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5 Misconceptions About Electric Car Charging

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NISSAN_EV8With federal and state governments, big and small automakers, utilities, and venture capitalists all dedicating increased capital and attention to building out a network of charge points for the upcoming generation of plug-in vehicles, a growing number of voices are weighing in on what’s important. The interested parties are debating where, when and how to deploy this technology, what the priorities should be and who should receive funding. Of course, many answers will have to be found the hard way — through trial and error. In the meantime, here are five misconceptions about charging infrastructure for electric cars that we learned from the folks at the Plug-In 2009 conference:

Public charge points will handle most plug-ins: “Public charging is the most visible,” Bob Hayden, chief of community and city infrastructure planning for San Francisco, said last week at the Plug-in 2009 conference in Long Beach, Calif. “But there are a lot more elements.” Speaking to a group of utility and auto industry insiders, he said, “Public charge spots — we all know in this room that that’s not the main place we want them to be charging. We want them to be charging in residences, work places during off-peak hours. But it needs to be available, visible enough for them to use.”

It’s all about fast charging: According to Nissan’s (s NSANY) Mark Perry, heading up development of the electric LEAF sedan, fast charging is critically important mainly for what the company calls “destination” and “pathway” charging — at shopping centers and along major roads, for example, for middle-to-long distance trips. “Pathway charging we think is all about fast charge,” Perry said at Plug-in 2009. But home and workplace charge points don’t necessarily require quick charging, since cars will likely be connected there several hours at a time — and these are the installations that Nissan considers “a top priority.”

Urban centers should get the early infrastructure: According to Jim Kelly of utility Southern California Edison, it’s important to have a “safety net” of chargers installed early on just outside of urban centers in order to encourage adoption of electric vehicles. These chargers won’t end up getting much use, but they can help win over drivers worried about feeling tethered to their home charge point.

Charging stations will sell electricity: In general, utilities will be the ones selling electric power, so charge point hardware makers like Coulomb Technologies have to find a workaround, as AutoblogGreen noted last week. Coulomb’s solution is to sell access, rather than electricity. Vehicle owners will pay a set rate per charging session — the same amount for “vastly different amounts of energy,” so “no one can accuse Coulomb of selling the energy,” AutoblogGreen writes. Grocery stores and other entities that pay Coulomb to install the stations will keep the single-use fees to cover electricity costs (with more to spare), while Coulomb plans to collect revenue from subscribers with pre-paid charging plans.

If you have access to an outlet with high enough voltage, you can just plug in there: Some EV enthusiasts argue that new infrastructure is not necessary to start rolling out large numbers of electric cars — after all, 120V outlets (Level 1 charging in industry parlance) aren’t exactly rare. But according to Mike Waters of Progress Energy, a utility that serves much of the Carolinas and Florida, the question isn’t whether vehicle owners have access to an outlet. Rather, it’s whether that outlet is on a dedicated circuit.

Waters explained at Plug-in 2009 that most of the customers in a large Progress survey recently had a 120V outlet within 20 feet of where they usually park their vehicle — a reasonable distance to run a cord. But less than 10 percent of those customers (8 percent in Florida and 2 percent in the Carolinas) had that outlet on a dedicated circuit. This means, Waters explained, that “something else will be turned on and will trip the circuit,” unless customers are careful.

Sure, it’s a relatively minor inconvenience to keep certain appliances off while you charge the car, but it’s one more hurdle to mainstream adoption. According to General Motors’ (s GM) Britta Gross, who heads up infrastructure commercialization, requiring a dedicated circuit to be built into every new garage would be “a big enabler for every homeowner and apartment dweller.”

30 Responses to “5 Misconceptions About Electric Car Charging”

  1. Understanding

    The debate about “cleanliness of electricity for EVs” is just noise in my humble view.
    Historically, problems are solved using “divide and conquer” strategy.
    Currently vehicles AND oil, both are unclean. EV’s divide cleanliness of energy consumption right in the middle.
    Say EV revolution succeeds, we just need to solve the other part – how to generate energy cleanly in centralized plants, no longer worrying about clunkers!

  2. larry holliday

    I cannot find the answer to the magic question!


  3. KentCourt5

    I like the idea of designing EVs, so that their batteries can be charged either via AC or DC, so that a basic solar kit, consisting of one or two standard solar panels, could be marketed for off-the-grid recharging. Then your Chevy Volt could be described as a solar-powered car, rather than a coal-powered car, for daily commutes of less than 40 miles round-trip. I have no idea if this is currently planned for — but if not, then why not?


  4. At least there is an option, and a future, for renewable energy powering an electric vehicle. There is no future for the use of fossil fuels. Delaying the arrival of EVs, like delaying the arrival of hard caps on emissions, only benefits those scrambling to maintain the status quo as long as they can.

