Here Come the Mobile and Web Apps for Finding EV Chargers


Now that GM (s gm) and Nissan have started selling their first mainstream electric cars — the Volt and the LEAF — this year, more mobile and web tools have recently started to emerge to help potential electric car owners find public charging stations. The latest come from Google (s GOOG), which said in a blog post on Wednesday that it has been integrating electric car charging data into Google Maps, and also from the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), which is building a public EV charging data base called GeoEVSE. (To learn more about the intersection between EVs and mobile come to our Green:Net 2011 event on April 21 in San Francisco.)

It’s been an active week of new EV charging data tools. On Monday, a new startup called Xatori launched a mobile app called PlugShare, which the company wants to build into the most comprehensive way to find an electric car charging station on a cell phone. The startup counts an advisory board including PayPal (s ebay) and Slide co-founder Max Levchin and Tesla co-founder Marc Tarpenning.

Throughout 2010, auto makers also focused on building branded mobile apps that can connect with their inaugural EVs, check on the battery remotely, and do other things like lock and unlock doors.

What’s the deal with these new tools? Well, the market for electric cars is in a nascent stage right now, and many think creating a positive experience for the first wave of early adopter EV-owners could be crucial to making sure the market grows a lot bigger. In particular, being able to find the closest public EV charging station on any web-enabled device could help alleviate the idea of range anxiety — or the fear that the limited range of an EV battery will leave the driver stranded and powerless somewhere.

Who knows how important range anxiety will be to actual EV-owners, given traditional cars also have a limited range (via the gas tank) and that hasn’t limited the sales of gas-guzzling cars. At this point, it’s just too early in the EV market to tell what factors will end up being deal-breakers for potential EV-owners.

But no doubt public charging stations — and the best way to find them — will play an important role for EV owners. As IBM’s (s ibm) VP for Energy & Utilities Allan Shurr told us back in 2009: “Overnight charging [at home] in fact is likely to be the rarity rather than the most common.” That’s mostly because it’s a limited amount of vehicle owners that park their car in a garage that they own overnight. And a lot of the market is made up of people who don’t own garages — apartment dwellers and many urban homeowners, for example.

So now that Internet companies, the government and entrepreneurs are building the latest web and mobile ways to find EV charging stations, the industry just needs to start building more public charging stations themselves. As of late 2010 in the U.S., there were about 1,800 public electric car charging stations, with most of them located in California.

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