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You Want Electricity With That? The Electric Car Charging Problem

| Thursday October 8th, 2009 | 3 Comments

As electric and plug-in hybrid cars enter mass production in the next few years, the question of where and how these cars will recharge is on the minds of many an EV entrepreneur. The EV service start-up Better Place is just one of several seeking to roll out electric charging station networks across the country that would charge to charge, so to speak.

But given the low cost of electricity, a primary reason many are predicting a surge in popularity for EVs, business models predicated on selling electron fuel for the vehicles may fall prey to a scourge of contemporary capitalism — the spectre of free.

The problem, if it is one, lies in the fact that many businesses that would install chargers might decide it makes business sense to provide electricity for free, reports Michael Kanellos in Greentech Media:

What makes the idea intriguing is the math. Compared to gas, electricity remains a bargain. A kilowatt hour of power costs around 11 cents on average in the U.S.  An all-electric into a standard 110-volt, high-speed charger for an hour might only suck down 15 cents of power. The tab might come to $2 to $3 a 240-volt high speed charger but in that hour a car could get enough energy to go 100 miles.

Restaurants, outlet stores, banks — basically any business with a parking lot — could use free electric charging as an additional incentive to shoppers, and a way to build brand loyalty. Costco already offers free EV charging at its stores.

Tesla Motors, in conjunction with Solar City, the solar power installer, and Rabobank Bank, is building charge stations along Rt. 101 between LA and San Francisco. Currently, a charge is free to Tesla owners, as they are the only ones with the correct sockets for the chargers. The plan is to charge for other cars once the equipment is available.

But it will be difficult to really make a profit this way, when consumers have access to information on places to get electricity freely. EV Charger News has a charger finder that maps available plugs in several states, including California, Arizona, and Georgia.

Of course, not charging for power has its own pitfalls — the equipment itself costs around $30,000, a disincentive for any small business owner to provide the service for free.


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  • hsr0601

    1. The cost of running the vehicle should be 1 to 2 cents per mile, compared to 10 cents or more per mile to run a gas car.

    2. How Can An Electric Car Travel 100 Miles For $1?
    Please search http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/09/100-miles-per-dollar.php for informative details.
    3. Applied to a different methodology from DOE formula, the notable EVs suffice to reach 200 to 300 MPG .

    4. The vehicle-to-grid communication technology is helping the battery serve as a storage to prevent the costly blackout standing at about $90 to 100bn per year. That means utilities are shedding cost for additional storage facilities and ratepayers are selling electricity during peak demand so that EVs can make more economic sense, as we know.

    5. Electric vehicles require little maintenance — no oil changes, for instance –. Better still, they can charge at work, the stores offering charge service.

    6. Considered together, the atmount of emission is also much less than the counterparts.

  • http://www.mcoconnor.com Mary Catherine O'Connor

    I don’t understand why the Tesla charging stations need to wait for equipment/plugs needed to charge other car models…if other models of EVs exist, why don’t the charging devices?

    • Fred

      Different types of charging stations and plug arrays may become a thing of the past. A new type of technology known as a charging pad is gaining acceptance. While currently just becoming available for laptops, the charging pad charges the batteries of the electrical device placed on top of it. No wires or plugs need to be inserted into the laptop, and this should soon start affecting other rechargeable electronics.

      Indeed, it is hoped that this technology will prove viable to being able to charge electric vehicles, whereby it could be incorporated into the slab of parking lots and parking garages.