Where Can I Plug This Thing In?


Let’s start off by saying the electric car is coming – and it’s coming more quickly than you think.

In fact, if you have the means to drop over $100K on a roadster, or want to tool around the neighborhood at non-highway speeds, the electric car is here now, go on and get one.

For the rest of us, Chevy (with the Volt) and Nissan will compete for the first-to-market electric vehicle, which should be introduced sometime between 2010 and 2012.

That’s right, nearly a decade after General Motors pulled the first successful electric vehicle, the EV1, off the road, America will once again hear the hum of a big ol’ battery under the hood.

So don’t fret about the electric car. Instead, fret about the infrastructure that will be needed to support the electric car.

As the CNET News Green Tech blog rightly pointed out last week, a whole host of infrastructure questions need to be answered before electric cars can be adopted by the mainstream.

According to CNET, car companies are planning to roll out their shiny electric cars only in markets prepared to handle them.

Car companies intend to target places where governments are willing to provide incentives to purchase plug-in electric cars and install charging stations. Utilities, too, need to be involved so that the grid doesn’t become stressed by a rush of cars.

According to the Electric Power Research Institute, the U.S. grid could accommodate a substantial spike in electric car use. They found that a 60 percent market share of electric vehicles in 2050 – a pretty aggressive number, quite frankly – would only account for between seven percent and eight percent of electrical use on the grid.

However, another study finds that the grid could be overwhelmed if municipalities don’t deploy technology limiting the number of cars that can be charged at once.

Standardization for charging protocols is another issue. The Volt can currently charge up using a standard 120-volt socket in eight hours. But at 240-volts the time drops to a paltry three-hours – or approximately the length of an Oscar-nominated film.

You can bet homeowners will want a 240-volt charging station in the garage and municipalities will want to install 240-volt charging stations – and charge a fee for using them – around electric vehicle-rich neighborhoods.

Of course, the biggest elephant in the room — and the biggest infrastructure issue of all — is changing how all those volts are generated.

Under current conditions – ie, even with coal-fired power plants — electric cars will reduce emissions by roughly one-third of the current fleet. However, to really make a difference in the fight against climate change, electric cars will need to be powered by renewable sources.

A car battery humming on electricity generated by renewable sources is a near zero-carbon vehicle – and that hum you will hear is the sound of success.

(Photo: Chevy Volt. Credit: 2008 General Motors and Wieck Media Services, Inc.)

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