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Coulomb Technologies and Carbon Day Automotive Unveil Solar Plug-In Station in Chicago

Carbon Day Automotive and Coulomb Technologies unveiled a solar-powered electric vehicle charging station in the City of Chicago. The station features a 2.4 kW solar panel array and a 5.5 kWh underground battery pack specially designed and developed by ALL CELL Technologies, a thermal management and power pack solutions manufacturer.

The Solar Plug-In Station. Click to enlarge.

The Solar Plug-In Station will be used daily by the City of Chicago to fuel the city’s electric vehicles with power from the sun. Carbon Day Automotive is the sole Midwest distributor for Coulomb Technologies ChargePoint Networked Charging Stations. The Coulomb Charge Point is a universal station that can re charge anything that requires a plug (Segway PT, bike, car, etc.)

The Carbon Day Automotive Solar Plug-In Station was designed by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture. Wanxiang America Corporation manufactured the solar panels that form the tree-like canopy built by Residential Steel. Pure Energy, LLC, installed the sculpted piece and interfaced it with the underground battery pack. A storm water management feature filters rainfall into a gray water system which can then irrigate surrounding landscape.

Coulomb Technologies’ ChargePoint Networked Charging Stations range in capability from 120V 15A to 240V 80A AC charging to 120kW DC charging.



I did not see any indication if the system is grid-connected for charging on non-sunny days and/or for putting excess into the grid.


The inclusion of the battery system is a head-scratcher. If the system is connected to the grid, a battery is an unnecessary (and very expensive) addition. Insurance against power outages? Hardly. The capacity of the battery is about 1/10th the capacity of the batteries in a single Tesla Coupe.

If, on the other hand, it isn't grid-connected, it raises two issues:

(1) Why? This is Chicago, not some remote outpost miles from the grid. There is no environmental benefit to using a battery for local energy storage over using the grid for virtual energy storage. And there is a huge cost benefit for the latter. Even if there were a 100,000 of these stations in the greater Chicago area, they would add up to perhaps 2% of the electricity production.

Someday, if/when solar (and wind) reach something like 20%, energy storage will be needed. Hopefully there will be some big breakthroughs in energy storage technology by then that will cut costs dramatically (like by a factor of ten).

(2) If there is no grid connection, the capacity of this station is rather limited. Here in Chicago, their 2.4kW solar array will probably average about 12kWh per day. It could support a "fleet" of 2 or 3 golf-cart-like NEVs with a total annual fleet mileage of about 30,000, and they couldn't all be out all day (the station battery could top out in less than 3 hours on a sunny day).

Neat concept. Just have to grit our teeth a bit when we think about what it must have cost. With the land, solar array, battery, and power electronics, this must have cost more than $200k.

That's okay for a demonstration project. But I don't see building one of these next to my off-grid house to fuel my Tesla Coupe. Let's think about what that would mean.

First, this station would be sufficient for just one car, not shared with neighbors or even with a second family car.

Second, it would take an average of 4 days to fully charge the Coupe, and I couldn't be away for more than a few hours on a sunny day without reducing the total miles I can drive the car.

If charging is managed efficiently, that one station could move the coupe about 16,000 miles per year (2.4kW * 20% capacity factor * 24hr * 365 days * 4 miles/kWh).

If I had $50k for a Tesla Sedan and another $100k or so for the station, it might be fun for a while. But that's not my income bracket.


"2.4 kW solar panel array and a 5.5 kWh underground battery pack specially designed and developed by ALL CELL Technologies, a thermal management and power pack solutions manufacturer."

This appears to be a small demo system by a battery pack manufacturer. The stand alone nature of it means portability and low cost installation. It is too small to be of much use and scaling it up could get quite expensive. There are better ways of doing charging stations.

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