Electric car charges may never be as ubiquitous as gas stations,
but they might not have to be.
Just as airplanes changed American’s driving habits, the
all-electric car is changing how people think about driving.
Few people drive across the country, and for those who drive
across a state where electric vehicles are popular — such as driving up and down California — there are
enough chargers to make the trip for a driver who plans ahead and has time for
charging stops of 20 minutes or more instead of the five minutes it can take to
fill up a gas tank.
don’t want to drive across the country. It’s just too vast,” says Andy Kinard,
president of Car Charging
which sells car chargers.
major knock against electric vehicles is that they don’t have the range to
drive too far and that there aren’t enough fast charging stations to allow
trips longer than the typical commute of less than 40 miles a day.
How far can electric cars go?
you live in the Netherlands and can easily drive the
100 miles across the country on one charge, you’ll have to map out where the
charging stations are for your electric car. The Tesla has a range of 285 miles
on a charge, though a New York Times reviewer had problems with the how far the
car went on a charge, leading to controversy over how accurate the Times
Gary Lieber, a Nissan Leaf
owner, has heard the frustrations of Leaf owners being stuck for an hour or two
while trying to charge their electric cars. Lieber is co-founder of the SF
BayLEAFs, a group of electric car owners in the San Francisco Bay Area. He says
he knows people who have driven from the Bay Area to Southern California using
smartphone apps and an in-car navigation system to plot the course to the
nearest Leaf charger, resulting in a few long charges.
still somewhat of a pioneer thing because there’s not a full-fledged charge
network between San Francisco and Los Angeles,” Lieber says.
Not all chargers are created equal
2006 film “Who Killed the Electric
Car?” it was pointed out how difficult it was to find the right charger to fit
various electric car models.
has its own fast chargers. Japanese manufacturers, such Mitsubishi and Nissan, use the CHAdeMO standard for chargers, which
aren’t compatible with non-Japanese cars. American cars use SAE standards that all car makers are starting to agree on, so
that argument is getting solved.
problem remains with how fast an electric car can be charged. Since cars sit
idle for 90 percent or so of their lifetime, charging a car overnight in a 110
volt outlet that’s already in a garage at home makes sense for commuters,
Kinard says. The 220 volt chargers need specialized heads.
vast majority of charging should be done at work or at home, and hopefully off
peak,” Kinard says.
Nissan Leaf driver, for example, who goes beyond the 75 miles it can go on a
full charge, won’t want to sit around for seven hours while their car charges.
has 154 DC fast
the United States, compared to 2,000 in the rest of the world, and has plans to
add 500 in the U.S. in the next 18 months. But the 26 minutes they take to give
a full charge will require changes to driving habits, Kinard says.
the Bay Area Leaf owner, says he has what’s called a “level two” charger at
home, allowing him to fully charge the car in four hours, or two to three times
as fast as he would by using a regular outlet. The 10 DC quick chargers in the
Bay Area and the 100 throughout the state are free to use for now, though
eventually a per use fee will be charged, he says.
areas of the country where the fast chargers are easy to find are Texas,
Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and the “electric highway” from Oregon
to Washington state, Lieber says.
Don’t expect chargers everywhere
vehicles are popular in California, which is probably where charging companies
will start doing the most business, says Dan Shanahan, director of sales and
marketing at EVSE, which makes electric
vehicle charging products, including ones designed for public locations.
stations will become common up and down California in the next three to five
years, Shanahan estimates. Until then, electric car drivers will have to plot
out a trip like a stagecoach looked for water 150 years ago.
have to drive these cars like a milk truck. It’s a very predictable route,”
gas stations already have electricity, can’t the fast chargers be installed
there so drivers don’t have to search for charging stations on a phone
application? Charging stations would be easier to find if they had a
three-story high “Shell” sign next to the freeway.
unlikely, Shanahan says, because most gas stations are independently owned and
the small retailers can’t afford the thousands of dollars the fast chargers
states with more rural areas are less likely to have fast chargers because
there are fewer electric cars, Kinard says.
makes more sense in the city,” he says, where drivers can top off their
electric car while at work.
an electric charge can be as quick as filling a car with gas, the charging
stations will offer at least one benefit that gas drivers may not often
consider: Slowing down and enjoying the refueling stop.
with a DC fast charger, you have to sit there for 30 minutes to an hour,”
charging station had a picnic area, Internet access, store, restaurant, and
other amenities, and became more of a place to relax instead of just quickly
getting fuel and moving on, driving might become more of an enjoyable activity