The EV Charge and Swap Stations race is on.

While all the political and technical planning is going on, states and localities are aggressively implementing an EV infrastructure to allow their constituents to be ready to plug in once they bring their EV home. They are busy working the codes...
Nov. 26, 2010 - PRLog -- ECOtality CEO Jonathan Read  acclaims, "The most important thing is, we are the smarter charger." Richard Lowenthal  CEO of Coulomb Technologies, responds  "We invented smart charging."  Hopeful that Americans will embrace electric vehicles (EV)- These two Bay Area-based  rivals are positioned to be the choice for people needing to plug in. as Nissan rolls out its Leaf full EV and GM its Gas extended-range Volt in the coming days.

ECOtality and Coulomb are now considered the leaders in the rapidly growing EV-charging sector. The Feds were looking for companies equipped with the technology and know-how to  quickly deploy a charging network and infrastructure capable of gathering important driving and charging data about early EV adopters. ECOtality  was able to convince the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) they were the right Charging company to do the lob and obtained a $115 million grant for the installation of 15,000 charging stations in homes and public locations as part of the EV Project, meaning at no cost to the customer. Coulomb, did the same and came out with $37 million  for ChargePoint America.

There are other players, notably AeroVironment, a well known company making foray in the charging business. They secured the partnership with Nissan to equip new Leaf buyers for $2,200. Another one, SPX Service Solutions,  a less known company, will sell and install their charger for GM customers in the same price range as AeroVironment. The EV Project and ChargePoint program offer free charging stations. So  why buy what you can get for free? " 2011 will be a good year to buy an EV before the freebee runs out.

The DOE-sponsored programs cover most of the deployment areas for both the Leaf and Volt.  ECOtality's EV Project will cover metro areas in Arizona, Tennessee,  Oregon, Dallas-Fort Worth. Meanwhile Michigan, Florida, Northern California and Austin, Tex  will be covered under the Coulomb's ChargePoint program . The overlapping areas where you can get either services for free are:  Southern California, Washington, D.C., and Washington State's Puget Sound region.

Both companies plan to primarily install  Level 2 chargers  that provide 100% charge in around four hours using a J1772 standard interface  with which both the Leaf and Volt - and any EV now on or coming to the market are equipped.  One distinction to make is: the EV Project is available to both Volt and Leaf buyers, but  their ChargeEV program is only applicable to the Volt. Coulomb wants to make sure Volt drivers are set up and ready to even before they bring their car home because it is estimated that the vast majority of charging will be done at home rather than at work or on the road, at least initially. Some people who don't have a garage, who are parking their car on the street , will depend on public charging stations. A UC Davis study found that 80 percent of people believe they will want to charge more than once a day, which could make charging away from home a huge necessity.

We therefore need to envision charging stations as parts of networks allowing EV drivers to connect on the Web via phone or other device of their choice, to find an available charging station or monitor a car's “juice” level and in the charging process. The concept of smart charger is not only dear to the EV drivers but more so to the utilities. Why do the utilities care?  Over the next 10 years they expect a rapidly growing  electricity draw from electric vehicles that could present challenges in grid management. They develop what is called the smart grid and smart chargers are a par t of it. EVs can be a winner for utilities if they are equipped with “smart charging capacity“. This will allow utilities to use excess capacity they can’t store for example in the middle of the night. Smart grid and smart charging allow for charging on demand that benefit’s the utilities but also customers who get a much lower price of 4 cents or less per kilowatt electricity. The smart charger and the utility will talk to each other to cheap charge your vehicle while you get a good night's sleep.

What about Level 3 charging using 480-volt chargers ? These can "fill" an EV in under 30 minutes.  Best Buy and Arco  are planning to install Level 3 charging stations at 12 stores and 45 gas stations. ECOtality EV Project is planning to deploy 350 of them outfitted with a screen for advertising,  targeted to the individual - another revenue stream for ECOtality  while keeping charging costs lower for the EV drivers. All this is an indicator that retailers are envisioning the deployment of charging stations as an opportunity to attract and hold customers. The Department of Energy does not have such concern; it just wants the data. "The DOE does not have a preferred business model for public charging - we believe the market will respond to consumer preferences," said Chris Kielich from the department's Press Office.

While all the political and technical planning is going on, states and localities are aggressively implementing an EV infrastructure to allow their constituents to be ready to plug in once they bring their EV home. They are busy working the codes and regulations for the permitting and inspection process for charger installations so they can be ready for an onslaught.

Early indications are pointing to a subscription-based business model for charging service, similar to mobile-phone service.  According to Fast Company their will be a charge $20 to $50 per month for subscriptions, for Level 2 charger users. The model for Level 3 charging stations is still not clearly outlined and may well follow the gas stations model as price per kilowatt with of course a premium well above what you would normally pay at home from your utility company.
Better Place model integrates charging and swap stations as hey are working in collaboration with GE (WattStation). The model debuted in Japan and Europe and is being planned for California Bay area with the deployment of the EV Taxi program as well as Corporate and Government/Municipality Fleet system.

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