Public Charging Stations For Electric Cars: Who Leads The Way?

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Nissan Leaf electric car with eVgo quick charging station. [courtesy eVgo]

Nissan Leaf electric car with eVgo quick charging station. [courtesy eVgo]

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For the majority of the general public to consider purchasing a fully electric car, they first want accessible public charge points located at or near places they frequent in their daily life.

It's also clear that most people won't end up using them nearly as much as they think they will. However, having them in place and available is necessary to ease the concern that charging has to be there when it may be needed.

The proliferation of DC quick charge stations will also play a big role in electric-car adoption, as they will allow short-range battery-electric vehicles to reach destinations they couldn't conveniently do otherwise. The CHAdeMO vs SAE CCS mess is only going to cause confusion, and it needs to get sorted out as quickly as possible--but that's a matter of years, not months.

I'm hopeful that will happen over the next few years, but perhaps the short-term solution is installation of charging units that have connectors for both standards.

However, another issue has to be discussed: Who should be leading the charge to install public charging infrastructure?

Utility companies will surely profit from the slow transition to using electricity as a fuel for personal transportation, but most haven't really embraced the idea of installing and maintaining charging stations.

Automakers clearly realize they won't sell many electric cars if the public doesn't feel confident they will have places to plug in while on the road.

Governments mandate that manufacturers make zero-emission vehicles, so they share the responsibility to make sure people have a place to plug them in.

The private sector also has an opportunity to profit--directly or indirectly--from offering public charging. Shopping malls, movie theaters, sporting venues and basically any destination can benefit from installing public charging at their location.

Last year I installed public chargers in the parking lot of my restaurant, Nauna's. I've had dozens of electric cars come to charge, and their owners have all enjoyed a nice meal while they do so.

Electric cars at charging stations and Tesla SuperCharger stations in Gilroy, CA [photo: Jack Brown]

Electric cars at charging stations and Tesla SuperCharger stations in Gilroy, CA [photo: Jack Brown]

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Many have told me they'd never been to my place, and the only reason they stopped by was because I had electric-car charging stations.

And this is important for people to realize, because it's difficult to make a good business case for the chargers on their own.

They cost thousands of dollars to buy, and can cost thousands more to install. You then need to insure and maintain them. Maintenance can be costly as I have already had two cases of vandalism in the first year so far.

If you try to get your investment back by charging customers to plug in, they simply won't use the stations.

So I've gone in the other direction and offer free charging with the hope people will come and plug in and patronize my business--and so far it seems to be working. Electric-car charging stations are bringing new customers to my business that I wouldn't have had if I hadn't installed them.

Clearly that is an opportunity for the private sector to make public charging work, once they understand that the value of the chargers goes beyond any fee collected for charging.

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