The student news site of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology


The student news site of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology


The student news site of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology


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Driving to the future

Environmental Impact Club plans to introduce electric vehicle chargers
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Tesla, a popular electric vehicle company, provides charging stations for their cars. “The biggest issue out of all of the ones presented here isn’t administration; that will be solved with time. It’s money. The grant is amazing and a great step forward, but, unfortunately, it costs a lot more than $3,000 to install chargers,” sophomore Kyungsup Hwang said.

Road transport accounts for 45.1% of global carbon dioxide emissions, totaling to roughly 3.6 billion metric tonnes. However, through the use of electric vehicles, the IEA’s Energy Technology Perspective report suggests that we can reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2070. In fact, the European Union, United States, China, Japan and other regions are expecting to phase out conventional vehicles entirely by 2040.

However, for the time being, CO2 emissions are only growing. As CO2 emissions increase, the drive for sustainable practices follows. Jefferson’s Environmental Impact Club (EIC) works on ways to keep our community green. Their past accomplishments include adding compost bins in Jefferson’s cafeteria and planting wildlife around campus. EIC’s latest objective involves trying to install chargers for electric vehicles (EV chargers) in Jefferson’s parking lot.

Planning for the project originally began in 2014, by Sishaar Rao, a Jefferson alum from the class of 2017.

“A teacher that I was close with actually suggested the idea,” Rao said. “It was a wild idea that came out of nowhere, and I was thinking ‘I want to work on something that I can own and see grow.’”

Our World in Data presents an infographic on Global CO2 emissions. “We hope to have some impact on our community,” sophomore Kyungsup Hwang said. “If we can switch to electric vehicles, maybe we can encourage other areas to do the same.” (Our World in Data)

Mission and History

Although the project seems on-brand now for Jefferson’s constant innovation, the idea was quite radical at the time.

“Electric vehicle charging back then was also different,” Rao said. “Even though there were established brands in the game, there weren’t a lot of chargers around, and it was still a relatively new idea that was super intriguing to us.”

Rao’s years in the committee accomplished the largest hurdle so far; passing legislation to allow for schools to actually implement EV chargers on campus.

“The problem was that schools are a public entity, and they have restrictions on what they can sell,” Rao said. “The School Board wasn’t in a position to ‘resell’ the electricity needed for the EV chargers to schools.”

Rao worked with David Bulova, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, and found that they could add an amendment to an existing bill that allowed for the installation.

“The bill was voted on unanimously, which is crazy,” said Rao. “That happened in the last three months of my senior year, so that’s as far as we got. We couldn’t take further steps due to the whole thing not being legal.”

This legislation opened up the pathway for EV chargers to become more and more common, its impact spreading much farther than Jefferson.

“Once you get the bill passed in one place, it can get passed in a lot of other states,” Rao said. “It wasn’t a monetary or physical bill, it was purely a bill saying, ‘Hey, this is possible now.’ It’s a small achievement, but it opened the floodgates for more progress to come.”

This year, the club’s meetings focus on the monetary aspects of the project.

“Last year we did a bunch of things with the school board and this year we’re trying to narrow down the budget plan,” sophomore committee cohead Nishka Shah said. “The very first step of approval we need is to talk to the activities office and the finance office to figure out the mechanics of this whole thing. We have to work with them to change our plans and adapt our plans. This is a collaborative process.”

EIC meetings are formatted so that each student gets to work in the committee of their choice, and each day is focused on getting something done, even if it’s small.

“We discuss current progress and opportunities and factor them into deciding what the goal for that specific meeting is,” sophomore committee cohead Kyungsup Hwang said. “If we want to email someone new or look into something we hadn’t before, we work on that. A large part of meetings is researching possible outreach opportunities and getting more information on what we can and can’t do in terms of EV charging.”

These outreach opportunities connect EIC to corporations that can aid in installation and even provide funding.

“Supervisor [John] Foust told us about a really interesting program called ChargeUp Fairfax,” Hwang said. “They’re working on installing EV chargers in residential homes, and even though installing EV chargers on private property is a lot different from installing one on school property, we can still reach out to them for legal and financial advice or aid.”

These outreach opportunities often build on each other, making one contact point lead to another and another.

“It’s a step-by-step process,” Hwang said. “The people that we contact usually direct us to others who can help, and we end up following this path to corporations or businesses who can help our cause.”

Even though progress is made each meeting, installation has been delayed due to administrative forces and getting approval to implement these EV Chargers.

“We’ve talked to a few members of the school board, as well as local officials like Superintendent Reid and Supervisor Foust, and they’ve agreed that it’s a good idea,” Hwang said. “The only problem is we have to keep going up the chain to get actual confirmation, and it’s hard getting the county to approve it. It’s a lot of emailing and paperwork to get access to things like permits and financial aid, but we’re expecting to get there soon.”

