Thursday, April 28, 2011

More SF Bay Area Charge Stations....some work

Once again, charge station serendipity.
I arrived a couple of days ago at the parking garage beneath One Montgomery Tower in the LEAF with Peter Van Deventer, Dutch EV guru, and a couple of professors from Holland. Jay Friedland, Plug In America Legislative Director, followed in a RAV4 EV with some more profs, who had come to learn about California's EV efforts. Lo and behold, we spy two Coulomb J-plug/120V units, one with a plug-in Prius conversion plugged in. I waved my Coulomb card only to find the unit gave us a fault and wouldn't release the J-plug. The other unit however, was in working order and I plugged the LEAF in.

As we walked away, pleased to have given this unexpected real-world demonstration of public charging to the visiting Dutch scholars, we saw a Tesla plugged in to a
random 120V outlet. Believe it or not, and we didn't, there were two plug-in cars in the lot before we even arrived!

Later I checked, and the charge stations do appear on the Coulomb/ChargePoint America maps. They are listed as "Not Available" and "Free." (This is of course a pay garage.) I suspect the map hasn't caught up to reality on the ground.

Last week I went to the opening of the charge stations at a new San Rafael municipal pay lot at 900 C St. Two Coulomb J-plug-only units located right by the entrance. A grand opening ceremony attended by the mayor saw many EVs, although only one could charge at a time, as one unit here didn't work either. Furious phone calls during the event couldn'tget the machine to allow the juice to flow after waving the Coulomb Card.

We'll see how this all plays out, but in the short term, the added technical complexity of these charge stations that require activation with RFID cards dependent on
remote connections not only add a barrier to usage they present another point of potential failure. For now, drivers and the EV project broadly speaking, would be better served if one could confidently arrive and simply plug-in, as you can at some charge stations - public chargers upgraded to J-plugs, for instance. Like the one I used yesterday at the Vallejo Ferry Terminal. Once The EV Project (the other DOE-funded program) charge stations begin to appear (hello Ecotality, anybody home?), will Coulomb cards work, or will drivers need to collect every network's proprietary card?

Now I learn from fellow LEAF driver and long-time EV driver Danny Ames (he loved his Th!nk
City, too, and also built a conversion) of yet more ChargePoint America charge stations. A brand spanking new South San Francisco municipal parking garage one block off Grand Ave. sports four J-plug/120V units. Three are currently listed as "Available" and "Free." (Metered pay parking.) One is "Not Available." (I won't presume why.) There's a great Korean restaurant near there. I'll visit soon.