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I-Go Eyes Evanston Parking Lots for Solar-Powered Electric Car Rental Stations

I-Go is looking to install two locations where Evanston residents could rent solar-charged electric cars. But a portion of I-Go's funding expires at year's end, and the clock is ticking for the City of Evanston.

By year’s end, Evanston could be home to two I-Go solar-canopy car rental stations, where any person with the inclination and knowhow would be able to rent one of four solar-charged electric cars.

Representatives for I-Go, a Chicago-based nonprofit car sharing company, pitched the plan to Evanston’s Transportation and Parking Committee at the group’s Wednesday night meeting.

I-Go, like other car sharing programs,  allows members to reserve cars at unmanned rental stations that are often single, sign-marked parking spaces located in the lots of frequented stores and other high-traffic destinations. Members pick up and drop off a vehicle at its singular home location, unlock the car with their membership cards and the vehicle tracks the length of the journey, charging the customer’s linked-up credit card accordingly.

Currently, there are seven I-Go rental stations in Evanston, most of which sit nearby Metra or CTA stations. While some of the company’s Evanston vehicles use hybrid technology, none are electric.

I-Go’s interest in Evanston is only part of a larger plan to build 18 solar-canopy car rental stations for 36 electric cars in the Chicagoland area by the end of the year. Jonathan Goldman, I-Go electric vehicle project manager, said that when the project is completed, the company will lay claim to the largest electric vehicle fleet in Illinois and the highest use of solar power energy for electric vehicle charging in the country.

“This allows us to do completely clean vehicle transportation,” Goldman said. “There are some skeptics who say, ‘Well, electric cars. Yeah that’s great, but the power is coming from coal fired power plants. You’re just shifting one source of pollution for another.’ Not so with what we’re doing. It’s going to be completely clean straight down the line.”

Potential Evanston solar canopy locations proposed at Wednesday’s meeting include the Evanston Public Library’s Main Branch outdoor parking lot and a parking lot near the intersection of Central Street and Stewart Avenue, three blocks west of the Central Street Metra station.

The canopy would take up four conventional parking spaces to ensure the solar panel on top is large enough to charge two cars and will be constructed away from buildings that could potentially block sunlight. It would be hooked into the electric grid, feeding power to ComEd while using a “net metering” system to measure the total amount of electricity produced and used at the station (I-Go representatives said they hope these amounts will balance to a zero sum).

Each station will be capable of creating an average of 30 to 35 kilowatt hours per day. Goldman said the electric cars the company will purchase, like the Nissan LEAF and Mitsubishi MiEv, have a 20 kilowatt battery, meaning the stations would be able to charge a “car and a half” per day.

Though the solar canopy spans four parking spaces, I-Go will only require two to operate. However for Evanston’s two proposed new rental stations, the company is pitching a partnership with 350 Green LLC, a San Diego-based company that would install, own, operate and maintain two separate charging stations per canopy, available to anyone looking to charge an electric car. The City of Chicago awarded a $1.9 million contract to 350 Green to install 280 electric vehicle charging stations in the Chicagoland area by the end of 2011, and Evanston’s four proposed stations would count toward this goal.

I-Go representatives said that while the company currently has near $2.5 million to meet its aim of building 18 solar powered charging stations by year’s end, some of its federal funding will expire at that time, as well. And as it can take two to three months to complete construction of a solar canopy, Evanston officials will be forced to make a decision quickly, before the option disappears.

The Transportation and Parking Committee lacked a quorum at Wednesday’s meeting and could not vote to recommend the proposal to the Administration & Public Works Committee as it normally would. However, to save time, the Transportation and Parking Committee bypassed normal procedures and forwarded the proposal without recommendation.

The next Administration & Public Works Committee meeting is scheduled for Sept. 12, about an hour before a City Council meeting, meaning the proposal could both receive a recommendation and head to City Council for approval in one night.

The I-Go solar canopies would be built at no cost to the City of Evanston, and I-Go would pay the city a fee for building on public parking spaces.

I-Go members must be between 18 and 81, have a valid Illinois driver’s license, have no major moving violations and no more than two minor violations listed on their driving record for the past three years, and must link a valid credit card to their membership card.

According to I-Go representatives, the company has 15,000 members and 220 cars in the Chicagoland area.

TomH August 29, 2011 at 03:32 PM
I'm a relatively frequent Evanston I-GO user and I think this all sounds terrific. I'd have to see what the range of a car on one charge is before trying them out; my average daily I-GO ride is about 100 miles, and I'd hate to have to stop somewhere to recharge mid-day. Not even sure WHERE I'd recharge, to be perfectly honest, if I were out in the suburbs somewhere. But this is a great first step. I expect many gas stations and shopping malls will have electric car recharging stations in a few years, and showing that solar power can be a major source of power is a very good demonstration for now. (By the way, Patch folks, the "I-GO" in "I-GO Car Sharing" is hyphenated and all caps when written out in text, even though the logo looks like "igo". You've written a somewhat hybridized version above, "iGo"--kind of like "iPhone". See igocars.org for guidance)
Jordan Graham August 29, 2011 at 04:02 PM
TomH, thanks for your comment. 350 Green will be building electric car charging stations all over the Chicagoland area, so many suburbs and locations in the city will have them. A 350 Green representative said that they have (or will have?) a smart phone app that will allow users to look up the nearest charging station location and determine whether or not it is in use (with some charging stations it can take several hours to recharge a car, with others it can take as little as 15 minutes).
TomH August 29, 2011 at 04:12 PM
Thanks, Jordan! The lack of charging infrastructure is a stumbling block right now, but I'm glad to see plans for more stations are in the works. It's kind of a chcken-before-the egg: no point in building charging stations until there are more electric vehicles; no point in using electric vehicles until there are more charging stations....
mij September 04, 2011 at 05:39 PM
WHY ARE THEY NOT USING THE VOLT? WHAT ABOUT LOST REVENUE FROM PARKING SPACES?

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