Illinois Company Introduces Low-Cost 120-Volt Public Charger for Electric Cars

By · May 23, 2013

The L1 Power Post

The first customer deliveries of the L1 Power Post are scheduled for August.

The simplest, cheapest and most effective solution to many technical and social problems is often overlooked—because it’s too obvious. For public electric car charging, nearly all the industry's efforts have been placed on relatively expensive Level 2 240-volt chargers, as well as more powerful so-called Quick Charging systems. Manufacturers have almost entirely overlooked the vast potential for Level 1 120-volt charging equipment as an effective and economical approach to public EV charging.

That could change, with the release of the L1 Power Post, the industry’s first Level 1 public charging station—introduced this week by Telefonix, at the International Parking Institute’s conference and expo in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Allen Will, director of business development at Telefonix, has been closely observing the EV industry for the past several years. “I’ve always been a car guy, and I really love electric vehicles,” he told me, in a phone interview while attending the parking industry conference in Florida. Will drives a Chevy Volt. “I’ve never loved a car more than this thing,” he said.

Starting with Cord Management

Telefonix, an Illinois-based 25-year-old company with about 200 employees, is the leading provider of electric cord reels for the airline industry. The company has a dominant industry position in making and selling cord reels for entertainment controls used by airline passengers to turn the volume up and down, and change channels. A few years ago, Will observed that EV public chargers could use a better retractable cord management system—so he went about the task of engineering and prototyping a component that would allow makers of public charging equipment to roll 20 feet of a Level 2 cord neatly back into the equipment. Cord management made easy.

But before Telefonix went into production, Will put on the brakes. While attending a conference held by the Society of Automotive Engineers last year, he heard a presentation by Mark Duvall, of the Electric Power Research Institute, extolling the virtues of Level 1 public charging. Will didn’t see anybody else making Level 1 public chargers. When he got back from the SAE conference, he told his colleagues, “We’re going down the wrong path. Let’s use a smaller cord rail, and build a Level 1 charging station.”

Allen Will, of Telefonix

Allen Will, of Telefonix, at the company’s booth at the International Parking Institute expo this week.

Right Tool for the Job

Will now firmly believes that Level 1 is “the right equipment at the right price at the right place” for public EV charging. The L1 Power Post can provide 120 volts at 16-amps, delivering 1.92 kilowatts—enough to add 5 to 7 miles of range in one hour. The final price has not been announced, but Telefonix is “shooting for $1,500.” That’s compared to somewhere between $2,500 and $6,000 for most Level 2 public chargers that can add 20 to 25 miles of range in an hour.

The fact is that almost all EV charging takes place at home. For a typical commute to the workplace, say 15 to 20 miles of driving after the car has been fully charged at home, Level 1 can top up the battery pack in about two to three hours. According to Will, Level 2 charging at workplaces, commuter rail stations and airports, is overkill.

“The car might be plugged in for a lot longer, but it’s only transferring electricity for a couple of hours on average, and it’s done,” he said. “So you have this expensive piece of equipment that’s too much. The infrastructure to put it in is more expensive than necessary.”

Two-hundred-forty-volt chargers at airports, where an electric car or plug-in hybrid might be parked for several days, is the worst example of mismatching the tool for the job. Slow Level 1 charging, on the other hand, is just right. “I don’t care if you’re plugged in for two hours or 10 days. It’s a low cost solution. If there’s two EVs in a lot today, and 10 tomorrow, it’s not that expensive to expand.”

Version 1.0

Parking lot owners and managers could go even more low-tech and simply install outdoor three-prong outlets. But that would require each EV driver to use their own cord set, which could be stolen—and almost guarantees that a spaghetti of cords will be strewn across a public or corporate parking lot. The L1 Power Post, with its retractable system, is neat and tidy.

The current first version of the L1 Power Post is basic. “We’re trying to keep it simple, simple, simple,” said Will. “And as low cost as possible.” So, there are no bells and whistles—although the company has a road map that includes RFID validation, connectivity and payment systems to allow, for example, employers and government entities to recover some or all of the cost of electricity. Software applications are about a year away, according to Will.

In the meantime, the response from potential customers was excellent at the International Parking Institute. Will also noted that many of the big charging equipment players—such as Siemens, G.E. and Schneider—who were at the parking expo two years ago, stayed at home this year. Apparently, major corporations that had been pushing there Level 2 EV equipment a couple of years ago have realized that the business model for more expensive equipment is not there after all.

But a less expensive solution, that satisfies the needs of EV drivers, is making sense to companies, universities, and hotels wanting to install electric car charging. “A lot of people don’t think of Level 1, but when you explain the logic, they get it,” said Will. “It’s not a hard conversation. They just never had it before.”

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