Working with Faith Technologies Inc., an electrical engineering corporation, Bergstrom Automotive installed direct-feed power lines to EV charging stations at 11 of the group's 30 dealerships in Wisconsin. They are the lone source of electricity at times of peak demand. Easy first step. Yet John Bergstrom wanted more.
In Neenah, Faith Technologies installed a microgrid, an on-site electric grid made up of solar panels, battery-storage and control software and a backup generator that uses natural gas. It's far more sophisticated than a collection of panels, Bergstrom says, and because of its storage capacity, he doesn't need to worry about sunshine in Wisconsin.
"Solar panels alone don't do you much good, unless you're in Phoenix," he said. "You have to figure out a way to save this energy and put it into a program so it's available when you need it. That's what a microgrid does. It works. It's absolutely amazing."
For the past four months, the group has used it to charge its EVs at the Neenah campus. Last week, technicians charged six vehicles in one afternoon, among them a new Ford Mustang Mach-E and a Volkswagen ID4.
Electric vehicles are perceived to be environmentally friendly, but that's contingent upon whether utility companies generate their power via coal- or natural gas-burning plants or with wind or solar panels, and that can vary widely across the country. By charging off his microgrid, Bergstrom can tell customers and employees with certainty that the vehicles are 100 percent powered by clean energy.
On a practical level, the changes allow Bergstrom's technicians to set charging times and schedule test rides for customers without regard to peak-pricing concerns. In the bigger picture, it's led to an exploration — along with We Energies and Faith Technologies — of whether the current state of the region's electric grid is capable of handling widespread adoption of electric vehicles.