I have a tendency to focus a jaundiced eye on “new” technology and electric cars are no exception. Before you fire up your computer and call me a capitalist destroyer of our fair planet let me assure you that I like to breath clean air as much as the next guy. I believe in good stewardship, and know that there is not upside for energy companies like BP and Exxon to pollute our planet. And if they do, they should pay….That being said – Is the current love affair with electric cars short lived?
Almost daily I get news releases about this company or that “partnering” with parking facility owners to install charging stations in garages. They are “gearing up” for the time when electric cars are flood our streets and fill our garages. They are being installed today in garages throughout the land. And they are necessary, for the electric vehicle industry to get off the ground.
If a person drives an electric car that gets 40 miles to the charge I suggest it needs to be plugged in at least once a day away from the house. The average soccer mom taking kids to school, delivering cookies to the bake sale, running errands, and meeting friends for that afternoon cuppa, puts on a lot of mileage. OK – the “Leaf” gets twice the range of a “Volt” but remember the famous words “up to.” Up to 40 miles per charge, up to 100 miles per charge, etc. The problem is that if you are running at night it’s less (lights take power). If you are running a radio, air conditioner, heater, or have a heavy foot, the range will be less. So let’s just take it for granted that sometime during our day away from home, we will have to plug in somewhere.
The next question becomes – where and for how long. To fully charge at 110VAC takes about 5 hours, let’s assume a quarter of that at a nuclear driven professional level charger one might find in a parking garage. So our soccer mom will be hooked up to the grid for an hour or so somewhere during the day.
Who is going to play “voltage cop” and ensure that once a car is charged, it is unhooked and moved so another can take its place? That’s assuming that there isn’t a charging station for every parking space. I can hear the conversation between one tough cookie who needs to charge up now so she can make it to band practice and another one who is hooked up and storing electrons and needs to dry her nails before unhooking her Volt and making room. (See Valet below.)
All the posts on the web say that there will be no problem with the electric supply grid since the charging will be done at home during the night when there is plenty of capacity. But under my scenario, if the cars are being driven to work (Average commute 16 miles) won’t there just have to be a lot of charging during the day. If the average commute is 16 miles, a whole heck of a lot of people will drive further than that. And with a 40 mile range, they will have to “top up” at work, during the day, when the grid is nearing capacity, assuming they can find a place to plug in. Oh well, we aren’t supposed to talk about that. I know – they have a lawnmower engine to charge the battery when it gets low but you get the point.
Don’t forget my news releases. Plug in stations are being installed across the fruited plain. However, it will be years before any volume is created. What about all those unused charging stations? Will they be in spaces reserved of EV? If so, what is the value of those unused spaces? How long does a charging station last? What is its useful life? Will they have to be replaced even before they get much use?
This is a “chicken or egg” question. We can’t have EVs unless we have charging stations in place. But how much do we spend on charging stations, and how many spaces do we allocate for EVs? If I have a few spaces always available, then super – I can commit a few to charging. But if I fill up my garage every day, how much will I, as an owner, be willing to invest?
The wags here in the office say that an entirely new industry will spring up – valet charging. You bring you car in, you give it to a valet, and when you return it will be charged and ready to go. Frankly, that’s the only thing that makes sense until the EV car volume reaches a point where there are charging stations on every street corner.