Duke energy partners with THINK to put electric vehicles on the roadways

Duke Energy has partnered with Project Plug-IN to launch a pilot program that is geared toward making an electrical commute possible for more U.S. drivers. Employees were able to test drive one of two electric THINK City vehicles on hand, in the neighborhood surrounding Duke’s Plainfield-based corporate headquarters. Duke hopes to either purchase some of the vehicles as part of its corporate fleet, or offer the vehicles to employees at a discounted price to use in a study on their impact on electrical systems.

"One of the main reasons we participate is that we’re very interested in how the electric vehicle will interface with our electrical grid," Angeline Protogere, spokeswoman for Duke Energy, said.

Project Plug-IN is a demonstration project for electric vehicles in Indianapolis and surrounding regions and is organized by Energy Systems Network (ESN), an initiative of Central Indiana Corporate Partnership. THINK, the eco-friendly car company that manufactures the THINK City vehicle, has put down roots in Indiana to test the vehicles here. THINK has partnered with Indianapolis based Enerdel to produce the lithium ion batteries that power the vehicles, and earlier this year announced plans to begin production of the car in Elkhart in 2011. Indiana is currently the only state where the vehicles are being tested.

In addition to several Duke Energy employees, Indiana Secretary of Commerce Mitch Roob was on hand, along with representatives from Enterprise Rent-A-Car and National Car Rental, both of whom are exploring partnerships with Project Plug-IN to test drive the THINK City vehicles.

THINK City vehicles are two-door hatchbacks with two seats and 29 cubic feet of rear storage capacity. The vehicles are priced in the mid 20s. They have the same standard equipment and mechanical features that come with gas-powered vehicles such as anti-lock brakes, dual-side air bags, three-point safety belts, keyless entry, and anchors for car seats. They also have modern-day standard comforts like air conditioning, AM/FM radios with CD players, power windows, and a hard or soft top that retracts but doesn’t completely recline.

So how exactly does it work? A little like a cell phone, but with a bigger battery. It runs on a 220-volt lithium ion battery that has a home charging system that any household has the capability to support. The charging grid is mounted to the wall and the vehicle plugs in from what would on any other system be the gas tank, and charges for eight to 10 hours. The car is then fully charged and ready to drive for up to 100 miles. It also has a 240-volt portable charger for road trips.

The cost of charging the vehicle is something that will vary depending on energy cost rates county to county but will typically be about $2 to $3 per 100 miles.

Brendan Prebo, public relations manager for THINK, said, "So about what you pay for a gallon of gas you can drive 100 miles."

Drivers can also save a little more on maintenance. THINK City’s first service interval is at 40,000 miles, which is a recommended brake check.

In addition to being energy efficient, THINK City’s other biggest and perhaps brightest feature is that it has zero emissions, another selling point for Duke Energy.

"Duke supports this because it helps reduce emissions and supports energy independence," Protogere said.

The impact on a home’s electric bill is yet to be determined and obtaining such information is one of the goals of Duke Energy’s role in the study. The company plans to begin the study later this year with employee participants, including those from Hamilton and Boone counties, for a minimum of 12 months and as long as 36, though no final decision has been made. Through the study, Duke hopes to gather information that could lead to smarter and more eco-friendly energy technology such as smart meter readers, remote meter reading, and remote connections or disconnections.

Protogere said that in the future, the company would like to look at the ability to send customers real time power usage rates, which could help control costs and eliminate the need for billing estimates.

It’s more budget
friendly, it’s low maintenance, and it’s green. But how does the THINK City drive? Roob was one of many to drive at last week’s event and gave the vehicle more than passing marks. He tested the earlier model in February, along with Gov. Mitch Daniels, and said he liked the first but believes the newer model is much improved.

"I’m a big guy and I had plenty of room in there," Roob said. "If I hadn’t driven one, I wouldn’t believe it drives as well as it does."

Roob and officials at Duke and ESN believe that THINK’s ties to Indiana has helped garner the positive response that the car and program have generated so far.

"It’s produced in Indiana, with an Indiana battery, backed by an Indiana company," Roob said. "This is proof-positive that the governor was right when he said Indiana will be the electric vehicle capital of the world."

Motorists interested in purchasing a THINK City vehicle will have to wait just a little longer. Prebo says the vehicle will be available to the public later this year and the company will begin taking orders for delivery in October or November. "I know Hoosiers will believe as soon as they drive it," Roob said.