Science Cafe will discuss how N.H. can boost electric cars – assuming it should, of course

  • The Tesla charging station at the Hooksett northbound rest area of I-93. GEOFF FORESTER

  • An electric car charging station is seen at Granite State Credit Union in Tilton on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • A typical Tesla Powerwall battery assembly in a home connected to solar panels. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 9/23/2019 4:59:00 PM

When Science Cafe New Hampshire takes up the subject of electric vehicles tomorrow in Concord, it will be the third time we’ve chewed over this topic in the program’s nine years of lively discussion amidst food and drink.

But it won’t be a rehash of past chats because the transportation landscape has changed. Expect a lot less “Teslas are cool!” and a lot more “How can New Hampshire take advantage of the demise of the internal-combustion engine?”

As always, it will be driven by audience questions – Science Cafe is a discussion, not a lecture. So, yes, you can talk about cool Teslas if you want but you can also talk about how, why and whether we should be encouraging electric vehicles.

New Hampshire isn’t exactly an electric-car leader. In 2018, there were about 1,120 new electric vehicles registered in the state, or roughly 2 percent of all vehicle registrations but that includes plug-in hybrids, which often run on gasoline. We have just 10 public fast-charging stations in all of New Hampshire, of which 5 are for Teslas only.

The incentive for scheduling this topic as we head out of our summer hiatus is the ongoing discussion about how to spend our portion of the money Volkswagen coughed up to apologize for rigging its diesel vehicles’ computers to cheat on emissions tests. New Hampshire is receiving $31 million, of which $4.6 million will build charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, the electron-emitting version of gas pumps. Our panelists are members of the committee that has been studying the issue.

“There was one big question: Do you do destination charging, or do you do it along the route?” said Pete King, an environmental engineer and a member of the committee.

Destination charging is the term for putting up charging units at the place people want to be, such as restaurants or hotels. Route charging is more like a traditional gas station and involves charging stations – usually bigger and faster units – sprinkled along interstates and other travel routes.

“I am a huge fan of destination charging. I like to charge up when I go someplace,” said King, who has owned a BMW i3 electric car for years. He says, however, that he has been mostly outvoted: “The committee seems to think we need to put them on the interstates so people can travel around the country in their EV’s.”

There is, King admits, one good reason for this: Money.

“Interstate charging is a lot more expensive. A ski resort, let’s say, can put in 220-volt chargers at $500 to $1,000 per charger. That’ll charge up most cars in 6 to 8 hours. The interstate charges are $100,000 to $200,000 to put in high-voltage DC for fast charging, because of the electrical infrastructure that’s needed,” he said.

There’s an extra wrinkle to this topic: Public charging is less important to electric car owners than those of us driving ICE (that’s “internal-combustion engine”) vehicles might think.

With a gas car you always need nearby accessible gasoline infrastructure or else you’re stuck. That’s not the case with an EV (electric vehicle).

If you own a home or have a condo/apartment building with chargers in the garage you probably don’t care about public charging. You can “gas up” every night by plugging in.

Many EV owners never go to a public charging station at all, and regard this as one of the hidden benefits of an electric car. It’s also why the convenience-store industry isn’t a fan of electric vehicles; a lot of their sales happen at gas stations.

Public charging stations are important partly because they reduce “range anxiety” and make it easier for people to buy electric cars. They’re also a tourist lure: Nobody’s going to drive here from Montreal or New York and spend money if they’re afraid their EV will run out of juice on the Kanc.

Electrifying transportation is one of the major steps we’re going to have to take to limit the effects of climate change, so this topic has legs. Who knows, maybe we’ll be talking about it again in a few years?

By the way, don’t forget that reservations are required because we fill up the meeting room: call 225-7665. Seating preference will be given to people who buy the $18 buffet dinner, because it’s hard to eat standing up.

Science Cafe NH Concord: “Supporting electric vehicles in NH.”

As the state decides how to spend its VW settlement money on charging stations, we’ll have a casual discussion about how the state could spur more electric cars – and whether it should. Panelists include Peter King, NH-BIA; Charlotte Ancel, Eversource; Brianna Brand, Clean Energy NH; Christopher Nihan, Chargepoint.

Where: Makris Lobster and Steak House, 354 Sheep Davis Rd. (Rt. 106). Reservations are required – call 603-225-7665. Seating preference will be given to people who buy the $18 buffet dinner, so others should be prepared to stand if we fill up, as we often do.

When: 6 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 25.

For more information:

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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