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How Electric Car Charging Networks Work


Car Charging Networks in the Immediate Future
An electric car is connected into power supply at a recharge station during a demonstration of the California-based company Better Place in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Feb. 7, 2010.
An electric car is connected into power supply at a recharge station during a demonstration of the California-based company Better Place in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Feb. 7, 2010.
AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

If you buy an electric car today and don't have a garage where you could install a charging station, will you have any place to charge your car? Maybe. It depends on where you live. For instance, if your home is in Los Angeles, Calif., you can go to the local Ralph's Grocery. Most stores in the chain have charging stations near the main entrance, in spots that are reserved for electric cars the same way handicapped spots are reserved for cars with special tags or placards. But charging stations are still few and far between and there are large swaths of North America where you won't be able to find charging stations at all.

With the advent of charging networks, this is starting to change. Over the next few years, several countries, states and municipalities have arranged for the installation of thousands of charging stations in strategic locations and along popular routes. If you live in one of these areas, you may already be seeing these stations appearing on the roadside.

The United States Department of Energy has contracted with a number of companies to create something called the EV Project. The goal of this project is to build a recharging infrastructure in five states: Arizona, Washington, California, Oregon and Tennessee. These demonstration projects are intended to prove the usefulness of electric cars and will make use of charging networks installed by eTec, a subsidiary of the Arizona company ECOtality Inc. eTec makes the Minit-Charger, which can recharge light-duty batteries in as little as 15 minutes.

Other companies involved in creating charging networks are Coulomb (pronounced "cool-ohm") Technologies of San Jose, Calif., and Better Place of Palo Alto, Calif. Coulomb makes the ChargePoint Networked Charging Stations. They've installed networked charging stations in the San Francisco Bay area as well as Europe's first charging network, located in Amsterdam. Better Place (the name comes from the company's stated mission of making the world a "better place") not only makes networks of charging stations but it's also building battery switching stations where EV drivers can switch out battery arrays that have run low on power for freshly charged ones, a process that is substantially faster than using a charging station. Better Place is currently working on charging station infrastructure in Hawaii and California, as well as Denmark, Australia and Israel.

These projects have already begun, but are intended primarily as demonstration projects. Whether the infrastructure will be in place for your neighborhood is a completely different question. It depends on whether you live in an area where these companies will be installing networks. It may be 2020 before a substantial number of charging networks are available across the United States and even longer before the infrastructure for charging electric cars will rival what's currently available for refilling the tanks of cars that run on gasoline or diesel fuel.

For more information about electric car charging networks and other related topics, follow the links on the next page.