Electric Car Public Charging Stations – Range Solution or Battle Ground?

By Tom Bartley (5/12/11). Electric cars were meant to be charged at home during the off peak night time hours. Depending on a public charging station is going to be a real crap shoot. As the number of plugin cars increase, the EV drivers could grow to hate each other because of competition for a charger.

To put this in prospective, even a very expensive fast charger costing in the tens of thousands of dollars may only fill at a nominal 50 kW rate at a public station. A typical gasoline pump delivers fuel at a 10 MW rate and reducing it 80% because of the inefficiency of the engine is still 2 MW, 40 times the speed of a public fast charger, if you can find one.

The EV driver will have a lot more time to interact with other EV drivers at the charging station.  There could be a new form of a club to hang out and study alt fuel vehicles, or just hang out.  In any case waiting could be the name of the game and idle time seems to be the stimulus for new entrepreneurs.

What will you do if you have plugged into a public charger and a short time later your cell phone notifies you that your charging circuit has been disconnected?  You return to your car and find:

  1. A celebrity of fame and fortune has just plugged your connection into their new PHEV or EV car. What do you do?
    1. Ask for their autograph;
    2. Smile politely and say go ahead because you will wait the hour or more for them to charge;
    3. Start a conversation and try to get a date;
    4. Call the police;
    5. Start a confrontation to get your name in the papers;
    6. Text a complaint to one or more of your elected representatives;
    7. Call your attorney and ask him to file a damages suit against everyone that remotely has anything to do with the chargers;
    8. Say “Whatever” and walk away;
    9. Say “Oh well” and drive your car to another charging location if you can find one in range or;
    10. Call your therapist and cry over the phone.
    11. How would your reaction change if it were an NFL defensive end, “Guido”, your neighbor, your sales competitor, another member of your family?

Remember the Corvette “wave” to other Corvette drivers? I think the EV wave has a chance of using only one finger on your hand.

How are public chargers going to be assigned and reserved? How is it enforced? What are the consequences? Innovators like Coulomb Technologies are addressing all these issues but they face a legal challenge.

In California it is legally questionable whether a charge station provider can charge for the kWh energy delivered.  Some electric utilities want charge station providers to be regulated like utilities, a move that is likely to kill innovative young companies.

Assemblywoman and Speaker pro Tempore, Fiona Ma introduced legislation to provide market certainty for the infrastructure that is needed to support California’s electric vehicle consumer fleet. The legislation, Assembly Bill 631, will place into law a decision by the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to not regulate electric vehicle charging stations as utilities. Assemblywoman Ma bill is strongly supported by organizations including the Environmental Defense Fund, Plug in America, the San Francisco California Apartment Association and the California Business Properties Association.

“Electric vehicles are the next generation of fuel for California’s green economy,” said Assemblywoman Ma. “AB 631 will provide the infrastructure to support President Obama’s goal of putting 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.”

Even if AB 631 becomes law, what is the sustainable business proposition for the owner of the charger? How will if affect drivers’ behavior and the power grid operation?

Electric cars and plug-in hybrids are a great addition to alternative transportation choices, but dealing with the expectations of the availability of public chargers is going to be a bit dicey. Let’s all take a deep breath and figure out a way to make this work.

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About Author: Tom Bartley

Tom Bartley is an expert about vehicles, drive systems, and energy storage. Tom Bartley has a BSEE and MSEE from Stanford University. He is a life member of the IEEE and a member of SAE. He is a director on the board of the San Diego Clean Fuel Coalition and is working with Transpower of the development of heavy-duty electric drive systems.

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