Sept. 26--At some point, what started out as just another job for Vancouver electrical contractor Todd Nielsen made him believe in a new and supercharged world.
Vancouver-based ADK Electric, where Nielsen is the project manager, is building the fourth of four battery charging stations in Washington and Oregon for Tesla Motors to serve its line of all-electric luxury cars. The work has made Nielsen a fan of the cutting-edge vehicles, which include the Model S sedan, in production since 2012, and the Model X, a mini SUV for which the company is taking pre-orders for 2014 delivery.
Nielsen had heard about the all-electric vehicles before the company won the contract to build four Tesla Supercharger stations in Burlington and Centralia and the Oregon communities of Woodburn and Springfield. But he didn't become a fan until he started meeting Tesla owners all along the Interstate 5 corridor. Now he sees something special in the vehicles being manufactured in California's Bay Area, although he knows the cars are a bit out of his price range -- the Model S base price is $57,400.
But unlike his Ford 150 pickup truck, which Nielsen estimated costs him about $100 to fill at the gas pump, the Tesla Model S is free to refuel at the Supercharger stations, which have between three and 12 charging units to handle individual cars. The stations take about 20 minutes to charge a car enough to drive 150 miles using higher voltage, 120 kilowatt power. Cars can also be charged at electric vehicle charging stations or even from home outlets, although much more slowly -- a wall outlet would produce enough juice in an hour to drive just five miles.
Nielsen sees ADK as an early contributor in Tesla's strategy to build a nationwide support infrastructure for an engine-free car that, while expensive to buy, costs just pennies per mile to operate.
"I think it (the Tesla) is a look into the future," said Nielsen, now a believer in the electric-powered vehicles, viewed by many as a transformative technology.
Wall Street investors apparently feel the same way. The startup car company's stock prices have soared to astronomical heights on future demand for technology made by the company founded and led by Elon Musk.
The Tesla Model S was named 2013 Automobile of the Year by Automobile magazine, which noted the car's AC induction electric motor puts out 416 horsepower and the car blasts to 60 miles per hour in 4.3 seconds.
Musk is an inventor and entrepreneur who made a fortune as the founder of PayPal, which went public in 2002 and sold for $1.5 billion the same year. Musk also runs the commercial rocket company SpaceX, which he launched in 2002.
He founded Tesla Motors in 2003 as part of a plan, he said, to solve the problems most likely to affect the future of humanity. Among the problems he foresees are dwindling energy sources not keeping up with human demand, Musk told TED -- Technology, Entertainment, Design -- curator Chris Anderson in a video interview filmed in March 2013.
"The overall sustainable energy problem is the biggest problem we have to solve this century," Musk said in the interview.
Even with electricity that comes from gas-fired plants, the practice of driving electric-powered cars emits less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and therefore, contributes less to global warming. That's because the gas burned in a modern power plant achieves about 60 percent efficiency, Musk said. But an internal combustion engine can only reach about 20 percent efficiency.
Musk, who in 2006 also founded SolarCity, a leading residential solar provider, expects to equip many of the company's Tesla Supercharger stations with solar panels in the future, said Patrick Jones, a spokesman for Tesla, which is based in Palo Alto, Calif., and manufactures its vehicles about 20 minutes away in Fremont, Calif.
Jones said Tesla expects to have a complete network of Tesla Supercharger stations stretching from Canada to Los Angeles. It is also working on coast-to-coast routes and a route from Boston to Miami by the end of the year.
Nielsen said ADK Electric could stand to benefit from future contracts as it finishes building its final contracted Tesla Supercharger station in Springfield, Ore. He said charging up the Tesla at the Supercharger stations is simple.
"They're very self-explanatory," Nielsen said. "It's almost like plugging an appliance into an outlet in your kitchen."