I love my 160-gig iPod Classic, but my kids tell me it’s a dinosaur. The darned thing must be three or four years old. The situation with instantly obsolete electronics is roughly analogous to that of electric car chargers. If they’re a few years old, they’re dumb doorstops, fatally lacking in the correct plugs and without the “smart” technology that allows utilities and consumers to remotely monitor their performance. An electric vehicle owner with a cell phone can start or stop a charge, find a station with GPS, and even check to see which ones are in use.
So old chargers are, in effect, “stranded assets,” and there are a lot of them around. For instance, the big-box retailer Costco, which in 2006 had 90 charging stations at 64 locations (mostly in California, but also in Arizona, New York and Georgia). Some of them go back much further, dating to when first-generation cars like the GM EV1, Toyota RAV4 and Honda EV Plus were still on the road.
Costco was the first big box to see the value of electric vehicle early adopters coming by, plugging in their paddles, then “heading into the warehouse.” But it’s timing was off -- there just weren’t any cars on the road in 2006, or now, for that matter. It’s all coming later this year and in 2011. Costco’s Richard Galanti declined a golden opportunity to tell me what it plans to do with its old chargers, but they’d presumably need updating.
Costco and its ilk are in luck, because the state of California has just approved $1.9 million for a company called EV Connect, working with the longtime charging supplier Clipper Creek, to update approximately 600 of the old inductive chargers used to plug in such venerable campaigners as the Ford Ranger EV and the Honda EVPlus.
"We felt we made a solid offer to the state, considering that many of the existing units were ones we installed in the 1990s,” said ClipperCreek CEO Jason France. Installation of the new units is really low-hanging fruit, because in many cases the new units (which will meet the national J1772 standard set by the Society of Automotive Engineers) will slot right into the old holes.
Installation of the new units is expected to take about a year, said Tom Dowling, the charging infrastructure manager for California’s Electric Auto Association, which dates back to 1967 (and is materially supported by California-based Hewlett-Packard). Dowling knows just where the bodies are buried, because he maintains EVChargerNews.com, which has maps to all of the state’s existing stations (with notes on their condition).
According to Dowling, Clipper Creek hasn’t had any more luck talking to Costco than I have, but about half of the company’s “legacy chargers” are inductive and eligible for the state replacement program. It would be nice to know what this pioneering retailer thinks about the whole thing.
California is really going all-out on electric vehicle charging. Replacing legacy chargers is just a small part of a total assault that includes far more installation projects than exists anywhere else in the U.S. Both The EV Project and ChargePoint America are installing Department of Energy-supported free chargers in California, and several small retail chains have, too. The big gun is Best Buy, which operates a small fleet of Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric cars for the Geek Squad, and has pledged to install public charging, initially only in California.
I’ve estimated that as much as 50 percent of the early adopter electric vehicle sales and leases will be in California, and I see no reason to alter that opinion. Nearly all of the coming EVs (Leaf, Volt, Smart, Coda, Wheego, Fisker) are targeting California, even if they’re only in a few markets.
I can predict with confidence that anyone buying an electric vehicle between San Diego and San Francisco not only will have no problem finding up-to-date public charging, but that they’ll also get an incredible deal (thanks to state and federal subsidies) and win the admiration of friends and family.
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