Despite No Electric Cars, Orlando Installs Hundreds of Charge Stations

By · August 09, 2011

Public electric car charger in Orlando, Florida

Fox News coverage of electric car charging in Orlando shows a charger in the foreground, and gas-guzzlers in the background.

America’s electric car charging infrastructure is rolling out in strange and unpredictable ways. Take Orlando, for example.

I’m proud that the town where I grew up is taking a bold leap into the electric car era by installing public charging stations. Central Florida, according to a report in the Orlando Sentinel, has nearly 50 charging stations, thanks to the Department of Energy program supporting charging throughout the country. The newspaper reported that Central Florida was the first in the entire U.S. to get a charging station via the program, and is slated to get 300 stations on private and public property in the next year—and as many as 200 by October. Each station costs about $8,500.

According to Tim Trudell of Orlando Utilities Commission, "Orlando is now one of the most electric-vehicle-ready communities in the state."

That’s great, but here’s the strange thing. At this point, there are just about zero electric cars on Florida roads. To be frank, Orlando has never been known as a hotbed of progressive environmental thinking or early technology adoption. When gas-electric hybrid cars—not the plug-in kind—were hitting big in 2007 and 2008, Orlando would occasionally make it to the Top 15 list of hybrid markets—but carbuyers in Los Angeles commonly bought six or seven times the number of hybrids, and buyers in the San Francisco Area would buy four or five times as many.

Nissan and General Motors have yet to begin selling the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt in Central Florida. When they do arrive, I suspect the numbers will be relatively low. According to media reports, the only folks currently using public chargers in Central Florida are driving EV conversions and golf carts. Rick Frazee, the owner of the Best Western Mt. Vernon Inn on Orlando Avenue in Winter Park, Fla. installed two public chargers, thinking it would be a good marketing strategy. "I overestimated how much people would use them," he said. "But I'm hopeful." Frazee said only two drivers had ever used the chargers.

Home is Where the EV Charges

So while hundreds of stations soon will be in place in my childhood hometown of Orlando—with no electric cars to use them—I have yet to find (or see evidence of) a single public location to charge my all-electric Nissan LEAF in my adopted hometown of Berkeley, Calif., where I have lived for the past 20 years. (I've tried to find local charging spots via the Recargo mobile app, the station finder that also serves up articles from PluginCars.com. No luck.)

I have personally seen five or six LEAFs on Berkeley streets, and about four Chevy Volts. There must be dozens more. When I told my insurance agent to add the LEAF to our coverage, she told me it was the third one in Berkeley during the same week to get new coverage from her office. There are seven Priuses on my block and at least two cars that run on biodiesel. I have no doubt that EVs are going to quickly start popping up all over town.

How many electric car public chargers will be installed in Orlando before Berkeley gets its first one?

It's a curious issue, but actually I’m not too worried. Even as the Fox News affiliate in Orlando suggests, most charging will happen at home. (Fox is less accurate with its forecast that “charging stations may go the way of the old pay telephones,” due to lack of use.)

I support anything that promotes wider adoption of electric cars. And I suppose it’s good to prepare EV infrastructure prior to the arrival of EVs in Orlando—to make prospective electric car buyers feel more comfortable. But why isn’t the Department of Energy (or some other public agency) coordinating the installation of public charging so that it goes in first where the cars are being sold? Dr. Chu?

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.