Monday, December 6, 2010

EVs & Charging Infrastructure - Not Chickens & Eggs


There has been a glut of electric vehicle (EV) press recently, some of it pro-EV, some anti-EV. One thing these articles seem to agree on is that EVs are not usable until a charging infrastructure is deployed. They call it by different names such as the chicken and egg problem, or catch 22, or infrastructure shortage problem but they generally agree that EVs cannot be successful until networks of charging stations are deployed.

Despite the fact that these two sides agree, they are wrong! The vast majority of this press was written by people whose EV experience consists of a few test drives at best. I assume their reasoning is something like this: for gasoline powered cars there are gas stations and I see them everywhere. So, if I were to drive an electric car, I would need to see charging stations in equal or greater abundance. If you have driven gasoline-fueled cars for decades, it can be difficult to see that electric vehicles are more than just a change in the fuel source.

An EV with 100 miles of range has more than enough driving distance for most people on most days. That means that you can charge your EV in your garage overnight with off-peak rates and there is no need to charge it at all during the day. You don't even need a special charging station in your garage. A simple outlet will do. If your car is plugged in for 10 hours, that will give you 60-70 miles of range. Most people drive less than 40 miles each day. The outlet you likely already have in your garage can charge an EV. 

Public charging stations should be used as a convenience, not as a requirement.
There are benefits to having charging stations around. They act as a safety net. Knowing they are there provides peace of mind to drivers that are new to EV technology. However, if you are buying an EV and your planned usage *depends* on the availability of public charging infrastructure to be successful, perhaps you should rethink the type of vehicle you plan to buy. Consider buying one with longer range or a plug-in hybrid instead. There will be times when a charging station is down, occupied, or otherwise not available due to construction or an event.

There are a couple hundred EVs that are active in Oregon today. These vehicles were being used for commuting and errands and all the around-town things that people do in cars, long before there was an EV infrastructure to support them. Furthermore, most of these EVs that are on the road in 2010 are conversions or NEVs with less than 60 miles of range. This means that the new generation of OEM EVs, that have significantly more range, will be able to get along without a vast infrastructure roll-out too.

There is no chicken and egg problem. The outlets that we need are already here now. It's the same one I use for my lawn mower and leaf blower. Adding level 2 charging stations in garages and adding public charging infrastructure makes EVs more convenient, but they are not preventing EVs from being ready for you to drive right now.
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If public charging stations are just a convenience or safety net, what does that mean for how and where they should be deployed? More on that aspect soon.

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