Charging Stations Offer A Battery Of Opportunities In Chicago

On a brisk, gray day in mid April, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn traveled to Oak Park to preside over the installation of the first charging station for e lectric cars to be powered by geothermal energy — and to announce that more charging stations are on the way.

This summer, Walgreens plans to install similar stations at 30 other stores in the Chicago area. The stations will join some 150 private installations already in operation, as well as an additional 280 that are planned for the region. "In an era of $4.00- or $5.00-a-gallon gasoline, we've got to figure out a better way to get our energy," Quinn said at the April 18 event.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Local 134 and ECA Chicago know it. That's why they welcomed electrical industry training professionals from across the nation to the IBEW Technical Institute in Alsip to participate in a Master Train the Trainer (MT3) program for the installation of electric vehicle supply equipment, the first such event of its kinds, according to Jennifer Mefford, co-chair of the Electrical Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program (EVITP), a not-for-profit consortium of industry stakeholders and sponsor of the Chicago program.

Kevin Lynch, Electrical Coordinator at the Technical Institute states, "We have always been at the forefront of new technology training, and the EV industry will be no exception. We realize that a successful launch will rely on quality infrastructure installations and we are eager to prepare our contractors and electricians to serve this market."

For three days, 56 participants from 21 markets received classroom and lab instruction from a variety of subject matter experts including Electrical Industry Training Directors, EV stakeholders, including automakers and EVITP suppliers, in order to qualify for certification as an EVITP Master Trainer. Participants were five-year field veterans and professional instructors, both prerequisites to receive MT3 training.

"EVITP training delivers the entire EV picture," says Mefford. "Once they've completed the coursework, trainers are not only schooled in charging equipment and local codes, but the EV industry itself. They know utility rates, rebates, and incentives. This is a new industry, so it's important that they be customer focused and emphasize customer satisfaction."

Training anticipates the roll out of the Ford Focus Electric, Chevy Volt, and Nissan Leaf vehicles initially 21 markets, and will have a nationwide footprint by the end of 2011. "Those who received MT3 instruction in Chicago can now return to their respective markets to train more instructors, as well as area Contractors and Electricians seeking EVITP certification," says Mefford, who is also director of business development with IBEW Local 58 and the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) of Southeastern Michigan.

Mefford says contractors will be eyeing three primary markets: residential, commercial and public. "We anticipate that 70 percent of installations initially will occur at the residential level, however, concurrently, commercial and public locations will also be adding stations to support consumers. Charging stations will be installed at locations such as shopping malls, restaurant chains, office buildings, parking structures, sustainable communities, and other locations eager to draw EV motorists."

Opportunities will likely fall along similar lines, depending on a contractor's size and expertise. "Given the variety of installation opportunities in the EV industry, this market offers growth opportunities for contractors of all sizes," says Mefford. Consistency with installation and customer experience, she says, is key. "EVITP was formed to set standards for installations and achieve consensus among automakers, utilities, suppliers and safety officials, all of which contribute materials for our curriculum."

In addition to NECA and the NJATC, the 25 EVITP Partner Advisors include General Electric, General Motors, Commonwealth Edison, NFPA and the IAEI — all formidable interests in an industry that promises formidable opportunities for electrical contractors.