Public Charging Stations For Electric Cars: Who Leads The Way? Page 2

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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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Automobile makers don't have to worry about where and how their customers buy gasoline, so I can understand why they're not enthusiastic about getting involved in the "refueling" process for their electric cars.

But at this point, I believe they have to get invovlved if they want any degree of success in this segment.

Some manufacturers seem to realize this though and have taken a first hand role in infrastructure deployment. Nissan has Level 2 chargers installed in all their dealerships that sell the Leaf, and most are outside and readily available.

However, who they're available to has been a topic of debate. Privately owned dealers can make their own decisions on charger accessibility, and some choose not the let the general public use them.

In my personal experience, I have never been denied the use of a charger at a Nissan dealer. I always go in and ask permission before plugging in and so far they have all been very accommodating, even though I'm driving a BMW.

I've read stories of other people being denied, though, so you can't depend on Nissan dealership charging stations being 100 percent available--but Nissan is definitely making an effort. It has also announced it will be installing DC quick chargers at many dealers, with the is to make them available 24/7 at most of the locations.

This is a big boost for the CHAdeMO contingency. One of the arguments SAE CCS supporters made was that there were so few CHAdeMO chargers installed in the US it wouldn't matter if a new standard was implemented. It seems Nissan realized the only way CHAdeMO had a chance for long term success in the US would be to get as many of them in the ground as they could before any CCS units (or cars that will use it) are available so recently they have begun an aggressive installation program. This battle is far from over. 

[Editor's Note: Privately, Nissan executives have said that the expensive part of quick-charging stations is getting the power to the location--so if other standards than CHAdeMO come to dominate, it's a relatively simple matter to put a new "head unit" with a different connector and software onto the same electrical service.]

Tesla Road Trip from MD to CT, Feb 2013 - Tesla Model S cars at Delaware SuperCharger location

Tesla Road Trip from MD to CT, Feb 2013 - Tesla Model S cars at Delaware SuperCharger location

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The only other manufacturer that has stepped up and invested in charging infrastructure is Tesla, with its Supercharger network. Kudos to Tesla for investing in the Supercharger network!

However, since Tesla engineered its own proprietary connector for the Model S and has such large battery packs, it really had to do something like this. It will be interesting to see how fast Tesla builds out the network and if it adds any unscheduled locations due to unexpected buying patterns.

Personally, I would prefer that Tesla also allow quick charging for non-Tesla plug-ins at their Supercharger locations--perhaps by using an adaptor, and charging people per use. The only issue might be a Tesla customer angry that the charger was unavailable to them because it was being used by a non-Tesla vehicle.

Still, I can certainly understand why doing that isn't in Tesla's interest--even though it would be good for the industry as a whole if it did.

That leaves the utilities and governments. These are the real wild cards, which could make electric-vehicle charging infrastructure as ubiquitous as gas stations if they really wanted to.

EV charging station at Costco

EV charging station at Costco

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In the end, it will likely take a combination of all the stakeholders listed here working together to spread pervasive charging infrastructure--as well as the public supporting the industry's efforts by buying electric cars to generate demand for those charging stations.

There is a bit of a chicken-and-egg issue right now, with some people holding off until there are more charger locations--and chargers not being installed because there isn't yet a huge demand for them.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on this. Who should be leading the way to install public infrastructure, and why?

Leave me your thoughts in the Comments below.

Tom Moloughney is a New Jersey electric-car advocate, restaurant owner, former MINI E driver, and current BMW ActiveE driver. This is his sixth article for Green Car Reports.


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