Solar City, Tesla Building Fast Charge EV Stations Bridging SF and LA

Leading solar power installer Solar City, Tesla Motors, and Rabobank have partnered to instal five fast-charge checkpoints for electric vehicles along Highway 101 between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The charge stations are at Rabobank branches in Salinas, Atascadero, Santa Maria and Goleta, with the fifth in a public parking garage in San Luis Obispo.

The network highlights both the increasing in-roads made by EV technology — and its major weaknesses.

The stations use ClipperCreek technology to provide a 240 volt charge, for free (that’s more than twice the volts of a standard 110 v wall socket). Right now the stations only work with Tesla vehicles, but a company spokesman said it was working with the Society of Automotive Engineers to add standardized plugs, at which point users will have to pay for a charge.

The installations are “explicitly not a proprietary network,” said Diarmuid O’Connell, Tesla’s vice president for business development, to the Times’ Wheels blog.

One of the stations, at a Rabobank location in Santa Maria, is powered by a 30 kW rooftop solar array installed by Solar City.

LA to SF — In Just Eleven Hours (Or More)

The stations should theoretically allow a clean tech mogul in a Tesla roadster with a 220+ mile range to drive from Hollywood (where his starlet girlfriend lives) to Silicon Valley (to get additional VC funding), and only have to recharge once.

Of course, that recharge would take 3-1/2 hours. Add that to normal driving time from SF to LA along 101 (about 7 hours) and you’re looking at a 11 hour trip, not including bathroom breaks. Most EVs due out in the next couple years will have ranges closer to 100 miles, which would make the trip much longer — basically infeasible.

All of which points up the Achilles heel of electric vehicles: the combination of short ranges and looong charge times.

This may prove good news for Tesla owners, however: for the time being they shouldn’t expect long lines at the new charge stations.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

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