Add this one to the string of hurdles General Motors faces on the road to a profitable Chevy Volt: Deploying public charging stations. While startups Better Place and Coulomb Technologies are building business models around dotting city streets with charge points for electric vehicles, GM sees public charging stations as one of the more challenging pieces of infrastructure for plug-in vehicles.
Mark Duvall of the Electric Power Research Institute and Bob Hayden, clean transportation adviser for the City of San Francisco, agree. Joining Volt vehicle line director Tony Posawatz in a call with reporters this afternoon, they said that while residential and workplace installations will be easier and cheaper to deploy than curbside stations, public charging is a must-have for mass adoption of plug-in vehicles — especially in cities where few drivers have garages.
“We know we need it, for people who don’t have dedicated parking,” Duvall said, but “we’re not sure how we’re going to handle it.” He put out three options: Municipalities, utilities or startups will tackle the challenge (and assume the risk of investment). Wariness of how to proceed with this infrastructure could work out OK for the Coulombs and Better Places of the world. Take San Francisco: Hayden, calling on-street charging “extremely challenging,” said the city is working on the lower-hanging fruit of publicly owned parking lots and garages. For a larger regional charging network, San Francisco Bay Area city governments have enlisted the two startups to work on pilot projects.
While GM could be happy to hand off curbside charging to Better Place, it’s not too keen on the startup’s scheme of standardized, swappable batteries. “If I went up to [GM's] Tony with a two-foot-by-two-foot battery and said, here, stick this in your car,” Duvall said, “he’d tell me where to stick it.”