Thursday, October 18, 2012


As an EV advocate, I am always looking for ways to promote EV ownership. 

Part of promoting ownership is by populating web sites such as with publicly accessible charging stations.  Then my thoughts drift towards schemes of finding ways to use those public stations myself instead of using household current.  This article attempts to share some of the motivations and possible repercussions of using remote charging strictly as a cost-saving alternative to home charging. 

Here are some of the thought processes.  I am aware of a charging station at one of our three local hospitals.  There are two stations, each with two chargers resulting in a total of four chargers with “Electric Vehicle Reserved Parking.”  When I first learned of these, I thought “Great, I can drive my Mitsubishi i-MiEV down and plug in for a while to charge up the batteries.”  The distance from home is about 2.5 miles.  A round-trip journey would be 5 miles.  For the sake of simplicity let’s figure it takes one kilowatt hour of power to drive the 5 mile round-trip route and it takes a half hour to charge one kilowatt hour back to the batteries.  The car needs to sit a half hour just to have a net zero gain/loss.  Then figure one hour of sitting per 10 miles of range increase.  How does one spend that time?  Read a book?  Walk around the hospital campus?  So a charger with a nearby activity would be a better solution.

Next Idea

The local Nissan dealer recently moved across town.  The new dealership location also brought with it a new charging terminal (for their Leaf’s).  The dealership is conveniently located close to a strip mall and several dining establishments.  This would solve the “what to do while charging the car” question.  The time could be spent having a meal nearby or shopping.  But what if I didn’t really need to buy anything?  Would I really be “saving” money using the remote charger for free if I end up spending money during an “unplanned” shopping trip?  I’ve calculated my cost with reliable accuracy for charging at home.  Twelve hours on the charger at home only costs about $0.50.  Any spontaneous purchases at all while “killing time”, and I’ve almost certainly come out behind in the overall savings effort.  There is a branch of the local library within walking distance though.  Spending time there could be done without much fear of spending money unintentionally.  It’s worth mentioning that I’m at home for a long enough duration that I’m not being held hostage by the charger and waiting for the car to have sufficient range before venturing out.

When to Charge Remotely?

There is another recent charger installation that is part of our Park District.  The charger’s location is next to a recreational path that is adjacent to the river.  It’s a good place to go to take a walk.  It was a destination before I owned an EV, and it was a destination before the charger was installed.  Now the advantage is, the trip can be made and the car can be given a charge while sitting.  Since I’m making the trip for a different reason than just to charge the car, it feels justified to plug the car in while it sits.  For my situation, remote charging will more than likely be less than 5% of total charging time over the length of ownership. 

To Summarize

Remote Charge When…
·         You cannot get home or to next destination on current range.
·         A charger exists at a location you are going to (for non-charging reasons).
·         You are not going to incur extraneous costs just for the sake of using the charger.

Are Remote Charging Stations Critical?

Like so much in life, it depends.  For me, and I’m sensing for many others, there is little occasion to need to charge while away from the house.  Yes, I will concede that a person who’s intent is to drive round-trip distances that are beyond the range of the vehicle will need to recharge somewhere along the way.  So far, my car typically gets charged twice a week.  There are many weeks where I could have gone with a single charge.  I tend not to charge to full battery capacity, nor do I use the car until the power level is severely depleted.  What about the longer-range commuter?  I would fully endorse an owner who planned to drive around 40 miles each way to and from work.  Provided they had a place to recharge at work, this would be one of the best scenarios for getting the most value out of an electric car such as the Mitsubishi i-MiEV.  The argument changes slightly since it switches from public charging terminals for the population at large to “semi-public” charging terminals intended for just employees of a company.

As an advocate, I’ve often wondered if it would be in the interest of the Electric Vehicle “Movement” to encourage companies with a local presence to invest in EV charging infrastructure.  I know that I would not likely be able to take advantage of the charging myself, for the reasons stated above.  Therefore it would appear that my motivation is to see EVs succeed at growing in acceptance and ownership.  A couple companies that have already shown support and have a local presence are Walgreen’s and Kohl’s.  In the eyes of the merchant, what needs to come first?  The cars or the chargers?  Rockford has a Nissan dealership that sells the Leaf and a Chevrolet dealership that sells the Volt.  It also has a Mitsubishi dealership, but unfortunately it doesn’t carry the i-MiEV.  Is that enough to warrant the investment in infrastructure upgrade?  Kohl’s has two stores locally.  It wouldn’t be nearly as cost intensive to add chargers as it would be for Walgreen’s which operates several stores across town.

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