  5. It is also in the best interest of electricity utilities that EVs are going mainstream, thereby they need to put in charge stands where needed around highways with card readers or cell phone tech.

    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 for peak hours so that EVs can make more economic sense, as we know.

  6. john McClintcck

    Recently our company has completed construction of a new building to house our business. The new building was constructed with a long range energy savings plan in mind, using SIPS panels and heavy on the ceiling insulation, radiant floor heating which will be tied into solar thermal and other heating and cooling systems such as ground source heat pumps. Since we use electric fork lifts in our warehouse and recharge them off the grid we have always wanted to have electric cars and light trucks. However, when these vehicles become available we want to be ready and plan to install a hybrid electrical system using both solar electric and wind energy to power our building and provide us with transportation. It is true that not all people will be able to develop such greens energy systems either because of space or economics. But I would like to say we all have a roof over our heads and need to look to capture the free energy that is all around us. We should not do nothing because we can only do a little, and good energy conversation is a place to start. Solar domestic water heating is a great place if you have limited funds. Just take a look at China, Germany and and many other countries around the world. Hey folk we need to get started, do something even if it is wrong! Together, we can accomplish great things. Do something for your children, grandchildren and the future generations of Americans!!

  7. Re the last argument – I do not see a major issue with having a dedicated circuit being installed in a house to charge your car. Its an investment that would need to happen – but a one off and people thought nothing of having roads and driveways ripped up to install cable or extra circuits installed for electric cookers. In fact it should be an incentive to do so, so a ‘stronger’ supply (such as used by cookers) can be used for faster charging at home. I would have thought that this would be no more difficult than installing an outside water tap, a satellite dish or cable TV. I find it a rather weak argument. I would rather the one off inconvenience and cost than the constant need to go out of my way to find a petrol(gas) station.

    I would have thought that a bigger issue would be for all those people that do not have off street parking – common in many European cities. You would not be allowed to trail a cable over the pavement(sidewalk).

  8. Alex Dinkel

    Patrick, I agree with the idea behind your statement, but I do not agree that energy created by coal plants at night is going to waste. Though coal plants do stay on all night due to an ability to start and stop quickly, they wouldn’t be running in the first place if they weren’t needed. Baseline energy suppliers like coal and nuclear are only called on by the Regional Transmission Organization (RTO) or ISO, depending on where you are in the country, if needed to meet the lowest demand. As demand rises throughout the day, more expensive and/or flexible generation is called on such as gas turbine, hydro, etc. In a grid system where all power that is being created is also being instataneously used, it isn’t really possible to have extra. The generation is controlled to match the demand as closely as possible.

    • This is simply not correct. There is a huge difference in demand day and night and power plants don’t work by pressing the accelerator. The utilities pay BILLIONS for “load management”, basically places to DUMP excess power. You’re not only paying for the power you use during the day, but you’re also paying for the power you’re NOT using at night. It’s all in the rate base.

      Jack Rickard

    • Ruvaenator

      Alex, your statement “in a grid system where all power that is being created is also getting instantaneously used” is over simplified. Their is such a thing called “spinning reserve” and also they do not want to shut down a coal, or especially nuclear power station at night, so it usually runs very inefficiently at night. the real answer is using in the near future “smart meters” and “V2G electric vehicles” and V2G plug-in hybrids. You would have the choice of charging overnight when rates are low, and supply a small amount back when the grid needs it momentarily, making back a small amount. This would be a game changer. just copy the quotes and Google to find out more.

  9. PatrickW

    There have been recent reports from a couple of universities that took the trouble to calculate how much benefit, if any, when batteries are charged from different sources such as coal fired plants, gas fired plants and others. Amazingly the efficiency of the electric motors means that even when the electricity comes from a coal fired plant there is still a CO2 reduction.
    Also it turns out that because coal fired plants cannot shut down quickly at night when demand drops charging a battery at that time is using electricity that would otherwise go to waste.

  10. Not forgetting, of course, that EVs are fully 3 to 4 times as efficient as Internal Combustion Engined (ICE) – ie petrol and diesel fuelled – vehicles. Indeed, it has been suggested that if we used only the electricity that is used to bring the petrol or diesel used in your ICE vehicle to the pump to power electric vehicles directly instead, we could leave all the fossil fuel in the ground and still have a surplus of electric energy.

    The flip side of the efficiency issue is that 75% of the fuel that you put in your ICE powered car just blows away on the wind, given off by the ICE as waste heat – and with it, 75% of the cost.

    And while were on the subject of interesting EV-related facts, any given vehicle DOUBLES the energy it uses when travelling at 70mph compared with that used at 50mph. MW

    • Gordon Gunn

      I have heard that stat of doubling the energy needed to move a car 70 mph vs 50 mph before, but I’m not sure I buy it. My car does not get double the mileage at 50 mph than it gets at 70 mph. I ran an experiment (not very scientific) where I drove to work every day at 70-75 mph for one tank of gas and noted the miles the tank lasted with the trip meter, and then did the same thing driving at 50-60 mph. It made some difference, but it wasn’t huge.

