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Electric Cars in Need of Public Charging
Bringing electric vehicles to the highway has always involved more than just the cars themselves. While not as critical an electric car issue as affordable batteries or reasonable vehicle costs, building a widespread public charging infrastructure holds important psychological value. While it's known that most drivers will charge their electric vehicles overnight at home, the availability of convenient public chargers is important to add that extra level of confidence in the event additional electric range is needed while away from home. The challenge for those seeking to encourage electric transportation in the 1990s was coordinating the availability of electric vehicles with a roll out of charging stations. It was not an easy task. This report is reprinted from Green Car's September 1996 issue to highlight EV infrastructure efforts as they were unfolding at the time.
ELECTRIC CARS ARE COMING. BUT WHAT ABOUT CHARGERS?
It's one thing to bring an electric vehicle to market that's destined for fleets, and quite another to bring one to the showroom that's aimed at consumers. Both hold their common marketing challenges. But an important distinction exists. Surprising to some, it's not price, driving range, or performance... but rather, infrastructure.
Fleet vehicles typically follow predictable routes, use a central refueling (recharging) facility, and offer a degree of predictability not found in the realm of consumer vehicles. Personal cars, by nature, are used for a variety of tasks that don't always follow a set pattern. For these vehicles, overnight charging in the home will represent the predominant way to keep batteries topped off. But consumers will demand public charging stations as well, if for no other reason than reassurance that roadside charging is available in the event it's needed.
In the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area, perhaps the most important marketing region for the EV1, how many public recharging sites are now available? According to discussions Green Car editors had with Southern California Edison and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the answer is not nearly enough. But there's an intensive effort underway and the number is growing.
According to Peter Michalski, director of operations at Edison EV, "when the EV1 first rolls out we should have approximately 28 chargers installed in just the Inland Empire counties alone. And one year from now, you could conceivably see as many as 200 or more chargers, both inductive and conductive, potentially installed in locations throughout the greater Los Angeles area."
In addition, LADWP has installed "about 30 public charging stations and over 100 charging stations total" thus far, many of them at city facilities. Unfortunately for EV1 drivers, most of these are conductive systems that won't work with the EV1's inductive chargeport. The agency predicts they'll have over 100 additional public or worksite charging locations in place by the end of 1997, however, with many of these inductive to handle the EV1 driver's needs.
"We have a proposal in right now to the [South Coast Air Quality Management District] for their Quick Charge Program to partner with businesses and sites within the city to install charging stations," says LADWP's Mindy Berman. "We've had a tremendous amount of interest in putting in two inductive and two conductive connections at each site, so that we continue to support both technologies until the marketplace comes to a final conclusion as to which way it's going to go."
"The Quick Charge program is a great stimulus to getting the infrastructure deployment underway," points out Berman, "because of the way it's able to link together government and private industry. It provides an initial incentive for private companies that see an advantage to getting in on the ground floor of this industry, and being environmentally friendly, to take part at a very low cost and becoming EV ready."
"We think that will start a momentum," Berman says. "When other companies see this is becoming successful, they're going to be interested in taking part in infrastructure deployment in the future. It's a great example of very appropriate incentivizing of new technology development and bringing together public and private agencies to get the industry rolling. It's cost share funding for infrastructure deployment."
In the meantime, building the public recharging infrastructure continues piece by piece. "We're looking at partnering with large universities, event centers, malls, medical centers, studios, and existing and new parking structures where people congregate," says Berman.
Edison EV is also busily putting in public recharging sites at hospitals, movie theaters, civic centers, and restaurants. "There is a certain amount of competition beginning in that when one major shopping center hears of the effort to put in electric vehicle charging, the competitor shopping center then calls us up to not be left out," says Michalski.
Edison EV typically recommends putting in four parking places for one to two inductive chargers, leaving stub-out and power availability for two or three more, either inductive or conductive, in the future. The cost of installing a site varies considerably based on the source and location of the power, and the physical location of the charger in relation to the power.
"Typically, we see sites go in with a single charger for as low as $11,000, and for dual chargers, including additional spaces for the future, for as high as $20,000-plus," Michalski adds.
It's important to note that while public charging will be an issue as EVs hit the street, energy providers do recognize that home charging is still the preferred way of renewing battery levels. Overnight charging is crucial to utilities for effectively using excess off-peak capacity and for load-leveling. Conversely, charging at public facilities or the workplace during peak hours could work to overtax the utility when large numbers of EVs make it to the highway.
"We're trying to help people feel comfortable with the fact that there is charging out there," says Berman, "but obviously, the primary charging location is going to be the home. I think that remains an ongoing education process for consumers because of concerns about range. But as we saw with the PrEView Drive program with the Impact, consumers started to realize that their driving patterns didn't require 200 miles of range." As this realization sets in, EV drivers will likely rely primarily on home charging, accessing public chargers only when the need is real.
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