Electric Vehicle Recharging is Nothing Like Gas Stations

With several all electric vehicles now shipping in quantity, we now have the discussion turning to providing electric vehicle charging stations to support the cars. And as the owner of a Leaf I am all in favor of getting these public chargers in place. But I worry that it’s going to be done all wrong.

The need is different from gas stations. Very different.

When the telephone first came into use, businesses all had phones installed because faster communication was of great value. They immediately saw the win. But what they did was put a phone in their mailroom. Messages to other companies were still dictated, typed up, and sent down to the mailroom. But instead of a mailroom employee then running the message to the other office, they called them and dictated it.

Rather than understanding that the phone could totally change how people operated, it was first used to make the existing system more efficient. (In the case of the phone, executives started going to the mailrooms to talk directly, then they added phones to phone conference rooms, then finally to individual offices.)

My worry is both governments and private companies, as they seed EV chargers, will be thinking gas stations. And this is not what electric cars need – for two major reasons.

A full tank every morning

Assume you leave home every morning with your car’s gas tank full (or ½ full so it’s the same range as an electric). How often will you be stopping at a gas station? For the vast majority of people the answer is never. For most of the remaining people the answer is a couple of times a year when you are taking a long trip.

This is the situation with electric vehicles. You plug it in each night (takes 20 seconds). So you leave the house every morning with a full charge. You generally return home with well over ½ charge. The average electric vehicle will never need to use a public charger. Or if it does, it’s on a road trip.

The one exception to this is an individual who drives over 40 miles each way to work. They do need a charge each and every day at work. But this person does not need to find a public charger at which to top up at lunchtime, they need a dedicated charger at work. Dedicated because it will take several hours (all 8 if their one way drive is 70+ miles) to recharge. And dedicated because if they cannot get a charge on even one day, their electric vehicle is not reliable transportation.

Charging takes time – lots of time

When you stop to fill up your gas tank it takes a couple of minutes. Charging the batteries can take hours. Even the “super-fast” 440 volt recharging takes 25 minutes to go from empty to full – and you should use this fast charge only when there’s no alternative. For the non-daily commute needs, weekend kid’s soccer games, visiting family in Grand Junction, etc. – the chargers need to be located near places where the car is going to be parked for some time.

In other words, charging stations at the soccer fields may make more sense than ones placed by downtown businesses. Charging stations just off the interstate next to a number of restaurants may make more sense than ones placed in a hotel parking lot. Charging stations at airport long term parking is nice, but in short term parking it’s gigantic.

Good News and Bad News

The good news is the infrastructure needed to support electric vehicles does not require replication on the order of hundreds of thousands of gas stations. Most of Colorado (Front Range and I-25 to Grand Junction) could be covered with about 16 high-speed (440v) and 250 standard (220v) chargers. Plus individual chargers for people who have a long commute. This is a trivial cost. (One key caveat, this requires software to measure charge need/time per car to enforce public chargers being used by those who need it, not people who “top up” every stop while shopping.)

The bad news is you could well have chargers placed by people who do not understand the use case for electric vehicles. If a city government (like Boulder) installs them, the urge will be to put them in places that are highly visible. And where Boulder residents will use them. And that would be a waste of money because, by definition, residents of any given city will never need the chargers in their own city.

5 Responses to Electric Vehicle Recharging is Nothing Like Gas Stations

  1. Pingback: A Totally Unfair Comparison between the Nissan Leaf and BMW M3 | Windward Wrocks

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  3. Yes, this is exactly how Vancouver is doing it, although we haven’t installed many chargers yet in the first place.

    So far, we’ve put them in places like Science World or the Olympic Village, where politicians can point to them and say “Look how awesome I am! I put green power right here where everyone can see it! (then lock it up so noone can *use* it)” Instead of putting them where, you know, they’d be useful. Like say, somewhere in West Vancouver (or even, showck, Squamish) where people going to Whistler for the day can get enough of a charge to make it all the way.

    No, at this point, quick chargers are all about politics and photo ops, not usefulness.

  4. Electric cars are great. They’re much friendlier for the enimronvent than gas cars. Right now the best available is the ZAP Xebra:But there are many really nice EVs set to come out soon.Available in California in October 2008, the Aptera typ-1e will cost about $27,000 with a top speed of 95 mph and range of 120 miles per charge.Soon thereafter Aptera will introduce the typ-1h, a plug-in hybrid version of the typ-1e with a 40-60 mile range on purely electrical energy, and a range of over 600 miles total when in electric/gas hybrid mode, for around $30,000. On a 120 mile trip, the typ-1h will get 300 miles per gallon. The shorter the trip, the higher the efficiency.Available in 2009, the ZAP Alias will cost $30,000, have a top speed of 100 mph, and a range of 100 miles per charge.Soon thereafter the ZAP-X will be available at a cost of $60,000 with a top speed of 155 mph and a range of 350 miles per charge.Available in 2009, the Miles Javlon will cost $30,000 with a top speed of 80 mph and a range of 120 miles per charge.Phoenix Motorcars will start selling their SUT to individuals in 2009. It will cost $45,000 and have a top speed of 100 mph with a range of 100+ miles per charge.Available in 2009, the cityZENN will have a 250 mile range and 80 mph top speed. The price has not yet been set.

  5. Honestly it will never happen just like we will never be rid of vlcihees relying on oil and gas. Part of the issue with solar panels is cost the other is not enough supply for demand. The last part the overall economics just wont allow for such a drastic change. Itll be at least 100 years or more before eco friendly alternatives are in place in every house.

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