Charging cars at work: Will your employer let you plug in?
The Energy Department wants more companies to add charging stations for their employees, even though few are buying the cars.
The Energy Department wants to increase the number of office-based charging stations by 10 times in five years. Currently, there are about 4,100 private charging stations in the U.S., with only a small fraction located in company parking lots or garages. Thirteen companies, including Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Nissan and Tesla, have pledged to install a "workplace charging infrastructure for at least one major worksite location," according to the DOE. GM says it already has 239 charging spots for its employees.
Unlike other DOE projects with electric cars, the companies aren't receiving grants or loans. But federal goals to have automakers build and sell plug-in electric vehicles that are as cheap and easy to run as gas-powered vehicles -- all by 2022 -- are already looking unrealistic.
President Barack Obama is on record calling for 1 million plug-in vehicles by 2015. Last year, a little more than 53,000 were sold. Battery manufacturers have drastically cut production, and two have gone bankrupt. A123 Systems, which supplies batteries for the Fisker Karma, was sold to a Chinese parts company last week in a government-approved deal.
Of course, there's some promise and progress. The Society of Automotive Engineers and eight major automakers have adopted a new fast-charging standard that promises an 80 percent charge in as little as half an hour. Tesla is designing its own proprietary charging network that it says can enable long-distance -- and eventually cross-country -- travel with its electric cars.
But in many instances, charging stations remain unused. In Tennessee, for instance, the number of stations outnumbers the number of registered all-electric vehicles. In the Boston area, gas-powered cars take up EV-dedicated spots without the police bothering to notice, as I found when driving a Nissan Leaf in the area. The question of who should pay for the electricity -- especially at a workplace -- continues to be debated.
The larger DOE goals for making electric cars more affordable reflect what will eventually happen. They call for automakers to reduce battery costs from $500 per kilowatt-hour to $125, make cheaper and lighter electric powertrains, and trim overall vehicle weights by 30 percent. By 2022, the feds say an all-electric car with 300 miles of range should cost about $35,000, including five years worth of electricity. Considering that a Tesla Model S -- the best-performing production EV -- costs well over $60,000 and has an estimated 265-mile range, it's a very tough assignment.
Even more so is the question of whether small and midsize employers will consider charging stations -- which cost at least $1,500 apiece -- a worthy employee benefit.
[Source: Energy Department]
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