The best place in the world to own an electric car is probably California, with a tie between San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles. Well, the city by the bay just got a big boost from something new: free solar-powered EV charging.

A nonprofit called Charge Across Town (CAT), looking to reduce carbon emissions in the Bay Area, has launched its “Driving on Sunshine” campaign. The plan is to increase awareness of both electric cars and solar with free electrons from three portable Envision EV ARC stations that will be strategically placed through 2015 at nine heavily trafficked locations around the city. Right now you can find them in the Mission District, at the Embarcadero, and the Stonestown Galleria Mall.

Carlie Guilfoile beams at the opening of the CHarge Across Town free solar stations

Carlie Guilfoile beams at the opening of the Charge Across Town free solar stations. (Photo: Charge Across Town)

Freeloaders will have a two-hour charging limit, says Maureen Blanc, director of Charge Across Town. She told me that CAT is “going on trust” that people will disconnect after their allotted time. Two hours on a 240-volt Level II charger should provide enough juice for 10 to 15 “e-miles,” she said. It’s hoped that four to six cars per day can charge at the stations.

Envision’s ARC stations cost $45,000 each, but CAT is leasing them through a grant from the 11th Hour Project. After the experiment is over in 2016, they’ll find a permanent home at the locations that got the most traffic.

Charge Across Town's Maureen Black

Charge's Maureen Blanc: "You'd be surprised" how many people still don't get it in EV-heavy San Francisco. (Photo: Charge Across Town)

One could ask, why San Francisco? The city is not exactly starved for EV charging, or for solar installations. Awareness of both technologies would seem to be high among residents. Visit the Plugshare app here, enter the city’s name, and you’ll see dozens, if not hundreds of public stations, many of them offering free electricity, in San Francisco. Is there a need?

“You’d be surprised,” Blanc told me. “A lot of people are still pretty unaware. There’s still a lot of questions here about moving from fossil fuels to electric cars.”

Also worth noting is that PG&E, which serves central and northern California, is poised to install roughly 25,000 EV chargers in the coverage area over the next five years. The hosts won’t pay a dime for them.

And, of course, you can argue that San Francisco is, well, where the cars are. There are more than 60,000 plug-in cars in PG&E’s service territory, 20 percent of all those in the country, so it’s unlikely that these three new solar-powered units will sit idle.

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Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

San Fran's new EV chargers are solar-powered, and free!
Charge Across Town is cutting carbon emissions with mobile charging. Just respect the two-hour limit.