Electric Vehicles 101

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This is your EV future – complete with charging stations from your garage to your local coffee shop. Photo: ECOtality

10 years ago, who would have guessed that the electric vehicle (EV) would be all the rage? More than 20 EV models will be on the U.S. market in the next three years, and the government has invested $5 billion in battery technology and consumer incentives. Whether the figures are more modest or demand skyrockets, you’ll likely see a lot of changes when it comes to how people drive.

Don Karner, president of ECOtality North America – which specializes in clean electric transportation and storage technologies – gives us some insight on EVs and what the future could hold.

Karner foresees a future where charging your car is as easy as charging your cell phone.

“You’ll be able to charge where you sleep, eat, shop, entertain,” he says. “We’re integrating charging into where [consumers] lead their daily lives.” Trips to the gas station will be a thing of the past – not only because gas is not longer needed, but also because EV charging won’t require specialized trips to “fill up.”

To help create this future, ECOtality is working with 83,000 EV consumers to install at-home charging stations and putting up 5,000 chargers in commercial spaces by the end of the year, as part of the EV Project. It will also be selling its line of Blink chargers both in the level 2 capacity and the fast charging versions that can fully charge a Nissan LEAF in just 30 minutes.

Karner says it’s important for consumers to realize that their electric bill will go up as a result of at-home charging, but you’re likely still saving money. “Our chargers calculate how much money they’re saving and allow them to understand why their bill went up by some percent,” he says.

He warns that there will be a learning curve adjusting to each car. “They’ll have to develop a feel for how the vehicle operates and how often to charge.” Karner again likened it to a cell phone; it takes a few weeks to know how long and how often you need to charge a new cell phone for optimum use.

Karner wants consumers to be comfortable knowing that a charging infrastructure is being developed as demand increases, and you’ll be able to plug in while you’re getting groceries or watching a movie at the theater.

But what if it’s raining while you watch that movie? No problem, says Karner. Charging stations are waterproof, and more than that, they’re incredibly safe.

“When you plug into a recharger, a number of devices make sure everything is safe before power is even put to the cord,” Karner says. “After that, they monitor to make sure the power transfer remains safe.” All chargers are required to be certified to the National Fire Protection Association requirements.

And what about all the talk that electricity isn’t necessarily cleaner than gasoline? To that Karner says, “EVs are one of the first applications of electric storage, and it’s smart… utilities can adjust and schedule charge times that are friendly to the grid.”

“We’ll have a mix of transportation fuels in our future,” he says. “But we look at people driving to work between 10 and 30 miles a day – one person in a car – what better fuel to use than electricity?”

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