Finances and Usage 

Another difficulty slowing this process down is funding. According to the United States Department of Energy, it costs approximately $60  per month to charge just one electric vehicle and approximately $600 per connector to a Level One charger, $1,300 for a Level Two charger, and anywhere from $20,000 – $60,000 for a Level Three charger. EIC aims for Level Two chargers, but is considering Level One chargers due to costs. 

“My understanding is that there was legislation enacted to permit the installation of charging stations on school property, and in my first couple of years here I actually know that some came out,” principal Ann Bonitatibus said. “The costs seemed a bit prohibitive for the student group.”

Expenses are critical when considering the use the chargers will get.

“Part of the concern is that there won’t be enough use out of the chargers to justify the cost,” Hwang said. “Many students either can’t drive, don’t own a car, or opt to use bus transport provided by their county rather than drive for an hour. Out of those who do use a car, we don’t know how many actually have electric ones.”

In a survey that tjTODAY conducted, 68.2% of Jefferson students take the bus provided by their county, even if they own a vehicle. In addition, 40.4% of the respondents who actually own a vehicle, and only 8.3% own an electric one.

“It’s slightly inconvenient to buy an electric car over a normal one, especially because of the wait time,” electric vehicle owner senior Ashley Lo said. “When I bought mine, there was a certain waiting period for pretty much every car. I think I waited close to four months for my car to arrive after placing the order.”

For many families and students, convenience is key when it comes to choosing a vehicle.

“If your gas-powered car is running low or something, you just pop into a gas station quickly and wait a couple of minutes, and then you’re good to go,” Lo said. “But with an electric vehicle, if your charging dies you’re pretty much grounded for six hours. I know that there are a lot of superchargers popping up, but if you’re too far from one there’s not anything you can do.”

While this is true, there are scenarios where an electric vehicle can genuinely be a better opportunity for those looking to purchase. 

“I think it depends on what you’re looking for,” Lo said. “I don’t take big, long road trips. I just drive to school, drive to [crew] practice, and then drive home. It works for me, and I do like that it helps the environment, so I think that if you can then it’s a good opportunity to invest in one.”

However, even with this perspective, not a lot of usage is expected to come out of the chargers.

“I charge at home and I have enough range to get to school, so I don’t think I would use them on a given day,” Lo said. “I would understand using the chargers if someone’s range is low or if they lived a little further away from school. I think it would be good for those people, but most people I know that own an electric car also have a charger installed at their house and could charge overnight.”

If EIC does manage to get these chargers installed, they expect few issues, excluding costs.

“There’s honestly no maintenance,” Lo said.  “I got it installed close to three years ago, and outside of purchasing the charger and having it delivered, that’s it, we’ve had zero issues.”

EIC consistently collects its data through surveys and other methods to stay aware of costs and whether or not this installation is realistic. 

Future Plans

“It looks like a larger percentage of people want electric vehicle chargers than you might think,” Shah said. “We’ve sent out forms and we’re trying to get a lot of people to collect data because those statistics help us when we submit budget approval forms or try to convince people, like the school board, to give us money or donate for the charging stations.”

To combat the lack of use expected, EIC plans for educational activities to make others more aware of the effects of electric vehicles.

“We want to have some more educational opportunities this year, maybe at Techstravaganza or related events that focus on EV charging,” Hwang said. “We can’t install EV chargers at school unless Jefferson students use them.”

While there have definitely been setbacks, this project has come a long way from where it started. Since its beginning, EIC has organized and proposed a budget, made connections with FCPS officials and other businesses, and even allocated a grant of $3,000 from a Jefferson alum. The club’s current goals are to seek more local approval and apply for more grants. 

“This all started as just an idea and a couple [of] emails,” Hwang said. “Now, it’s a living, breathing project that we can look forward to seeing come to a reality on the school campus.”

Upon hearing the progress that EIC has made, Rao was thrilled that the project didn’t die out after his senior year.

“The fact that there’s now a grant and all these extra efforts on top of that is amazing to see,” Rao said. “Back then it was just me and one other person, so to see it grow like this is genuinely awesome.”

Although the steps taken so far have brought the idea of EV chargers closer and closer to reality, the amount of work left to be done places the physical addition of EV chargers in the far future.

“We’ve gotten so much closer, but these chargers definitely won’t be implemented for the next couple of years. Change can take so long that I feel maybe two years at the minimum, but that’s depending on how quickly we can get ideas approved,” Hwang said.

As the popularity of electric vehicles increases, this goal becomes more realistic.

 “We knew EV chargers were coming even back in 2016,” Rao said. “EV stations are going to start becoming more and more common, and even if the idea of chargers at a school seems crazy now, soon they won’t even be something that noteworthy.”

Throughout it all, the possibility of EV chargers takes EIC one step closer to its goal: making Jefferson as green and eco-friendly as possible. 

“We’re trying to make EV charging more accessible to the school and student communities in the hopes that it’ll encourage more people to use electric vehicles as they become more popular and less expensive,” Hwang said. “It’s about spreading awareness as to how everyone can do little things to help our environment and help reduce CO2 emissions.”

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