This week GM revealed the price of its Chevy Volt electric car as the automaker looks to draw buyers looking for a more eco-friendly mode of transportation.
With just a 40-mile range on a charge from an electric power source for the Volt, and about 100 miles for the electric Nissan Leaf, however, drivers will need to always be on the lookout for their next sip of juice. (The Volt does have an internal combustion engine that can recharge the battery en route, extending the range to 340 miles.) Manufacturers call this "range anxiety" and are hoping a new grid of charging stations will lay the foundation for sales of emission-free vehicles.
The city of San Jose, Calif., on Thursday talked up its commitment to the electric vehicle, unveiling the first of 1,600 charging station locations in the Bay Area as part of the ChargePoint America program, run by Coulomb Technologies.
San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said Thursday that "our partnership with Coulomb Technologies is the perfect example if how Silicon Valley can lead the world in clean tech innovation and create new green jobs in our community."
In 2007 Reed introduced San Jose's Green Vision, which set 10 ambitious goals for environmental protection and economic development. The 15-year plan included reducing per capita electricity use by half, becoming a zero-waste city, recycling and reusing 100 percent of the city's water, and moving to 100 percent renewable energy.
With the government enabling residents to buy vehicles that don't pollute and don't depend on oil, they are hoping to break the chicken-or-egg conundrum that plagues adoption of the electric vehicle technology-- that there currently aren't enough electric vehicles on the road to make building the charging station network economically viable, and that without a network of charging stations available, it isn't practical to drive an electric vehicle further than a short trip around town.
Manufacturers are targeting vehicle sales toward key cities and regions, like the Bay Area, where consumer demand is expected to be highest and where a charging infrastructure is already in place.
By October 2011, Couloumb Technologies expects to have more than 4,600 charging stations around the country, in areas including Austin, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C, and Orlando, Fla.
Nationwide, more than 4,600 locations will be part of the network. A Nissan Leaf is parked in from of the San Jose Convention Center in San Jose, Calif., Thursday, where Mayor Chuck Reed unveiled the first of hundreds of charging stations inside the 4th Street Parking Garage.
The Mini E's range is quoted at 150 miles, but in some tests, it seems to get more in the range of 100 miles per charge, which can take up to four hours. Other reviews have said that at 70 miles an hour, you will run out of battery power in 50 to 60 miles.
No more gas tank, just a three-prong socket inside the fuel door.
But are the charging stations really the problem with the electric car market? If the range is only 40 or 100 miles per charge, and the charging times are upward of four hours, you can't really get very far very fast in an electric vehicle. Until costs come down, the decision to purchase an EV is mostly a statement.
Coulomb Technologies is installing the station as part of the ChargePoint America program, a $37 million initiative that is funded in part with $15 million from a Department of Energy grant and made possible through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which will offer hundreds of free station for public and home charging to individuals and businesses.
The network of stations is a starting point, but what is needed is better battery technology. In making the Bay Area a focus of their electric vehicle program, car manufacturers and Coulomb are wisely focusing on a region with the skill and investment resources to make the necessary improvements.