Powering an electric vehicle

20 September 2011

By Naomi Price, Contributing Editor, Drive for Innovation

One major hassle in owning an electric vehicle has got to be tracking down a place to charge the thing. What if I want to drive my (hypothetical) EV to the train station in the morning and run a few errands before driving home, and that adds up to more miles than can be driven on a single charge? A bit of quick Web research proved that while I’m worrying about this question, others are acting. Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield just recently posted an article on Green Car Reports announcing that, “Central Parking, a nationwide parking garage company responsible for 1.1 million parking spots — and its Tennessee-based subsidiary USA Parking Systems — will soon host electric car charging facilities at 2,220 of its parking garages.”

That probably solves my parking at the train station dilemma, but how about finding other charging stations? Once again, it’s covered–this time by Google. GreenBeat posted an announcement in March that “Google will display the locations of electric vehicle charging stations on its Google Maps web and mobile applications in an attempt to push potential electric car buyers to take the plunge.”

This past spring saw announcements that San Francisco will install more than 80 free electric vehicle charging stations and Boston unveiled three charging stations near City Hall. Additionally, a cartech blog article by Liane Yvkoff announced in July that Coulumb Technologies plans to install 150 ChargePoint stations in the Boston metropolitan area. The article  explains that the “planned installations are part of Coulomb’s $37 million ChargePoint America project funded by the Department of Energy. The 150 networked EV charging stations will be installed primarily within the Route 495 Beltway, and available for use by any ChargePoint member. After they are built and go online, drivers can find the stations using the ChargePoint iPhone, BlackBerry, or Android apps. TomTom GPS users will also be able to locate the new charging stations on their mobile devices. “

Heck, the Department of Energy even has a list of electric charging station locations.

So, it sounds like my fears can probably be put to rest. But what I want to know is how does this all work in the real world? I’d like to hear stories about the real-world ease or difficulty of finding a charge for your EV. Post your story in the comments field below or send me an email (naomi.price@ubm.com).

steve reich September 21, 2011 at 12:15 pm

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Need maintenance information for Volt, i.e. transmission, gas engine, electric motor, power steering, cooling, heater, AC, breaks and all other wearable items.

naomi.price@ubm.com September 23, 2011 at 9:17 am

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Here is a link to the Volt maintenance schedule as of 11/2010: http://gm-volt.com/forum/showthread.php?5561-Volt-Maintenance-Schedule

Also, here is MotorTrend’s 5-year cost of ownership breakdown for the 2011 Volt: http://www.motortrend.com/cars/2011/chevrolet/volt/base_hatchback/324/cost_of_ownership/

What I’m curious about is the cost of the electric charging. That doesn’t seem to be figured in when they give the cost of fuel.

Joe Smalley October 4, 2011 at 2:04 pm

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I commuted to work in an electric car for a couple years. What most people do not realize is that the car doesn’t just stop at end of range like a gas car. It just slows down. About a half dozen times in two years, I was unable to go the speed limit back home, but I always made it home. Published range estimates are based on holding a particular speed for the entire distance. When you reach that distance, the car will still move, although at a slower speed.

When you drive a car with a limited range, you are always looking for places to “opportunity charge.” Light poles with outlets on them, Vending machines with a dual outlet serving only one machine, RV pedestals, Espresso vendors with outside outlets, Garages with outlets on the outside, Bookstores with block heater outlets in the parking lot, etc. You create a mental map for ‘what if’ situations that may or may not come up.

I had to chain up my EV once to get home because of a surprise snow storm during work hours. Several streets were blocked with accidents. I was running the heater and defroster as I waited for the roads to clear. It was a comfort to know that three opportunity charging sites were within a couple blocks of my location. The road opened and I made it home without opportunity charging.

Rich Sanders October 4, 2011 at 2:37 pm

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Texas already awarded their new “STANDARD” competitive contract to NRG, who submitted their proposal and are now installing “EVGO” stations throughout the state, starting with the Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth metro areas.

Since they are operating in all of the ‘deregulated energy’ states, it is likely only a matter of time before EVGO stations are planned in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and the rest of the deregulated areas like Chicago. At least that appears to follow the expansion plan for offering Renewable Energy from their wind farms and solar utilities to residential homeowners with their “5% Rebate on your home electricity” plans. I found more on those at SelectMyPower .com.

The press-release directs you to the texas-centered http://www.evgonetwork.com for the details on electric plug-in vehicle locations, which I bookmarked at the time, and just now took another look at after seeing they were not mentioned in the above article yet.

It appears that the evgo charging station is being offered to homeowners as well, and the network of public stations allows NRG to provide a combined “plan” that is interesting. It includes both the home station and access to public station recharges for a monthly rate that includes the electricity. I hadn’t caught that part of the deal on first glance.

I expect there will be competitors soon as well, once there are more cars to charge, but it will be nice to see some kind of standardization of at least the ‘connectors’.

Firas Faham October 5, 2011 at 2:46 pm

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Great article and I love the idea of installing charging stations around and in parking areas.

How about redesigning the roads / highways to accommodate this feature, for example embedding tracks on the roads or highways that enable the car batteries to charge while driving?

How about having multiple batteries acting as standby with automatic battery swapping electronic mechanism?

How about the hybrid type of power source acting as a power pills in various forms?

How about a wireless car battery chargers – this may require large inductors to enable on the go high current charging of power at probably longer periods?

How about allowing a non battery operated car to be dragged by another car to make it one vehicle? How about the scalability of car battery chargers and insuring that it will be used for future cars as well, and backward?

How about adding this charging capability to the AAA or the CAA in case the car stops at the middle of the road, the car will automatically notify the closest towing agency to dispatch to the immobilized vehicle as quick as possible?

How about having a vehicles dedicated to charge these car batteries while driving on the roads and accompanying battery operated cars – they drive on the side or back – this may sound crazy but who knows?

How about providing these Rental batteries on the “Rest Areas” in the highways along with cup of coffee or at gas stations or even McDonalds or Burger King and will refund when returned back – could McDonalds expand their fortune from this industry??? Boy I have many more ideas to document…

October 5, 2011

Jeff Koch October 5, 2011 at 4:11 pm

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The way I read it, Joe Smalley is an electricity thief. He refers to using electricity paid for by others as “opportunity charging”. Unless you have permission to plug into one of those opportunity outlets, you are stealing somebody else’s electricity.

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