Noel Adams - Charging Ahead

Charger Challenges

Mar 14, 2012

In some places, you'll find all of the public chargers occupied, while in others they appear to sit unused. The latter is not an excuse to second guess the wisdom of building out the infrastructure ahead of the cars.

Back in the days of the EV1 it seemed like no journalist worth his byline would write an article on electric vehicles without including a sentence like 'There are only 400 charging stations in the whole of California.' The sentence has changed a little bit and journalists have recently been telling us that the electric car will fail because there 'are not enough charging stations'.

Both these sentences totally ignore the fact that most electric car drivers charge their cars at home overnight and start their day with a 'full tank'. The average car is driven around 15,000 miles per year which works out to 41 miles per day, well within the 'full tank' range of a Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi I, or Ford Focus EV.

Things have changed recently as more and more charging stations have been rolled out around the USA. A December 20, 2011 article by Sebastian Bianco in Autoblog Green points out that there are 500 public charging stations in Tennessee but only 270 electric cars registered in that state leaving EV charging stations mostly unused.

Recently I have been seeing a different situation here in the Los Angeles area. On a recent visit to Century City Shopping Center I dropped by the EV charging stations to see what was happening. There are two charger locations at this mall. One has the old fashioned chargers from back in the days of the EV1. These charging stations are almost never used but that should come as no surprise since there are probably less than 50 cars in the area that are compatible with these chargers. The other set are the new GE J1772 chargers that are compatible with most modern electric cars. There are six chargers, but three of them are reserved for the Coda Experience Center while the other three are available to the public.

On this particular Saturday there were three Coda Sedans parked at the reserved spots and the three public spots were taken up by two Leafs and a Volt. I've passed by this charging station on several occasions since then and I have never seen less than two of the public chargers occupied. Two other over utilized locations are the ones at Santa Monica Place and the chargers at LAX, both of which are almost always completely full whenever I pass by them.

The perception that charging stations are not being used leads to another problem, ICEING. For those not familiar with the term, ICE stands for Internal Combustion Engine and ICEING is when someone parks a vehicle powered by an ICE in the EV charging station. This has been a big problem for electric car owners here in California for as long as charging stations have been around.

The City of Beverly Hills recently installed charging stations at most of the City's parking lots including the one at Beverly Hills Public Library. The two parking spots at the library are in a prime location and have almost always been ICED when I've been at the library. Last time I was there I was happy to see that one space was occupied by a Nissan Leaf charging using the 220V charger while the other parking space was available for anyone to use the 110V charger.

Technically in California it is illegal to park at an EV charging spot unless you are connected to the charger for the purpose of charging. Cars parked in the charging spots but not connected to the charger, even electric cars, can be towed at the owner's expense. The law requires specific signage to be posted before a car can be towed and so far I haven't seen a single charging spot with the required sign so the law is never enforced.

The lack of charger use is often perception rather than fact. I often hear about electric car drivers that stop by to thank management for providing the charging stations and who are told that they are the first person to use the site. This is often from sites that are known to be used heavily.

Right now it appears that the number of charging stations being rolled out is getting ahead of the number of electric cars being sold. This is not a bad thing but the perception that the charging stations are not being used can always be used as an excuse to slow down the deployment of charging stations. The number of electric cars on the road is going to grow in leaps and bounds so we need to make sure that charging stations continue to be rolled out across the nation.

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