Charging Stations Outrun Electric Cars

Posted on October 17, 2011


When McDonald’s franchisee Tom Wolf built his latest restaurant in Huntington, W. Va., late last year, he installed two chargers for all-electric cars so customers could juice their batteries while eating. So far, the charging station has been used a few times.

Electric-Vehicle Charging Stations

“It’s for the future,” says Mr. Wolf, who spent $6,385 on chargers that are about the size and shape of a parking meter. He doesn’t know anyone in Huntington who owns a plug-in car but expects that will change once electric vehicles like the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf become more widely available.

Across the U.S., such equipment is proliferating even though it is unclear whether plug-in cars will prove popular. Walgreen Co. has chargers outside four Texas stores and plans to add more there and in San Francisco, Orlando, Fla., and Washington, D.C. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. expects to have chargers outside some Tennessee restaurants within months. Murphy Oil USA, a gas-station operator, is testing one in Chattanooga, Tenn., to gauge demand.

Fewer than 15,000 all-electric cars are on U.S. roads, says Plug In America, a group promoting the technology. The Obama administration hopes one million such cars will be zipping around in 2015, reducing oil dependence, although others expect it will take longer to reach that level.

Why invest in chargers now? “We wanted to be the first mover,” says Menno Enters, Walgreen’s director of energy and sustainability. He says people are likely to shop while they recharge.


Any takers?:Two EV chargers sit unused at in White Plains, Md.

Michael Farkas, CEO of Miami-based Car Charging Group Inc., which is assembling a nationwide network of chargers in such places as parking garages and retail-store lots, aims to lock in prime locations before others: “The business that we’re in today is a land grab.”

A growing number of companies supply chargers, including Eaton Corp., General Electric Co., Siemens AG and Schneider Electric SA, and there are about 1,400 publicly accessible chargers scattered around the country. Pike Research, a consulting firm in Boulder, Colo., projects 13,000 stations by the end of 2012. By contrast, there are about 160,000 gas stations in the U.S.

Charging equipment is popping up largely because of subsidies. As part of a $5 billion federal program to subsidize development of electric vehicles and battery technology, the U.S. Energy Department over the past two years provided about $130 million for two pilot projects that help pay for chargers at homes, offices and public locations.

A 480-volt “fast” charger, capable of recharging a vehicle in 30 minutes or less, typically costs $40,000, plus installation. The more common commercial 240-volt chargers, like Mr. Wolf’s, can cost $2,000 to $3,000 and take almost eight hours to fully charge a Nissan Leaf, though they offer a meaningful boost in shorter periods.

Home chargers can cost $700 to $1,000, plus at least that much for installation. Those costs will fall as production rises, says John Gartner, an analyst at Pike Research.

Some businesses, such as Mr. Wolf’s restaurant, initially are providing charges free to test demand. Others impose fees. Car Charging Group for now charges $3 per hour. (Mr. Wolf estimates his giveaway charges cost him about $1.50 an hour.)


Source : WSJ


Jonathan Hanson for The Wall Street Journal

Prime Street Grille in White Plains, Md. has a vehicle charger installed in the parking lot.

Drivers are likely to do most of their charging at home or at work. But people considering plug-in cars want to be reassured they have alternatives.

Jonathan Read, chief executive of ECOtality Inc., a maker of charging equipment, recently suffered “range anxiety” while running errands in Phoenix in his new Leaf. The car warned him he had six miles of charge left; he was 12 miles from home.

To reduce battery use, he switched off the air conditioning, despite 115-degree heat, and made it home, concluding the car could go a bit farther than it promised. Still, he would have stopped at any business along the way that offered charging services.

Buyers of plug-in cars qualify for government subsidies of up to $7,500, depending on battery size. That reduces the Leaf’s retail cost to about $27,200, or about double that of similarly sized Nissan Versa compact with a four-cylinder gas engine.

Shortages have curtailed electric-car sales this year. But supply should increase markedly over the next two years as about 20 models from Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co., BMW AG and Tesla Motors Inc. and others hit the market.

Jonathan Hanson for The Wall Street Journal

The restaurant’s vehicle charger goes unused.

Opinions vary on demand. J.D. Power & Associates expects all-electric vehicles will account for less than 1% of U.S. auto sales in 2018, or about 102,000 cars and light trucks. Including hybrids and plug-in hybrids the market share is forecast at 8%.

“The premiums associated with these products are still more than what the consumer is willing to bear,” says Mike VanNieuwkuyk, executive director of global vehicle research at J.D. Power.

Nissan Motor Co., more bullish on the technology than other big car makers, expects pure-electric-vehicle sales will make up 10% of global vehicle sales by 2020.

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