Challenges on the road to electric car use
When it comes to the infrastructure needed to support electric-car usage, Lara Kaye would like to be able to use her smartphone to reserve time at a charging station. She’d also like to see more charging stations rolled out at restaurants, train stations, supermarkets and college campuses.
Last week, eight states, including New York, pledged to work toward those ends in a cooperative agreement whose goal would be to see many more zero-emission vehicles on the highway by 2025.
The so-called ZEVs include all-electric cars like the Nissan Leaf, hybrid-electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius, and hydrogen fuel-cell cars that a number of automakers are working on. ZEVs also include trucks and transit buses.
According to the memorandum of understanding signed by the governors, the states will look to create building codes that make it easier to construct charging stations; work with utilities to set lower off-peak rates for home charging systems; and standardize road signs and charging networks. The latter are seen as important to countering “range anxiety,” particularly among drivers of all-electric vehicles.
The governors said a prime goal of their cooperation is reducing transportation-related air pollution.
But challenges remain in laying the groundwork for electric cars, which saw sales triple in 2012 over a year earlier, to 52,000 vehicles. Another 40,000 plug-ins were sold through June this year, according to data from the governors.
A report late last year from the Georgetown Climate Center, a program of Georgetown University’s law school, talked of the need to align charging station deployment with “sweet spot” locations — places where electric vehicle users “will want and need to charge their cars” — in order to serve current owners and to encourage ZEV adoption.
The report identified nine clusters — including shopping malls, downtowns, workplace corridors and leisure destinations such as sports stadiums — as ideal for charging stations, because that’s where “people desire to go to and spend time.” But, it noted, “Distinctive and visible signage along with universal EVSE [charging station] locator apps and websites will also be crucial in conveying sustained public — and private-sector support and endorsement of the technology.” The report, funded in part by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, included an interview with Kaye, a research scientist and assistant research professor at the Center for Human Services Research at the University at Albany’s downtown campus.
Kaye and her husband own a gas-electric Prius and an all-electric Leaf, the latter purchased just last year. The Prius does duty on weekends and long trips; the Leaf is the “commuter car,” used weekdays by the Poestenkill couple to get them to their jobs in Albany.
Kaye has a home charging station and often “tops off” at a supermarket once a week to add an extra 10 miles of range, she told an interviewer for the Georgetown report. (Scheduling conflicts kept me from talking extensively to Kaye this week.) She cited the three-hour classes she teaches as an example of “an opportunistic charging opportunity” and also identified restaurants, retail stores and park-and-ride lots as other locations where charging stations make sense.
Her desire for a smartphone app to reserve charging-station time isn’t here quite yet, according to the report. Apps currently exist that find charging stations and check whether they’re in use. Future versions are expected to accommodate reservations and online payment, the report said.
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.