In what we see as a shrewd move to help keep Portland, Oregon at the forefront of the electric-car movement, the city has dedicated a full city block, called Electric Avenue, to electric vehicle charging.

At a ceremony yesterday, Portland mayor Sam Adams plugged in the first car and dedicated a street lined with chargers, in the company of Portland General Electric (PGE) president and CEO Jim Piro, Portland State University president Wim Wiewel, and representatives from automakers, charging companies, and transportation offices.

And those chargers aren't at all the same type. Seven different charger models from six different manufacturers line the city block, with no-parking signs excepting electric vehicles.

Provided electric-car users pay the normal parking rates, they can use any of the chargers for free, with PGE picking up the tab for the cost of the charge (in many cases, less than a dollar at residential rates).

PGE installed the infrastructure and the charging stations, while the charging-station makers themselves will look after them from this point forward. Meanwhile, PGE is collecting data on the chargers' use, and charging patterns, and sharing that data with Portland State.

The block of Montgomery Street in Portland, which cuts across Portland State University's open campus, is at the center of an area with one of the region's highest public transit ridership. The campus has one of the lowest transportation-related carbon footprints of any university in the nation.

Electric Avenue - Portland, OR

Electric Avenue - Portland, OR

The project includes chargers from Eaton, Ecotality, General Electric, OpConnect, Shorepower Technologies, and SPX. One of the Eaton units is a rapid DC charger—the first fully outdoor, publicly accessible DC quick charger, and Portland's second that's open to the public.

The opening for the event included both mainstream electric-car makers--Nissan, Chevrolet, and Mitsubishi--and niche manufacturers like Arcimoto, Zapcar, and Myers Motors.

While the 240-volt chargers all use a standard J-1772 charging connector, they lack the sophistication to collect data on charge progress, battery temperature, and such, as quick-charging solutions do (such as the publicly accessible CHAdeMO quick charger that's less than half a mile away).

Through ongoing projects with Portland State, looking at electric-car usage and commuters, researchers will periodically poll those using the parking spots and chargers.

Portland General Electric (PGE) CEO Jim Piro

Portland General Electric (PGE) CEO Jim Piro

"This is a showcase to see how they perform, to test how they work in the environment, and to see how they get used," said Piro. "And frankly, when people bring their electric vehicles, they can show their wares."

The latter point hints at a secondary goal for the project: Green energy and green tech are among Portland's targeted growth areas, and the city hopes that Electric Avenue might inspire much more than the existing EV enthusiasts and flash mobs of dancers who showed up yesterday (yes, to Eddy Grant's Electric Avenue).

Namely, the city hopes to lure companies looking to assemble electric cars or components close to a pilot market, or automakers planning to test or launch their electric vehicles, and convince them to do it first in Portland.

Electric Avenue is also slated to be an important waypoint along a future "electric car tourism" corridor, ranging from Vancouver, BC, all the way south to Bend, Oregon. That could open as soon as early next year, and there are further tentative plans to extend the series of chargers south to the California border.


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