IT’S an excellent poster child.
Power company Meralco in late July introduced a prototype of a dedicated charging station for electric vehicles, or EVs, located within its vast corporate headquarters in Pasig City. The facility looks similar to any conventional fuel station—in fact it’s like the one that sits just a few meters across it—only its “pumps” dispense alternating current through cables and sockets rather than petroleum-based liquid through hoses and nozzles. The vehicles that frequent both stations are somewhat identical, too, except that one of them is a stunning luxury car that was designed from the get-go to run on lithium-ion juice, so this one goes exclusively to the EV charging place.
It’s a Tesla Model S, and this particular car isn’t a bad way for Meralco to draw attention to its new EV charging station.
The charging station is the first of its kind in the Philippines (it isn’t merely a place where vehicles’ lead-acid batteries are haphazardly plugged into a makeshift device), and is the service facility of the Meralco e-Vehicle Power Station project. Essentially, the project anticipates the rise of EV use in the country—or in Metro Manila, at least—particularly when city governments start to dispatch fleets of electric-powered mass transport vehicles in earnest rather than as token green badges.
According to Meralco, the pace at which it will put up additional charging stations is largely dependent on the progress of an ongoing mass transport EV program funded by the Asian Development Bank and spearheaded by the Department of Energy. For instance, Meralco is eyeing to put up several e-Vehicle Power Stations in Mandaluyong because the city has reportedly placed an order of 400 EVs from the ADB-DOE initiative. Other Metro Manila locales where Meralco is planning to set up charging stations are in Makati and in Quezon City. The bulk of users seen to initially use the facilities are public-utility “e-Jeepneys” and “e-Trikes.”
“Meralco will assist in making the electric vehicle charging technology available to interested partner companies and priority sectors like public transport operators,” Alfredo Panlilio, a senior vice president and the head of customer retail services and corporate communications at Meralco, said in a statement. He noted that the power company is intending to be “instrumental” in building the needed support infrastructure for the “expected influx” of EVs in the country.
At present, the prototype e-Vehicle Power Station is serving Meralco’s own fleet of EVs that roam the company’s compound daily as they shuttle employees around. The EVs, which are electric tricycles and jeeps, log around 50 kilometers to 70 kilometers a day—which means they use up all their lead-acid juice. Assuming their batteries are depleted, charging each of them takes about eight hours, done practically overnight (which are off-peak hours).
To address the problem of EVs staying immobile at charging stations for eight straight hours, Meralco is developing a fast-charging system that can partially juice them more quickly. This should allow the vehicles a portion of their range and be capable of ferrying passengers—especially important for the fleets of mass-transport EVs of the future.
Meralco’s first charging station—where one of the “pumps” is designed to draw its power from solar energy—can recharge lead-acid batteries as well as lithium-ion ones. Which is just as well because lead-acid batteries pose environmental concerns, particularly regarding their disposal, so they will eventually be replaced by lithium-ion ones that pack “cleaner” technology (the lithium-ion batteries used in EVs made by global carmakers are designed to last the car’s lifetime). As such the vehicles being developed in the ADB-DOE EV project, according to Meralco, are forecast to carry lithium-ion batteries too, just like a number of the public EVs now plying some Metro streets. Clearly, Meralco’s charging stations are anticipating the shift.
Similar to most full-electric cars (which get their batteries recharged by plugging into electrical sockets), the Model S’s electric motors that reside near each of the car’s wheels get their juice from a lithium-ion battery pack. Depending on which among the three battery pack options that Tesla is offering is fitted, the car is rated with a range of 256 kilometers, 368 kilometers, or 480 kilometers if the 85-kilowatt-per-hour unit is chosen. The electric motors can either spew 362 horsepower and 440 Newton-meter of torque, or 416 horsepower and 600 Newton-meter of torque—big numbers, these.
On a short blast around a portion of the Meralco compound (arranged recently by InterAksyon.com, the online news portal of TV5) the Model S felt like the $60,000-plus to $100,000-plus car that it is, utterly refined when it comes to ride comfort, build quality and cabin materials, and superb in dishing out exotic-car levels of acceleration. Of course, this last bit has all to do with the tremendous oomph inherent in electric motors—full-on torque is available from rest, unlike in the case of conventional internal combustion engines where max power is reached only at a certain engine speed. So floor the Model S’s throttle and it would take more time to read this sentence than to speed past 100kph.
Besides the scorching pace, what were also noticeable in the Model S’s electric drive train was the lack of noise—there’s no engine or exhaust note—and the abrupt “braking” that takes place when you lift off the throttle. This latter trait is the result of the car’s motors turning themselves into generators that harness the energy produced by the wheels’ spinning motion, converting this into electrical energy that helps recharge the car’s batteries.
Certainly, even if the mass transport EVs being developed locally and the Model S share basic principles in electric propulsion, the Tesla luxury car is leagues ahead in terms of striking styling, posh factor (a huge 17-inch touch-screen panel serves as the car’s control pod for its infotainment system and other settings, for starters) and corresponding price tags. But, having said that, Tesla, which has its corporate digs in Silicon Valley in California, is headed by Elon Musk, the visionary exec whose approach to making electric cars appealing to consumers is by initially building luxury EVs like the Model S (and the other Tesla model, the Roadster) before eventually creating electric-powered, affordable compacts aimed at the mass market. In short, who the Model S is luring now are the trendy early adopters, making EV technology potentially attractive to mainstream consumers.
And this makes the car quite the poster child for the e-Vehicle Power Station.