes it does.

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