Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco’s Crissy Field is situated directly beneath the majestic Golden Gate Bridge. The urban park’s shoreline promenade, sand dunes, and long grassy field are ideal vantage points to gaze at clouds sweeping in from the Pacific, across Marin’s mountains, and past the landmark bridge. As of February 2012, the park has become a destination for EV drivers to recharge their cars while they enjoy the picnic sites, hiking and jogging trails, wind surfing, and wildlife viewing.
Powered in part by solar-generated electricity (with minimal contributions from three small vertical-axis wind turbines), and completely free to EV drivers, the Crissy Field charging station started with a spark of an idea from Adopt a Charger (AaC), a nonprofit created to provide free, accessible car charging in prominent locations. “If you look at a map of where EV charging has been placed, it wasn’t serving the most attractive and interesting places for EV drivers to go,” says Marc Geller, vice president of AaC.
Most public charging stations have logically been placed near municipal buildings, in underground parking garages, and at shopping malls. But at this early stage of the electric car movement, says Geller, half the value of public charging is educational—to demonstrate EV charging locations being utilized by the public. Geller and his colleagues had been searching for a showcase spot to put its first sponsored charging station. The group provides expert advice and raises the funds—commonly between $15,000 and $20,000—to cover the costs of equipment, installation, and the three years’ worth of electricity for car charging. “The national parks are an obvious place,” says Geller.
AaC approached Laura Castellini, sustainability coordinator for the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, which encompasses places like Muir Woods, Alcatraz and the San Francisco Presidio, as well as nearly 60 miles of bay and ocean shoreline. “When Marc first came to me in spring 2011, it was an exciting idea to install a free public EV charging station,” says Castellini. “We had been talking about electric cars for our own fleet. And it just so happened that, at the time, the Crissy Field Center was working to install wind turbines.”
The Center—a partnership of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, National Park Service, and Presidio Trust—is a 7,500-square-foot urban environmental education facility that showcases recycled and reclaimed materials, solar water heating, natural lighting, and a rain catchment system. The buildings also had a 28-kilowatt grid-tied photovoltaic system and five vertical-axis wind turbines.
Soon after Geller presented the idea of EV charging to Castellini, she received a fortuitous visit from Neal Desai, associated director of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). NPCA had been working on a four-year project with the national parks that included a nearby display about rising sea levels, another one about global warming at Alcatraz, and a climate change brochure for the parks. “Neal mentioned that the conservation association had some funds left over from a previous project,” says Castellini. “I put two and two together.”
“National parks are perhaps the best place in the country to educate visitors. They can see the beauty of the places they’re trying to protect,” says Desai. “In this case, it was teaching them about clean technology. It’s great for what it does for allowing pubic charging, but it’s also a great demonstration.”
August Goers, co-owner and vice president of engineering at Luminalt, a San Francisco-based RE installer, also recognized the educational power of the idea. The 28 kW PV system is the out-of-sight “silent workhorse” of the facility, according to Goers, but the 30-foot whirring windmills and EV charging stations are front and center.