July PoV

Paul Mitchell Energy Systems Network

Paul Mitchell
Energy Systems Network

Sponsored by Doug Esamann, President – Duke Energy Indiana and written by Paul Mitchell, President & CEO – Energy Systems Network (ENS)

Many would agree that the philosophy “two heads are better than one” rings true. Collaboration can breed very successful – and innovative – results. But it’s not just any combination of people; it’s a combination of the right people. Central Indiana is one region that has embraced the practice of public private partnerships to tackle one of our greatest issues: energy.

Project Plug-IN is an initiative spurred by just that kind of partnership. Energy Systems Network (ESN), a non-profit focused on accelerating the energy technology sector through innovation and collaboration, was created in 2009 – along with Project Plug-IN, its flagship initiative to bolster plug-in vehicle adoption – through the work of a combination of industry experts, academia and public officials interested in bringing energy technology advancements to the Indiana.

Launched with more than six million dollars in federal funding for vehicle and infrastructure deployment efforts, Project Plug-IN brought multiple interested parties together to begin addressing the best methods to jump-start Indiana’s plug-in vehicle sector. The region’s two major utilities – Duke Energy and Indianapolis Power and Light (IPL) – became actively involved in the project through significant infrastructure investments and developing customer offerings and pilot programs. IPL even developed the first time-of-use rate in the state for customers with electric vehicles.


Industry played a major part in Project Plug-IN’s success as well, through contributing valuable time, resources and expertise in expanding the pilot; purchasing plug-in vehicles for their corporate fleets; and hosting ride and drives for their employees. Toyota, which has two manufacturing plants in Indiana, took it one step further, joining the project to further develop and field test the next generation of plug-in cars capable of smart charging by communicating with the utility, Duke Energy.

All this activity led to stronger relationships with the parties involved, and spawned new ones. Given Project Plug-IN’s record of success, the City of Indianapolis enlisted ESN’s support in contributing to their effort to move the municipal fleet off foreign oil – ultimately leading to Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s executive order to convert its non-police fleet to all plug-in vehicles by 2025. ESN continues to broker the relationship between a new leasing company and the City of Indianapolis in this activity, by way of an innovative total cost of ownership leasing model.

As one domino fell, another followed. Thanks to Mayor Ballard’s vocal support of energy independence, the city was approached by French company Bolloré Group interested in finding its first US city to launch its successful all-electric car sharing program. Consequently, ESN was tapped again to collaborate with the Mayor. Ultimately, the group expanded to include IPL, the city’s convention and visitor’s bureau, the chamber, an international liaison group and many others to cohesively coordinate the venture.bThe end result: a $35 million investment in the city to launch “BlueIndy” – Bolloré’s first electric car share service in the U.S. Within the next couple of years, Indianapolis will be home to up to 500 electric cars and 1,200 charging stations as a result of this partnership.

There are too many implications at hand – public policy and regulatory concerns, consumer interests, technological challenges, utility and electrical grid issues – for any one individual organization to capture it all singlehandedly. At the foundation of Project Plug-IN’s success is public private partnership. Without the cross-industry collaboration at every stage of the project, we would not have had the expertise, resources and investment needed to reach our goals. The spectrum of participants ultimately brought together a solid pilot project (over 125 plug-in vehicles deployed and nearly 200 charging stations installed), and expanded partner relationships into future opportunities. Project Plug-IN is a case study that demonstrates the potential for outcomes when an organization is willing to share the driver’s seat – and ultimately change the roadway to energy independence to one with more charging stations than gas stations.