GEM electric vehicles.
First pair of GEM neighborhood electric vehicles awaiting delivery as part of Delaware beaches demonstration program.

Delaware Beach Communities Go Electric!

Report on Delaware beaches electric vehicle project.

By Michael Laughlin

The beaches of the Atlantic coastline in southwestern Delaware represent a significant tourist attraction for the State. However, where you find tourists you will usually find traffic a lot of it, especially during the summer, and where there are traffic problems, there are usually air quality problems.

To preserve the tourist-friendly nature of the beach corridor, the State of Delaware is sponsoring a program to introduce low-speed electric vehicles into fleets at strategic locations along the beach, with an eye toward expansion of the electric vehicle concept throughout the beach corridor.

What is the Issue Here?
"The State of Delaware offers one of the finest expanses of sand beaches on the East Coast," said Suzanne Sebastian, Energy Program Planner for the Delaware State Energy Office. "For this reason, our beaches serve as a vacation hotspot for the Mid-Atlantic region."

The Delaware beaches receive more than six million visitors each year. The Delaware beach corridor is an area adjacent to State Route 1 and bounded by Primehook Beach Island State Park in the north and Fenwick Island in the south along State Route 1. The corridor¹s high visitation rate results in "stop-and-go" traffic congestion during the summer vacation season (May through November). This in turn produces unhealthy regional air quality levels and dramatically increases summertime fuel consumption within the State. Although not monitored by the State, it is likely that localized concentrations of CO and toxic VOCs along this corridor in the summer months exceed national standard levels.

What Can Be Done?
"We feel that wide-scale use of electric vehicles offer one possible solution to the congestion and pollution problem for the Delaware beach corridor," according to Michael Panich, Chairman of Antares Group, Inc., a Maryland-based engineering consulting firm. "Beachgoers could use electric bikes, neighborhood electric vehicles, and on-highway electric vehicles for their local and inter-beach community travel needs, resulting in reduced vehicle emission levels and improved energy efficiency."

The use of EVs would displace conventional vehicles from Delaware beach corridor roadways and highways, thereby reducing total highway vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) for this transient, petroleum-fueled vehicle population.

From an operational standpoint, the summertime beach environment is very conducive to electric vehicle operation since EV batteries operate better at warmer temperatures and the generally flat beach terrain results in lower overall power needs. In addition, photovoltaic recharging can serve as an electricity source to recharge EVs given the preponderance of sunlight available at the beach.

Beach communities are also favorable to the more limited operating ranges of EVs given their small size and the short trips typically taken by vacationers and year-round residents. Further, electric bikes and NEVs are especially effective for boardwalk or dedicated roadway use and compliment the often-limited parking availability at beach locations. In fact, several of the southern beach communities already incorporate dedicated wide roadways for bike traffic along State Route 1.

From a viewpoint of technology commercialization, the beach communities offer several advantages for EV technology and use. First, EVs and their zero emission operation support the public¹s perception of a pristine beach environment. Second, in terms of promoting new technologies like EVs, the beach community and its substantial and varied seasonal population is an excellent market testbed. Vacationers are generally open-minded to trying new things, and the use of EVs during their vacation stay directly associates this new technology with an enjoyable experience, possibly leading to future use.

What is Delaware Doing?
Through program funding through the U.S. Department of Energy¹s State Energy Program, the State of Delaware (through the Division of Facilities Management, Energy Office) has begun the EV Beach Community project with the assistance of the Antares Group to demonstrate the use of small NEV¹s and bicycles in strategic fleets in the beach corridor. According to Mr. Panich, "The ultimate goal of the EV Beach Community concept is the progressive establishment of a large-scale EV market and population and an accompanying recharging infrastructure along the Delaware beach corridor."

This will be accomplished by first establishing EV use in a limited number of "incubator" fleets as initial footholds in the small beach communities comprising the larger integrated Delaware beach corridor. These so-called incubator fleets have optimal characteristics for EV use and high visibility for the beach public, and could effectively promote EV use within the beach community. The purpose of the EV incubator fleets is to jumpstart the widescale use of EVs in these small communities eventually resulting in a fully integrated beach corridor with extensive recharging infrastructure to allow intra- and inter-community EV travel.

A total of four NEVs and twelve bicycles will be purchased in two phases under the funding allocated for this project. To date, three NEVs and five bicycles have been purchased under the first phase, with the remaining vehicles to be purchased in late spring 2002 under the second phase.

The NEVs are Global Electric Motorcars (GEM) vehicles. In this project, the long-bed utility, the short-bed utility, and the two-seat passenger GEM vehicles are being used. The bicycles are Smith & Wesson patrol bicycles with ZAP electric power packages, with extra battery packs to allow uninterrupted use of the bicycles. These vehicles have been placed with the Dewey Beach Police Department, the Bethany Beach Police Department, Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware Seashore State Park, and Holts Landing State Park.

In 2002, the State is researching the possibility of using photovoltaic panel installations at one or more State Parks to recharge the batteries of the electric bicycles.

These vehicles will be used for a variety of short-distance tasks, including park maintenance, beach patrol, and parking enforcement, replacing much larger conventional vehicles in most cases. The vehicles will have high visibility with the public over the summer season. The vehicles have already been displayed at Delaware¹s National AFV Day Odyssey event held in Dewey Beach on April 11, and will be displayed at other events as opportunities present themselves.

As this project was begun in October 2001, the NEVs and bicycles currently in service have seen relatively limited service. However, current project plans are to collect operational data for all of the vehicles throughout the summer 2002 season, and to present the findings of this data collection activity in a written report to be released at the end of 2002.

Current projections indicate that the Phase I vehicles will accumulate over 10,000 miles over the summer 2002 season (bikes and NEVs). The Dewey Beach and Bethany Beach NEVs were not used over the winter season, but the Cape Henlopen NEV has been used throughout the winter months for general park maintenance without any significant operational issues. As Sam Charles of Cape Henlopen State Park indicated with respect to their NEV, "We¹d love to have five more of these!"

The project concept has applicability for expansion in beach communities throughout the U.S., and it is hoped that this concept will be employed throughout the Delaware beach region. [For more information on this project, please contact Suzanne E. Sebastian, Energy Program Planner, Delaware State Energy Office at ssebastian@state.de.us (302) 760-2565, or Michael T. Panich, Chairman, Antares Group at mpanich@antaresgroupinc.com, (301) 731-1900.]

Times Article Viewed: 6745
Published: 25-May-2002


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