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Students Help Bring Car Charging Stations to Evanston

The city of Evanston is about to get a little greener, thanks in part to McCormick student research.

The city announced last month that four electric vehicle charging stations will be installed in parking lots around the city through partnerships with I-Go car sharing and 350Green. Several stations will also be solar-powered, using energy collected by solar canopies overhead.

The decision to install the technology was not made overnight. Preliminary research for the charging stations actually began in spring 2011, when seniors in Mark Werwath’s Industrial Engineering Design Project course undertook a quarter-long research project in collaboration with the city.

The students analyzed traffic patterns and electric vehicle usage, researched different types and ownership models of charging stations, and set up meetings between the city and potential partners like iGo and 350Green.

In the process, they tackled a number of difficult questions. How could the city overcome the “chicken and the egg” problem that accompanies so-called “disruptive technologies” — the idea that residents resist buying electric vehicles when there are no charging stations available, and institutions resist install charging stations without any demand? How have other cities begun to integrate electric vehicle technology, and have they been successful? What could the future of electric cars look like — and how does the city stand to lose or gain?

After the quarter-long project, the students presented a 37-page report of their findings to the city’s Parking and Transportation Advisory Committee in June 2011.

A year later, when the city was ready to act on the implementations in collaboration with iGo and 350Green, the students’ research was integral, said Catherine Hurley, Evanston’s sustainable programs coordinator.

“The students were spot-on and very professional,” Hurley said. “Their work really helped us to be familiar with the technology.”

For the students, the project provided an interesting challenge inherent to quickly changing technologies: figuring out how to make recommendations when the future is extremely uncertain.

“Finding a way to provide useful information when so much was up in the air was a great experience,” said Harsha Patel (industrial engineering and economics ’12). “I also realized we were possibly the first people to do this type of analysis on the adoption of EV stations. We felt like pioneers.”

The charging stations will be located in parking lots behind the Evanston Main Library, at Central and Steward Streets, and at Hinman Avenue and Main Street.