It's Not a Gas

If It Is Not A Gas, What Project Will Spend $245 Million to Help Build 14,000 Charging Stations in 18 Cities Nationwide? Find Out

Joe FeeleyBy Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief

Remember when we all figured we'd have flying cars by now? Where are they, anyway? OK, maybe not everybody thought that.

What about electric cars, at least? You might like to know what we heard about electric vehicle technology during ABB Automation & Power World 2011 in Orlando.

Jonathan Reed is president and CEO of ECOtality, a San Francisco-based company that specializes in alternative-fuel, hybrid (HEV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and electric vehicles (EV) and infrastructures. His presentation "Electric Vehicles: Are They Real This Time?" encouraged us to believe that electric vehicles are really coming, if, of course, there's a place to plug in.

ECOtality  is one of 50 partner companies in the U.S. Dept. of Energy's EV Project. The project will spend $245 million to help build 14,000 charging stations in 18 cities nationwide.

Read stated EVs will succeed now because of better lithium-based battery technology, heightened consumer interest in the face of $4+/gallon gas prices, more awareness of national security and environmental issues around fossil fuels, and an agreement last year among the major EV firms to comply with an SAE standard for plugs at charging stations.

Read said there will be three levels of charging: in homes, a traditional 110 V plug that will need eight hours to charge an EV; 220 V/40 A plugs in homes and businesses that will need only 3.3 hours to recharge; and faster-charging dc stations for retail outlets that will have you recharged in no more than a half hour.

However, a quick math exercise reminds us that a typical residential home draws 2.2–5 kW. EVs consume 3.3−6.6 kW at 240 V/32 A, so Read recognized that the U.S. will have to add a huge amount of capacity to its electrical grid.

Read said his company is talking to 60 utilities to help utilities and municipalities, such as San Diego, decide where EV charging stations will go, how to handle parking, and how to add charging stations to homes and businesses.

The charging station that ECOtality, which is 20% owned by ABB, wants to sell is called Blink, a 240 Vac/32 A unit that will communicate data to its users as well as the local utility. It's to be the key element in a home area network and a home energy management solution (HEMS).

"The fast-charging, three-phase dc versions of Blink will be located at retail outlets such as Best Buy and have 42 in. interactive screens that will display charging and transactional data, and even movie trailers and other content," Read said. "Networking is the core of what we do, so these charging stations will let users control how they charge, and that will let them get better rates and let the utilities manage demand more consistently."

So maybe we soon will see more EVs during rush hour, but I really do hope nobody gives up on flying cars.