Need an Electric Car Charging Station? Here Are the Companies That Are Building Them
Initially, the installation of electric car charging stations at home will be part and parcel of the EV buying process—meaning you won't be able to do one without the other. While Chevy Volt owners will be able to get away with charging their cars off of a standard 110V wall outlet, Nissan LEAF customers will only be able to buy a LEAF if they've either completed the installation of a home charging unit from Nissan's exclusive contractor, AeroVironment, or signed a waiver with Nissan certifying that they've installed their own charging equipment.
The difference comes down to the size of the battery pack. The Volt is a plug-in hybrid (or extended range electric vehicle, as GM prefers to call it) with a small battery pack, whereas the LEAF is a pure electric with a battery pack that is, effectively, 2-3 times the size of the Volt's (the Volt has a 16 kWh battery pack but only ever uses 8 kW of it; the Nissan LEAF has a 24 kWh battery pack, but will likely only use between 80-90% of it to increase battery life). To achieve a full charge on the LEAF using a 110V outlet would take all day—literally.
Nissan has said that the average cost of installing a Level II home charging unit would run about $2,200—and, as estimates trickle in, so far that seems to be running true (if you've gotten an estimate more than a couple hundred dollars lower or higher than that, let us know in the comments). Given that the LEAF is really the only mass-market car in need of installation of a Level II home charger until about 2012, the demand for home charging units from other companies besides AeroVironment will likely be low until then, unless a significant amount of early adopters choose to organize the installation of their own chargers.
Yet that hasn't stopped a handful of companies from jumping headlong into the world of charging stations. Early on, AeroVironment was really the only company that had devoted itself to developing and building Level II home charging units... and had a product to offer. More than anything else, this probably played a big role in why they got the contract from Nissan to conduct all of the early adopter installations. In light of this, the other companies that have committed to building charging stations have initially focused on industrial quality units—mostly for commercial and municipal installations—but that is slowly changing as we get closer to the launch of the first mass-market EVs.
So now that you've got the lay of the land, who are the companies selling the chargers?
ECOtality North America (formerly eTec) has been at the charging station game for quite some time, having developed the Minit-Charger system to quick charge such industrial equipment as electric forklifts. With all of that background they have taken the Minit-Charger and applied it to both residential and commercial charging stations.
As the manager behind the public-private EV deployment partnership known as 'The EV Project'—which seeks to install thousands of charging stations in 5 deployment states over the next year—ECOtality is also in the business of installing charge stations that are not their own. Currently ECOtality builds chargers that can support both Level I and Level II charging, but not DC fast charging.
In an attempt to liven up their rather staid image, ECOtality has just announced a new lineup of home and commercial Level II charging stations. Perhaps their new stations—designed by global industrial design firm, frog design—will lend them some much needed hipness?
Even though they've been selling chargers for decades, Clipper Creek is somewhat of an underdog. Without the sexy design of some of their other competitors, Clipper Creek builds gray boxes that do the job, but are more geared at fleet installation than for business or residential. Even so, the company is clear to point out that their charging stations can be installed anywhere, and in fact, they do the installations of the home charging stations for the Tesla Roadster. Their stations are meant for Level II charging only, and come in a variety of Voltage and Amperage configurations to match customers' needs.
As indicated above, AeroVironment has scored a bit of a coup having been chosen as the exclusive contractor for the installation of Nissan LEAF home charging units. Although they are mostly known for their residential installations, AeroVironment is also one of the only companies that sells both Level II and DC fast charge commercial units.
AeroVironment is a diverse company, having developed unmanned aircraft for military applications over the past several decades. The company dove headfirst into the EV world when they designed the precursor to GM's storied EV1—the Impact—in the 90s. At the time they also developed the charging stations for the EV1, so the addition of modern EV charging technology to their roster is not a surprise.
Chances are good that if you've heard anything about charge station installations, you've heard of Coulomb. They are quickly building out their ChargePoint network which will will allow anyone with a membership to pull up to any of their stations and start filling up immediately. Although the vast majority of their 300+ stations deployed at this point are Level I, they have also begun deploying Level II chargers.
Just last week GE entered the fray with their WattStation charger. Initially meant only for commercial deployments, they plan to unveil a residential version later this year. The WattStation is, arguably, the best looking of the bunch—a result that is no accident. Designed by legendary industrial designer, Yves Behar, the WattStation is meant to make you feel the exact polar opposite of what you might feel when you pull up to a gas station. It is also the only charger that currently has WiFi smart grid technology built in.
A company that only beats Clipper Creek in obscurity, PEP has been working with Ford to develop charging stations that are robust and meant to take a beating. Founded by an architect and his brother, PEP stations feature a solid concrete base and a stainless steel top and are only geared, not surprisingly, towards commercial/municipal installations. Without much of a track record, only time will tell what their stations can offer, but when I talked with both brothers at the New York Auto Show, they seemed to think that their stations were more robust than any of the competitions' because they used high quality automotive grade components.
Although Better Place is known for its battery swapping schemes, they have also begun deployment of charge stations in Israel and Denmark. Although they don't currently have any plans to sell their stations as one-off residential installations, they're still worth mentioning because their business model seems to shift with the breeze and they might be in the residential charge station arena before we know it.
As a well-established electrical supply giant, Leviton has quite a large base of nationwide service technicians to draw from. Perhaps that's why they've decided to include an industry-first 10 year warranty on their new lineup of "Evr-green" home and commercial charging stations?
The Evr-green stations support both Level I and Level II charging, and will work with Coulomb Technologies' already existing ChargePoint Network of charging stations. Leviton has also developed a standard method of installation that they are calling an "industry-first plug-in prewire system" for their Level II chargers that enables consumers to make their homes “plug-in ready” prior to purchasing any electric car. The prewire systems start at under $200 not including installation, and are meant to reduce installation times, lower installation costs and provide flexibility for any future upgrades.
It's not a complete do-it-yourself endeavor because the the prewire kits have to be installed by a Leviton certified installer, but after the system is installed, Leviton says their Level II charging station can be added by the consumer "without any tools."
Those are the only companies that I know of. If you've gotten a whiff of any other players that are flying under the radar, please let me know so that I can include them in this list.
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