      • Gordon, I know – I’ve tried it too! Unfortunately, as you say, your experiment was not very scientific – for starters most speedos over read by at least 5 MPH at those sorts of speeds which would completely mess things up before you even start. However, if you crunch the numbers looking at the amount of power required for a given vehicle to overcome the resistance of drag on it when on motion due to aerodynamic drag, friction in the drivetrain and tyre to road surface (to name but a few) it turns out that the 50/70 mph thing is almost exactly true.

        Of course these calculations are only approximations but they would not be more than 5% or so adrift from reality. Have a look here for more on the calculating front… … all the blue bits of text expand to give you more info or allow you to tweak things. It doesn’t really matter what variables you stick in – just look at the amount of power required to do 50 mph compared with 70mph for any given gear. If you need some real gear ratios, have a look here… MW

    • Tom — Energy is used to drill for oil, ship oil, freight oil to pumps, and pump at a gas station. And we haven’t even touched on the impact offshore drilling does/can have on marine biology.

      The oil business is dirty (literally).

      With us moving towards Electric Vehicles, we’re streamlining the energy business model. Generation directly to consumer. And the opportunity to increase how much electricity is generated from wind, solar, thermal, tidal, etc exists. We are not in this position with oil.

      • Daniel LaLiberte

        Electric vehicles would probably cause greater pollution, if our electricity continues to be produced mostly with coal, a far dirtier business than oil.

        So if we are moving to electric vehicles to improve the environment, it is essential that we also decrease our use of coal, and increase the percentage of electricity generated by clean renewable resources.

      • You guys have bought into the Western Oil Industry Association party line.

        Notice no one discusses how much energy is used to refine crude oil into gasoline?

        It takes about 140kWh of natural gas and electricity to refine ONE 42 gallon barrel of crude oil into 19.5 gallons of gasoline. Gasoline ALREADY uses coal fired electricity just to become gasonline.

        In fact, this works out to 7.18 kWh per gallon of gasoline. I can drive 28 miles in my electric Porsche Speedster on this energy, and you can KEEP the gallon of gasoline. In fact, you can leave the barrel of oil in the ground.

        Debating the CO2 emissions of the electricity production is falling right into the line they want the debate to take, and it is logically bankrupt. CO2 from Coal compared to gasoline directly works out to LESS THAN HALF of that produced by burning gasoline. But worse, the CO2 from refining the gasoline is much higher than the CO2 produced burning the gallon of gasoline.

        Electric cars are obviously cleaner, and you can trace both energy and emissions all the way back to the pre-Cambrian sea if you like, the chain only grows MORE in favor of electric and more gruesome from gasoline.

      • Daniel LaLiberte

        I don’t want to unintentionally buy into either oil or coal.

        If coal can be mined and burned cleaner at centralized power plants, and distributed through power lines compared to pumping oil refining it, shipping and burning in separate cars, then so be it. But if we only do that, we have not done enough. Compared to oil, coal burning also contributed large amounts of other pollutants to the environment, including radioactive elements.

        We need to get off of both oil and coal as soon as possible, and before then, we should at least factor in the total cost of using either of these non-renewable energy resources including all the production costs, and including the cost of completely cleaning up all the pollution produced.

        Is it a step in the right direction to promote electric vehicles even if we require building more coal power plants? Maybe so, if it means we are cleaner and more efficient overall, and especially so because electricity can later be produced by renewable resources. Electric vehicle battery recharging in off-peak hours also helps balance out power demands throughout the day. Also consider the uneven availability of solar and wind energy – the excess supply can be stored in spare batteries for use later.

    • Antonio Carvalho Jr,

      In my country, Brazil, about 85% of the energy is generated from hidreletric´s sources. 100% clean.

      This 100% clean energy will charge my EV batteries without further pollution …

      The only problem is that there are NO EV´S in my country. (Except for 2 or 3, made at home…)

      • Gustavo

        There is nothing 100% clean.
        Also a hydroelectric power plant brings several impacts to the environment, not only during the construction. Much of the indigenous terrestrian / aquatic flora & fauna is destroyed, eutrophication of the remaining lake is very common, changes in the rain cycles of the region are unavoidable, several problems for the local population happen due to urbanisation and relocation and not to forget: the lakes of hydroelectric power plants also give off methane – which causes a 25 times stronger greenhaus-effect as CO2.
        There are no conclusive comparative studies with other types of producing energy because the methane emission is strong related with local conditions (former vegetation, microorganisms, degree of eutrophication, etc. ) – so that single studies for each power plant would be required…