With the release of the Nissan’s five-passenger battery-electric vehicle, the LEAF, a little more than a year away, municipalities in the initial launch states of Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, and Tennessee are scrambling to set up in-home and public-access charging stations. This network of charging stations is vital, because unlike electric hybrids, like the popular Toyota Prius, battery-electric vehicles don’t have a “back-up” on-board battery charging system powered by a traditional internal combustion engine. If the battery in the LEAF is drained, the LEAF won’t run again until the battery is recharged.
In Tennessee, Nissan has partnered with ECOtality, Inc., a Phoenix-based company that’s rushing to install a network of private and public charging stations in Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Nashville, plus all along the interstate highways that link the three cities. Using a $100 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy, ECOtality is using a two-tiered approach to implement their installation plan.
The first part of the plan is to install charging stations in consumer’s garages. This may sound simple, but it’s not — each city and town has their own set of building and electrical codes and regulations that have to be met. Aside from the sometimes complicated process of acquiring the right set of permits for the installation, there is also the question of cost. ECOtality is offering free labor and equipment to the first 1,000 consumers to request an install, a value of about $1,500 for each installation. Since Nissan believes that about 75% of LEAF charging will be done at home, overnight, these installations will be key to the LEAF’s success.
The second part of the plan involves public charging stations, possibly installed at big-box retailers or even fast food restaurants. But there are complications here, as well. In most communities, it’s against the law for anyone other than a utility company to resell electricity. ECOtality says it’s possible to work around this, by renting the parking space to use the charging station, rather than to charge a fee to use the station itself.
ECOtality plans to install almost 2,200 overnight charging stations in all, plus 50 quick-charge stations, across Tennessee.