Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Public Charging Stations: Necessity or Luxury?

What comes first the car or the public infrastructure? A 21st century version of the old chicken and egg conundrum.

I have read a lot of articles that have basically taken the stand that electric cars need a complex network of public charging stations, like gas stations before people will buy them because they will be afraid they will be left stranded by the roadside without any place to charge.

Honestly I don't know if these worries are genuine or just scare tactics by groups that do not want to see electric cars become the method of choice for our transportation. I suppose it is a combination of that and legitimate concern by people that have not had the opportunity to live with an electric car like those of us in the MINI-E program have.

Public charge points will definitely help the long term success of EV's, but to claim that they need to be in place before the public will buy EV's is just not true. The majority of EV charging will take place at the owners home, probably as much as 80%. The second most common charge point would be at the owners place of work. I believe many companies will agree to install chargers on their property if they have employees that will use them. It won't cost much to install them, there's even a government program now to offer free chargers to about 5,000 locations (I've already applied for my restaurants parking lot). Then there will be private enterprises like McDonalds, Walmart, Home Depot, etc that will take it upon themselves to install them in their parking lots. This makes all the sense in the world because not only can they charge a small fee to park and charge there, but then they have a captured customer while their car is charging. Every time one of my fellow MINI-E drivers stopped by Nauna's to use my charger they sat in the dining room and bought a meal. It's a win-win situation in every way.

What also needs to be noted is that although the cars take a few hours to charge, when someone uses a public charging station, they are more likely going to only need a quick charge to finish their travels and get home. The won't need to completely charge the car so they won't be waiting 3 or 4 hours in most circumstances. I can speak with authority on this topic unlike most journalists and "automotive experts" because I have lived with an electric car for 13 months now and have developed a network of friends that are also driving one and we frequently share stories and talk about the benefits and challenges we live with by driving an EV. Most everyone agrees that after their home charger, having a charge point at their place of work like I have would be the first place they would like to have one installed. Many say they don't even need a charger at work but would use it if it were available and even more say they would have rarely ever use a public charging station if they were available.

Personally I think that private enterprise will provide for most of the public charge points needed to begin to transition from gasoline powered cars to electrics. If municipalities added one or two in each public parking lot that would even be better, but this thought that we need to install them everywhere like gas stations is just not reality, and is only causing people that aren't sure if an EV would work for them to worry about it. I wish the auto manufacturers and the government would listen more to people that have actual experience with EV's. If they did they might realize that they could do more with less.


  1. I think it will be good to have public charging stations in many locations. Even if they aren't used all the time, they will provide "peace of mind" for potential EV buyers. They may not want to buy one if they are worried they they will have no place but home to refuel, even it they really don't end up using them.

  2. Your conclusion says it all -- well done! Hope some of the people you appeal to in your entry will listen!

  3. Robert: I think you do have a point. Potential EV buyers may be afraid to take the leap without the safety net of a complex public infrastructure. I just hope they listen to people that actually have an electric car first because we have experience living with one. If someone thinks their driving needs will constantly strain the single charge range of the car, I would suggest that the car isn't right for them.

    Christof: Thank you and congratulations on your newly installed solar electric system. Welcome to the club!

  4. What if you have an e car and you need to drive 500km? If there are no chargers than you cannot get there

  5. Mr anonymous: If you frequently have a need to drive 500km then you shouldn't be driving an EV. These cars will not work for everyone. However if you did have one and on occasion needed to drive far you could rent a car or get a Zip Car for the day. Also, many early EV owners will have more than one car in the family so on the days that you need to go further than the Ev will take you, you simply take the other car. That is what I do.