Public Charging Stations

By · March 15, 2010

EV Charging at McDonald's in Cary, North Carolina

A McDonald's franchise in Cary, North Carolina, installed a ChargePoint electric car public charging station. For now, public chargers are few and far between, but hundreds of thousands will be installed in public locations in the next five years.

While most plug-in car owners are likely to primarily charge at home, public charging stations will enable you to charge your vehicle when driving around town. To maximize convenience, most of these charging stations will be at the places where you normally park for a length of time anyway—at parking garages at lots, government office buildings, and at retail locations such as big box stores, movie theaters and restaurants.

By 2015, more than 200,000 of these public charging stations will be installed in the U.S., according to my analysis at Pike Research. Since we're at the dawn of the charging era, the availability of public charging stations will vary widely from town to town. Thanks in part to our federal tax dollars, the highest penetration will be in major metropolitan areas in Arizona, Washington State, Oregon and Tennessee, which received stimulus funding to install more than 12,000 charging stations. Plug-in vehicle manufacturers are also tracking where there is the most interest in their product, so it's a safe bet that if you're in a city where lots of people are driving a Prius today, you'll be able to find a charging station fairly easily.

A Free Lunch, After All?

The good news is that many of them will provide free charging. Municipalities will offer free charging because it is in the public interest to reduce the carbon emissions from burning fuel. Commercial entities will provide free charging out of self-interest—they want you to shop/dine there and stay for the several hours it will take to charge the batteries. The process will be straightforward. Connect the onboard charging equipment that came with your vehicle, and it will send a message that will activate the charging equipment.
You may experience some sales pitches sent to your car or your smart phone, and some companies may offer reward program points for letting them know you've stopped by.

Searching for a Business Model

Parking facilities that require you to play for charging will likely include familiar looking equipment for swiping your credit/debit card. Since only utilities are permitted—thanks to arcane regulations—to charge for electricity consumed, most stations will charge a flat fee or by time interval. The total cost is likely to be a few dollars since the actual cost of electricity is so low—less than a buck in most places. Hardcore eco-conscious drivers looking to avoid the "powered by coal" stigma of using the grid's power should look for solar-powered charging stations, though they will be few in number.

ll-electric vehicles charging at standard speeds—Level I and Level II—will require up to 8 hours to fully fuel up. That’s a long time to hang out in public. The technology exists for "rapid charging,” but stations providing Level III rapid charging will be few and far between, considering the greater cost of the equipment. Level III rapid chargers are more than likely to require higher fees for EV owners. When they emerge, you'll them along main highway routes or at gas stations.

While some public charging stations may be accessible to all vehicles, others may limit access to subscribers, with vehicles registered to a proprietary billing system. An access control system would be used to identify and approve vehicles and record and share data about when and where vehicles the vehicles charge. It’s not yet known how it will shake out, but privacy concerns may dissuade some customers from accessing public charging stations that identify where a vehicle was charged.

Are we overthinking the issue of recharging infrastructure for electric cars and plug-in hybrids?

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
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  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.