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Berkeley Lab to Offer Workplace Electric Vehicle Charging

Other sustainability initiatives include higher waste diversion and more energy efficient buildings.

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Other sustainability initiatives include higher waste diversion and more energy efficient buildings.

At Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where the nation’s top battery scientists are working to achieve revolutionary advances in battery performance, electric vehicles (EVs) are not just a technology of the future. Growing numbers of employees are already using them to commute to work. To encourage even more to do so, Berkeley Lab has announced that it will start offering workplace EV charging.

The workplace charging is just one of several initiatives Berkeley Lab is launching this year as it steps up sustainability efforts. This month it also started a pilot program intended to be a model for expansion across the Lab aimed at minimizing solid waste and increasing the diversion rate­—or the percentage of waste that does not go to landfill—to more than 75 percent.

“I’d like every initiative to contribute to three sustainability goals at Berkeley Lab—to effectively reduce our energy, waste, or water footprint, to cultivate a living laboratory that leverages our operating infrastructure to support Laboratory research, and to institutionalize sustainability by actively engaging Lab staff to make improvements,” said John Elliott, who was hired as the Lab’s first chief sustainability officer in 2012. “Our scientists do cutting-edge sustainability research—I want to extend that leadership in research to the operations of the Lab.”

A Lab survey in early 2012 found about 20 employees owned EVs at the time. “But we saw that we could have hundreds of EV owners over the coming years,” Elliott said. “We need to have a plan around EV charging.”

In the first phase of the plan, expected by early May, the Lab will provide about 10 spaces for slow (120 volt) charging available to permitted users at a cost of about $1 a day. One Level 2 “fast” charging station will also be made available. For Berkeley Lab program manager Nance Matson, workplace charging will mean an end to her range anxiety. She loves her Nissan Leaf, but with a range of just 70 miles for her 60-mile roundtrip commute, she can’t drive it as often as she would like. “I have to plan my commute, meaning if I’m going to go anywhere besides work and home, I can’t drive the Leaf. I have to drive the Prius,” she said. “Workplace charging would be a really wonderful thing.”

Howdy Goudey, a Berkeley Lab scientist and also a Leaf owner, thinks workplace charging could spur more people to get an electric vehicle. “There are people with commutes that can’t reliably make it back and forth in one charge, or it limits their ability to make an extra trip,” he said. “I think it’s an important thing to increase the flexibility of driving electric. Workplace charging is the second best to home charging.”

Berkeley Lab scientist and electric vehicle owner Howdy Goudey tries out a charging station that will be available to permitted employees for EV charging. Photo credit: Roy Kaltschmidt/Berkeley Lab

In the second phase Berkeley Lab plans to install about five fast (240 volt) charging stations in coordination with vehicle-to-grid research being done by scientists in the Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division. In a vehicle-to-grid system, car batteries serve as a resource to the grid, either providing power or storage in response to demand. “You can imagine a whole networked series of cars across the state that have ability to increase or decrease charge and balance out the variability associated with renewable energy sources,” said Berkeley Lab scientist Sila Kiliccote, acting leader of the Grid Integration Group.

Berkeley Lab has also joined the U.S. Department of Energy’s Workplace Charging Challenge, which seeks to increase by tenfold the number of employers offering workplace charging in the next five years. As a partner to the pledge, Berkeley Lab will assess demand and develop and implement a longer term EV-readiness plan.

More composting, less garbage

The waste diversion pilot program started in early April in Building 74, a recently renovated building which houses about 140 people, all in the Earth Sciences Division. The program’s central element is a four-bin color-coded waste diversion station placed at convenient locations throughout the building, with one bin each for composting, clean paper recycling, all other recycling, and landfill material. Additionally, paper towels in restrooms will be composted. While the Lab currently does recycle, composting is not done systematically throughout the dozens of office and laboratory buildings on the site.

“Excluding big construction projects, our waste diversion rate is typically in the 45 to 55 percent range,” said Patrick Thorson, program manager for the Lab’s Environmental Management System. “As we roll out this program to different buildings, we expect that each building is going to achieve a target of 75 percent, largely because of the collection of compostable materials.”

Employees will also be offered a menu of options for their office or cubicle, allowing them to choose large or small recycling and waste receptacles, or none at all if they prefer to rely solely on the four-bin station down the hall. Waste diversion data at the individual building level will be collected as part of the program to track effectiveness and motivate improvement. “A program like this engages the building’s occupants,” said Thorson. “Any time that happens there’s more ownership and more pleasure when you reach success.”

An additional challenge is waste specific to laboratories, such as glassware, pipette tip boxes, plastic packaging material, and disposable ice packs. The pilot program will work with research labs to identify ways to sustainably dispose of the specialty lab waste.

“This program will put us firmly on track to meet both federal and University of California sustainability waste diversion requirements and may even drive down disposal costs,” Elliott said. “We’re working towards zero landfill waste.”

Solar streetlights and more

Elsewhere, Berkeley Lab has installed solar-powered streetlights in its main parking lot and is installing advanced electric meters throughout the site, which will not only allow remote monitoring of electricity use but will also provide data to help facility managers find ways to use less of it.

Additionally the Lab has achieved LEED Gold certification on a new building (the User Support Building for the Advanced Light Source) and is designing all new and retrofitted buildings to also achieve LEED Gold, including the Solar Energy Research Facility now under construction.