Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Workplace Charging 101: Level 1

The big EV news of the month was the first Tesla S deliveries. For luxury car buyers, the ground has shifted. Buying the best car now means buying the electric car. And given the range, workplace charging won’t be a big concern of Tesla S owners. But what about the rest of us?
As we try to rev up plug-in vehicle sales, what sort of charging infrastructure should we be focusing on?  Where should continuing government support for infrastructure be directed? 
Level 2 charge stations at Walgreen’s will not get asses in EVs.
I don’t mean to pick on Walgreen’s; I’ll charge there if I need to.  But the efforts to ensure charging is available to enable the takeoff of plug-in cars has become bogged down. Too much attention and too many public dollars are getting tied up in the race for public level 2.  
As we consider where limited resources ought to go, we should recall that the workplace is the number 2 location for charging after the home (where about 80 - 90% of charging will occur.) Why? Because the cars sit for many hours. 
Unlike random public locations - shopping malls, downtown parking garages, Walgreen’s - the workplace is where, like the home, many cars return to most every day.   Given the distance most commuters travel, charging at level 1 at work enables most drivers to get back all the juice expended getting to work.  Level 1 charging has the added benefit of minimal grid impact, minimal cost for equipment and minimal running cost. A full workday of 120V charging likely costs less than many other perks offered by employers. Or EV drivers could be charged a buck or two to cover the cost, although I suspect many businesses might find the cost of collection not worth the effort. 
Private companies and large public institutions are beginning to consider the issues surrounding employee and visitor parking.  Charging equipment and service providers are making their pitch, which focusses on selling what they’ve got - Level 2 charge stations and networked services. There’s is undoubtedly a role for Level 2 to play at the workplace, but it makes sense to gauge the need for faster charging before investing in costly systems. 
How could we use the logic of workplace charging to buck up plug-in car sales?  Most workplaces can’t follow the Google model, where every driver gets a Level 2 charger despite the cost and inefficiency of an EV sitting all day at a charge station long after the charge is complete. 
The workplace needs to become the place that is “ready when you are.”  A national effort to make the American workplace EV ready with access to 120V charging would be a good next step.  

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What's it gonna take?

It just might be up to us. 
Sales of plug-in cars are steady, but not overwhelming. The Volt has had to contend with the overblown battery fire incident and the production hiatus. Fisker is delivering the Karma, but not without glitches and its DOE loan is being questioned. Aptera went under. Bright Automotive went under. The press has not been kind. 
Gas prices are at historically high levels, and have become a political football, but haven’t led to a surge in EV purchases. Politicians hoping to exploit the moment spread the notion that American gasoline could flow bountifully, cheaply and forever were the boot heel of big government taken off the neck of poor oil companies. Technology has enabled access to petroleum previously unavailable, but at an unacknowledged high cost. 
This should be our moment. Many of us are driving past gas stations while others gripe and cling to false hopes. 
If we want to see more and more varied plug-in models offered, we’ve got to ensure that demand for plug-ins always exceeds supply.  That means the cars on offer have to be purchased as quickly as they are produced. If you’ve wanted a plug-in car - whether for environmental or political or practical reasons - now is the time. If you have one, it’s time to convince someone else. 
It may not be exactly the electric car you want - with more range, or more space, or more leather - but it is a pretty great car powered by electricity. With the Nissan LEAF and the Chevy Volt, you get nameplate cars that have been well-received by the press and most importantly, their drivers. With the Mitsubish i, you get maximum efficiency and cute practicality. With the CODA, you get a bit more range in a plainer package. With the Fisker, you get flash. The least expensive, the Mitsu i, could be had in some places for less than $20,000 (with tax credits and rebates) while the Karma will set you back over $100K. 
What needs to happen in 2012 to keep things moving apace? We need about 25,000 Americans who don’t know it yet to buy a plug-in car.  The best thing to do is to expose people to the reality of plug-in cars. Give rides! Let people drive your LEAF or Volt or conversion or whatever you’ve got! Host an Electric Driveway party! (http://www.pluginamerica.org/ElectricDriveWay.)  
It’s up to us. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What's up with public charging?

The car landscape of America is changing. Some places have plug-in cars. Some places have public charge stations. Some places are lucky enough to have both. 
The USDOE counts over 5500 public charge stations. Only ten states have none. 
Is there public charging where you as a EV driver want to find it? How will you find it? Will you be able to simply plug in and charge?  Will you be charged money? How much? And how will you pay?
Pretty basic questions are still being asked, and occasionally answered. But it’s a bit of a crapshoot out there. 
Three web and mobile phone apps I’m familiar with make it pretty easy to learn if there is a charge station near where you want to find one.  carstations.com, plugshare.com and recargo.com each offer the basic information you need and some degree of crowdsourcing. Plugshare brings crowdsourcing to the next level with the inclusion of people sharing their own home plugs. 
These first thousands of public Level 2 240V J1772-compliant charge locations have often been installed by Ecotality’s EVProject and Coulomb Technology’s ChargePoint America program with significant government assistance. Because of these programs, there are a lot more charging stations out there than would otherwise be. That’s a good thing. But it’s usually not as easy as plugging in your phone. Drivers are having to learn the intricacies of the differing proprietary networks, each with their own access methodology. Many are free for the time being while costs are covered by government grants, but payment is sometimes required, whether by the hour, or kilowatt hour, or session. Prices reported range from $.50 per hour to $7.40 per session.
Many of the host locations are struggling with pricing and unrealistic expectations of a significant financial return. In areas with growing numbers of EVs and public charging, the charge points are often well utilized when free - too well-utilized, perhaps selfishly, in some cases. And quite under-utilized when payment is required.  Drivers know only free beats home charging, unless you need it.  
We face a conundrum. For the near future, we want the general public to see cars utilizing charge spots so they can ask us questions and come to envision the future. Down the road, pricing will likely need to be used to ensure charger availability for those who really need it. But charging too much too soon results in empty spaces, resentment, and missed opportunities. 
While companies compete to create an industry out of public charging, the non-profit Adopt-a-Charger (adoptacharger.com) offers a different model. (Full disclosure: I’m on the Board of Directors.) No hassle, fee-free sponsored public charging at destination locations. The first installation was inaugurated on February 15 at Crissy Field in the National Park Service Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco. This will undoubtedly become the most photographed charge station in the country, given a background of wind turbines and the Golden Gate Bridge. This location was sponsored by the National Parks Conservation Association which covered the charge station and installation costs.  As additional sponsors are lined up, more public charge stations will be located within the park, including locations at Muir Woods and Stinson Beach. Contributions will be solicited from supporters to cover the ongoing electrical cost. (You can check it out on the webcam at: 
Nissan is sponsoring the next two Adopt-a-Charger locations, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Music Concourse Parking Garage that serves the DeYoung Museum and Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. 
In 2012 it is vitally important to demonstrate the popularity of EVs. Uninhibited access to public charging is good for drivers and good for the general public. By bringing together sponsors - corporate and non-profit - that want to put a stake in the ground for electric cars along with attractions like museums and parks that want to host charge stations, Adopt-a-Charger has found a way to put plug-and-play (not pay) charge stations in useful places.