EV technology plugs into the last frontier | Local company


AJ’s OldTown Steakhouse & Tavern, a roadside restaurant for travelers, has just made history in America’s adoption of electric vehicles, including in remote places like remote Alaska.

Alaska’s first ultra-fast electric vehicle charging station opened on September 23 at Restaurant Homer, which is more used to promoting prime rib, truffle fries and cocktails.

“We are very proud to be part of the start of the Alaska Electric Highway,” said Adrienne Sweeney, co-owner of AJ’s Steakhouse.

Now, AJ’s is enjoying the convenience of fast-charging technology in its parking lot for an enthusiastic group of registered EV owners in the Last Frontier, of which there are 1,500 and growing.

FreeWire Technologies of California, which developed the EV charging station, partnered with AJ’s, which had received a grant from the Alaska Energy Authority for a fast charger project. The restaurant also had to invest in the project in addition to receiving the grant money. The authority provided a list of shortlisted suppliers for the project.

The installation is part of the authority’s larger plan to facilitate a corridor of fast-charging stations from the Kenai Peninsula to Fairbanks. “At the end of the day, they’ll be like gas stations,” Curtis Thayer, director of the Alaska Energy Authority, said of the technology. “We need electric vehicle charging stations just like we need gas stations. “

In addition to Homer, fast-charging stations are provided at roadside reception sites along a 515-mile stretch. Locations are in Seward, Soldotna, Cooper Landing, Anchorage, Chugiak, Trapper Creek, Cantwell and Healy.

FreeWire works with two other host sites, which are located in Soldotna and Cooper Landing. Other commercial vendors, including Siemens and ChargePoint, will install fast chargers at the other sites.

The goal is to make the network of fast EV charging stations fully operational by summer 2022.

As a result, AJ’s Steakhouse & Tavern is no longer just a local institution serving the little Homer (5,709) and vacationers, but a destination in Alaska for electric vehicle owners.

“Electric vehicle drivers drove by all morning. They are very excited about it, ”said Rob Anderson, director of business development at FreeWire of a recent ribbon cut to commemorate the installation.

Officials from FreeWire and the energy authority were on hand for the celebration, along with a mobile audience of electric vehicle drivers passing through the steakhouse for the event.

“Drivers come from different parts of the state. Typically, if you are visiting Homer, you must wait seven hours for your vehicle to charge. Now they can turn around in 45 minutes, ”Anderson said.

That’s about enough time for a sit-down meal at AJ’s, which relies on visits from electric vehicle owners to recharge business.

A Covid diagnosis in August put the restaurant on hold until everyone could be tested. Today, the restaurant is on a new path towards economic recovery.

“We had several vehicles that used the station at the grand opening,” said Sweeney, who co-owns AJ’s steakhouse with her husband, Alex.

“My great-grandmother had the first gas station in Homer, and she and her husband had the first car,” she said. “It’s nice to see this happen. They could never have imagined it.

10 minute charge, 100 miles

Connection to the charging station is free for the moment at AJ’s. Drivers are expected to pay a fee for the power supply, after some initial data has been collected by restaurateurs.

Charging an EV can take a whole day or overnight with conventional plug-in technology. But 10 minutes plugged into FreeWire’s fast charger can power an EV for 100 miles.

FreeWire uses battery storage and existing low-voltage power sources to provide super-fast charging for electric vehicles while reducing electricity costs for host sites, like AJ’s Steakhouse & Tavern.

“If you were plugged directly into the network, there would be incredibly high request charges,” Anderson said. “Because we charge directly from the battery, we are able to eliminate these high costs. “

FreeWire is bringing its in-battery technology to rural communities like Homer, where electricity is supplied by a series of low-power microgrids. The objective is to demonstrate the durability of its fast charging stations in an extreme environment.

FreeWire’s electric vehicle fast chargers in Alaska have a thermal management system that has been tested to operate at 30 degrees below zero, Anderson said.

The company has similar projects around the world. Energy company BP is an investor in FreeWire, deploying EV fast chargers at service stations in the UK. FreeWire’s fast chargers are also found in Nevada at a solar-powered site with no utility infrastructure.

Reduce barriers to EV adoption

Installing fast-charging stations is part of the Alaska Energy Authority’s goal to reduce barriers to electric vehicle adoption statewide.

“Building this fast-charging corridor in Alaska is helping support the growth of electric vehicles statewide,” said Curtis Thayer, executive director of the Alaska Energy Authority.

In June, the authority awarded nearly $ 1 million in grants to support the installation of conventional chargers and fast chargers at the nine sites. There are plans to locate a fast-charging station every 50 to 100 miles along the route.

The funds come from Alaska’s part of a nationwide legal settlement with Volkswagen in a vehicle emissions case.

Dimitri Shein, executive director of the Alaska Electric Vehicle Association, a statewide group of electric vehicle owners, said members are keen to see the network go fully online.

At the same time, he questioned the authority’s decision to set up a road corridor of charging stations operated by different vendors. FreeWire is just one of the vendors that will provide the technology.

He said electric vehicle drivers may need to install different apps to use the different charging stations along the route. “There can be different ways of processing payments, and if a station goes down they will be maintained differently, with different response times,” Shein said.

But Thayer said, “It was never meant to be a one-size-fits-all process. We want the individual site host to identify the companies they want to work with.

“The site hosts have also invested in the facilities. It’s not just this grant. They have offered their properties and pay a portion of the costs, ”Thayer said.

The authority also has the opportunity to see how the different providers behave. The authority can collect the data to better understand the use of the system.

Tech companies are in a high-stakes race to be the first to dominate the emerging market for ultra-fast electric vehicle charging stations in the United States, including Alaska. Tesla is deploying in-battery technology for one or more fast-charging stations in communities across Alaska.

The Alaska Energy Authority plans to continue its partnerships with private companies to help fund the expansion of fast-charging stations for electric vehicles.

The authority is considering seeding facilities in Tok, Glennallen and Delta Junction, as well as possible projects in Southeast Alaska.

“We would like to see the corridor develop as long as there is funding and interest,” Thayer said.

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