University Embarks Upon Its Plug-In Future

March 20, 2024 By Matt Kelly, mkelly@virginia.edu Matt Kelly, mkelly@virginia.edu

It’s getting a little greener and quieter on Grounds.

The University is in the process of converting its vehicle fleet, equipment and tools to battery-powered models. Starting with a 2018 vehicle purchase from E-ride industries, about 13%, or roughly 35 vehicles, of the University’s Facilities Management fleet, are battery-powered, with 24 charging stations to keep them going.

Facilities Management’s electric vehicle usage from 2020 through 2023 has increased by 275%, which is roughly 9% of Facilities Management’s total annual miles driven.

At the same time, Facilities Management’s landscaping department has been converting to battery-powered tools.

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“We have incorporated battery-powered equipment into our operations, but have not made the leap to only having battery-powered equipment yet,” Rich Hopkins, associate director of Grounds, said. “We have battery-powered hedge clippers, a chain saw, push mowers, leaf blowers and string trimmers.” 

The shift fits with the University’s Sustainability Plan; UVA includes its fleet vehicles when measuring carbon and nitrogen footprints 

“Transitioning the University’s fleet to electric and hybrid vehicles, and supporting the development and implementation of renewable energy options, are important strategies in achieving UVA’s goals to be carbon neutral by 2030, to be fossil fuel-free by 2050, and to reduce nitrogen losses to the environment by 30% by 2030,” said Andrea Trimble, director of UVA’s Office for Sustainability.

“The emissions reductions savings associated with that buildout is enormous.”

“Electric vehicles result in a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, and their adoption decreases our dependency upon fossil fuels and helps improve air quality,” said Scott Silsdorf, director of the Department of Parking and Transportation. “Electric buses are also significantly quieter than a diesel-powered transit bus.”

Sound levels factor into the smaller tools as well. Hopkins said the battery-powered landscaping equipment is being used where noise and exhaust fumes could be an issue.

Parking and Transportation is actively seeking electric buses for the University Transit Service in a multi-year plan to transition from diesel-powered buses. The department had an agreement to purchase four battery-powered buses and associated charging infrastructure, but the deal fell through when the company filed for bankruptcy.

“The bankruptcy disrupted plans to launch operations with battery-electric buses in the transit fleet in 2024,” Silsdorf said. “Yet, goals remain for a 2030 carbon-neutral fleet and a 2050 fossil fuel-free fleet.”

Man charges his EV
Keith Payne, a senior construction administration manager, charges one of the UVA electric fleet vehicles. (Photo by Matt Riley, University Communications)

The buses that UVA was considering had an estimated range of 180 to 240 miles per charge, with a charging time of two to four hours.

“The primary advantage of battery-electric buses are lower greenhouse gas emissions, quieter operations, no exhaust emissions, more responsive acceleration with greater torque, and fewer mechanical parts, which results in less maintenance and a lower operating cost per mile over the lifespan of the vehicle,” Silsdorf said. “The primary disadvantage, compared to diesel buses, is a larger up-front cost, shorter operating range per charge and a greater range of sensitivity to temperature.”

Parking and Transportation is also replacing its fleet of support vehicles with electric vehicles that can use the same charging infrastructure installed at its headquarters on Millmont Street.

Students in a recent civil engineering course conducted by Andrés Clarens, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and associate director of the UVA Environmental Institute, worked with Facilities Management on an electric charging feasibility study. The conclusion was the University needed more chargers on Grounds. 

Sign that looks similar to a handicap sign for EV parking only
Electric vehicles have designated parking spaces where they can be charged. (Photo by Matt Riley, University Communications)

“We need to build dozens more,” Clarens said. “The emissions reductions savings associated with that buildout is enormous.”

To help, the University has received a grant of three rapid-charging stations from EVgo, a company that maintains a nationwide network of electric vehicle charging stations. The cost for four hours of parking and charging is $12.45. Vehicles parked in the electric vehicle charging spaces without payment would receive a $60 non-payment parking citation.

“The three charger locations have been confirmed and the installation process is underway,” Mike Duffy, transportation operations and fleet manager, said. “All three units will be forward-facing, for public usage. 

“One charger is being installed in the E-1 parking lot adjacent to the Facilities Management on Alderman Road. Another unit is being installed in the UVA Central Grounds Garage, adjacent to the other direct current fast charger. The third unit is being installed at UVA’s College at Wise, adjacent to Greear Gymnasium.

Setting up a charge station
Tim Ludovissy, left, a power and light trades utility worker, and Keith Greene, a high voltage electrician, install a new, public-facing charging station on Grounds. (Photo by Matt Riley, University Communications)

“Each one of these chargers is estimated at $20,000, which was funded by grants,” Duffy said. “UVA is responsible for installation, making sure they are functioning and available for any community member to use.”

Converting the University Transit Service to electric vehicles should reduce carbon emissions.

“UVA is working aggressively to cut its carbon emissions, and building more charging stations across Grounds is an easy way to slash emissions from UVA’s activities,” Clarens said. “UVA has been aggressively signing power-purchase agreements to buy clean energy from Dominion Energy and putting solar panels on some buildings. That trend will continue.”

Facilities Management is considering using the University’s in-house charging stations to serve the public.

“Most of the University’s vehicles charge at night, so there could be a win-win situation if those same chargers could be charging UVA-owned vehicles at night and faculty, staff and students could use those chargers while they’re in class or at work during the day,” Clarens said. 

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications