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CSRlive Commentary

05.09.2011 - 07:50PM

Category: Clean Technology

CSRwire Spotlight: Electrifying Transportation

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By CSRwire Contributing Writer Jayne Flannery

Northeast Utilities is one of the early adopters and promoters of transportation electrification and is taking significant steps to connect electrified vehicles to the electric grid. Watson Collins, Electric Vehicle project manager with the Enterprise Planning and Development group, talks with Jayne Flannery before his upcoming presentation at the Ceres Conference 2011.

The new generation of plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) is already a tried and tested reality. One of the few remaining barriers to adoption is the need to understand and develop an appropriately sized infrastructure that will support consumer choice in the refueling process. This is a key priority for Northeast Utilities.

The company has just announced a major research study involving approximately 30 charging stations to support plug-in EVs. The study, which is the most comprehensive of its kind in New England, is taking place across more than 20 different municipalities and includes a cross-section of commercial, workplace and public charging venues expected to be operational by the end of 2011.

"We're taking steps now to study electricity usage for recharging the new wave of electric vehicles. With the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt already here and other models coming, we need to understand consumer charging patterns and preferences," said Watson Collins, EV project manager.

"By year-end, we will have 30 sites generating detailed meter data and a robust picture of away-from-home charging levels as well as home-based use patterns as more EV drivers recharge overnight. Our ultimate goal is to increase our understanding of how recharging impacts the electric distribution system under a variety of conditions.

"These vehicles are tested and primed to go; it is only a question of putting in place the infrastructure that will support refueling. That is where our role as a fuel distributor of electricity comes in. Our focus is on the last 50 feet of infrastructure that needs to be built to connect vehicles to the electric grid. We are also consulting with customers interested in developing charging stations and initiating consumer outreach to identify the level of services they'll need."

The company has been preparing for the last three years, learning about consumer behavior and testing equipment required for the infrastructure. A big part of this work has involved testing and driving demonstration vehicles through collaboration with automotive makers such as Toyota and Mitsubishi, who have both loaned vehicles, to give a true feel of how EV technology performs in action.

The next stage is making sure consumers understand EV technology and the choices becoming available to them. Northeast Utilities developed "Plug My Ride" as a grassroots platform for others to embrace. The new website promotes public awareness of electric vehicles and charging stations and can help connect EV supporters. "We also want to help government organizations, other utilities companies and private-sector businesses generally handle the transition to EVs as smoothly as possible," he said.

Looking to the future, Mr. Collins is clear on the future direction of EVs. "This cannot remain a niche technology and we are determined to move toward mainstream acceptance. The environmental benefits are clear to all, as well as the contribution the next generation of vehicles will make to reduce our dependency on petroleum. Our technology will also enable consumers to access a much cheaper form of fuel."

"I believe over the next decade, emerging technologies will give us many new types of vehicles such as hybrid cars and those powered by natural gas. Even conventional vehicles are still improving and showing many innovative energy-saving refinements. There will be more choices than ever, especially with consumer interface technology, such as mobile device applications that connect directly to vehicles. It is a very exciting arena and we are excited about what the future holds," he concludes.

About Northeast Utilities

NU, headquartered in Hartford, operates New England's largest utility system with annual revenues of approximately $5.4 billion and assets of $14.2 billion. NU and its companies in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire serve more than 2.1 million electric and natural gas customers in nearly 500 cities and towns. For more information, go to www.nu.com.

For more information about the Ceres Conference 2011, please visit the events page. For more CSRwire Ceres-exclusive Spotlights, please visit http://csrwiretalkback.tumblr.com/Ceres.

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