To Sell Electric Cars In Northeast, Is More Charging Needed? Some Thoughts

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ChargePoint charging station at Zen Dog Cafe, Rhinebeck, NY

ChargePoint charging station at Zen Dog Cafe, Rhinebeck, NY

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California is a largely temperate state with a longstanding history of working to curb vehicle emissions.

That makes it a perfect place for plug-in electric cars.

The Northeastern states, on the other hand, are in the Snow Belt, meaning electric cars can lose as much as one third of their battery range in the coldest winter months.

So what will it take to boost plug-in sales in the Northeast, where less than 10 percent of last year's 53,000 plug-in electric cars were sold?

According to a report cited in The New York Times, the answer is more prevalent public charging infrastructure.

Only 1,000 NE charging stations

The report, Siting and Design Guidelines for Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment, was prepared last November for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

It notes that at the time, almost 1,000 public charging stations existed among the Northeast states, but that only three-quarters of them were publicly accessible.

And some were only 110-Volt Level 1 stations, which can take 20 hours or more to refill a completely depleted battery pack in a Nissan Leaf, for example.

The report offers a sort of blueprint for rolling out more charging stations, including siting guidelines, policy changes, and many other parts of the process.

Such reports are a necessary part of the gradual increase in plug-in cars that will take place over the next couple of decades.

But two issues need to be kept in mind while pushing for vast increases in charging stations before the cars are actually on the roads.

Charging needed, but not used

First is what many analysts call "the TEPCO Paradox," named after the Tokyo Electric Power Company (now better known as the operator of the failed Fukushima nuclear reactor).

Polar Charging Post and Nissan Leaf

Polar Charging Post and Nissan Leaf

Enlarge Photo

In an early test several years ago of battery-electric cars operated by volunteers in Tokyo, TEPCO found that drivers would use plug-in cars only to perhaps half their range.

Asked why, they predictably cited range anxiety--the fear of not being able to make it back home.

What would alleviate that? Why, publicly available charging stations, of course--so they could recharge en route, or if they had to make unexpected detours.

TEPCO duly installed a network of charging stations--and, indeed, the cars were used to a greater degree.

Most of the increased mileage, however, did not come from use of those charging stations, which was far lower than projected.

It came simply from driver confidence that a fallback was available--even though the drivers rarely used it.

The moral of the story: Install just enough charging stations to deliver that confidence--but no more.

Cars far more crucial?

Second, many analysts argue that it's far more important to get plug-in cars on the road before worrying about charging infrastructure, even if most must be recharged overnight in garages.

ChargePoint charging station at Zen Dog Cafe, Rhinebeck, NY

ChargePoint charging station at Zen Dog Cafe, Rhinebeck, NY

Enlarge Photo

Writing last fall in Wired, electric-car advocate Chelsea Sexton argues that battles over charging technology standards simply distract from the primary challenge: getting more plug-in electric cars on the road.

Providing electricity isn’t the problem, Sexton says: it’s ubiquitous, simple to use, and an ideal vehicle fuel. And charging stations are relatively cheap to install when demand is there.

In this vision, not just government-funded entities but private businesses will step up provide charging.

In a few years, electric-car charging will be like WiFi access is today: free in places that want to draw customers, paid in other places that view it as a profit-making amenity.

Either way, expect to see more charging stations in the Northeast over the next couple of years.

But not nearly as many as in California or the Pacific Northwest.


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Comments (8)
  1. I am a native Californian, who retired to Central-Northern Maine. The primary snow-belt passes South of us here. We drive a Prius and we are looking at buying a Plug-in. The culture of California is different from anywhere on the East Coast. To market Plug-ins here, you can not do it based on 'green' or ecology. Here it will need to be done on the basis of 'lifetime expense to operate the vehicle' and ROI. Prius' sell like hotcakes here, because everyone expects the price of petroleum to increase. Everyone 'knows' that operating a hybrid will cost less as compared to a conventional gas-powered automobile. They focus more on cost than on environment.

  2. i've lived up north in severe cold weather all parking spots have plug ins so you can expect that up north, EV's will need plug in's also.

  3. We absolutely need more charging on the east coast, especially quick chargers. I wanted to buy a pure electric car, but had to instead settle for a Volt because a Model S was out of my price range and I need at least 160 miles of range without quick chargers for my monthly family visit. I would have rather bought a Leaf but being in upstate NY theres one chademo charger withing 800 miles, and its in Canada!

  4. I live in NYC metro area and charge points are hard to find.
    Airports brag about having a few but they are all in daily parking which is very expensive. We need lots of low cost chargers even level I, 110vac in long term parking would be great...but need lots of them.

    All the interstate rest stops should put in Level II 80Amp chargers along with DC except DC is very expensive where 80Amp AC is a no brainier at probably 1/5 the cost of DC.

    People do not necessarily need to fill up but have the ability to top off so they can get home to fill up or at least the comfort of knowing they can top off if needed.

  5. Current battery loves more temperate weather. That is a limitation by itself.

  6. It may seem strange to some, but the right answer for cold climate EVs isn't a denser charging network - it's non-electric heaters. Volvo's putting fuel-based heaters into its electric cars, as Honda did years ago when testing EVs in colder high altitude areas of California. It's ridiculous squandering battery power on inefficient heating instead of efficient locomotion, when a kerosene heater can do the job so much better. Generating heat is something that burning fuel does extremely well - it's the process of turning that liberated heat into motive power that's so inefficient.

  7. Accidentally voted down. Sorry :(

    Definitely like the idea of little kerosene based heaters for EV and hybrid vehicles. IIRC Volvo's heater testing burned 1 liter of kerosene per HOUR.

  8. I live in the Pacific NW and lucky to have a bunch of public charging stations but L2 charging is only convenient if its at or very near your destination. It simply takes too long to get a decent charge. Quick charging on the other hand allows me a 30-40 mile boost in 10-15 minutes. Barely enough time to grab refreshments and take a bathroom break. Its fast charging that will greatly enhance usability of the LEAF. During our mild winters, I am still losing up to 25% of my effective range so public charging is a must for me just to be able to do what I did last Summer

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