Who Are The EV Charging Station Players?

The Level 2 chargers from both companies complete their charge in around four hours using what’s known as the J1772 interface, a technical standard that works on the Leaf and Volt — and any EV now on or coming to the market. However, while the EV Project is serving both Volt and Leaf buyers, ChargePoint America freebies are limited to the Volt and the EVs from Ford and Smart that are coming to market later.

Lowenthal said that Coulomb will work with dealers and buyers so that Volt drivers are set up through the ChargePoint program even before they bring their car home. “We want to get out to your house, do the inspection, do the installation so when you drive your car home, you’re in business,” he said.

GM Michigan

image via GM

The guess is that the vast majority of charging will be done at home. This is a little surprising to hear given that the companies have spent so much time talking about public stations, and that the DOE is financing the installation of so many of them.

“There are a percentage of people who don’t have a garage, who are parking their car on the street,” Read explained. Plus, public charging stations are a tool in reassuring a public who might be scared off from EVs by the dreaded range anxiety. Lowenthal pointed to a UC Davis study that found that 80 percent of people believe they will want to charge more than once a day. “Our mission is to insure that if you are thinking about buying a car,” Lowenthal said, “you don’t hesitate because of fueling concerns.”

Both Read and Lowenthal talk about their charging stations as parts of networks, painting a picture of EV drivers connecting on the Web, their phone or whatever their device of choice, to do things like find an available charging station or monitor a car that’s in the charging process. And remember their emphasis on being smart? The idea is that whereas there might soon be $200 chargers you can pull off the shelf at an electronics store, a networked, smart charger will offer so much more — to users and to the utilities that provide power.

Why do the utilities care? A big new electricity draw from electric vehicles, if not now but five or 10 years from now, could present challenges in grid management. With smart charging, however, EVs can be a winner for utilities. Take Portland General Electric (PGE), in Oregon, where oodles of wind power has gone in recently. As spokeswoman Elaina Medina explained, that energy can’t be stored. So if PGE can sell it in the middle of the night instead of dumping it, even at the off-peak rate of 4 cents per kilowatt hour (vs. 12 cents/kWh at peak times), that’s good for PGE and good for consumers.

“With our charger, you’re going to be able to take advantage of opportunities that you’re not going to have if you go out and pick something off the shelf willy-nilly,” Read said, explaining that your smart charger and the utility will talk to each other to charge your vehicle at the lowest cost, all while you get a good night’s sleep.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.