It is possible to plug in an electric car to an ordinary wall socket and, a mere 10 or 12 hours later, is will be fully charged. Wow, that's a long time! But Britta Gross, lord and master of everything for the "range extender" Chevrolet Volt (she's the director of global energy systems and infrastructure commercialization for GM) tells me that the company's research predicts that 40 percent of the car's charging will be on 110 (Level One charging). That means just plugging into the wall and not into a 220-volt charger (which is Level Two charging, estimated to charge a car in four to six hours).
Seconding that, Pamela Fletcher, the Volt's chief engineer, told me, "You can go home and while you're sleeping you'll be filling up your tank. A lot of the time, you'll be traveling to grandma's house and want to top up the batteries, but she won't have a charger."
Never thought of that. It's also true that 110 charging will be cheaper, and incredibly simple. Do you know how to plug in a toaster? You can do the same for an EV. The main advantage is that you save in buying the 220-volt charger itself, an expense that starts at $2,000 plus the hassle of having it installed and inspected (it can take weeks). If you have an electric dryer, you're in luck (they're 220), but if you went with gas or have older wiring, you're looking at larger bills.
If you think about it, does it matter if it takes 10 or four hours to charge the car if it's just sitting in the garage? Maybe we'll just set it and forget it.
I was pondering this as two companies made EV charger news this week. General Electric rolled out its ultra-cool 220-volt WattStation (designed by Yves Behar of Fuseproject, who also gave us the $100 laptop). And a competitor, Coulomb Technologies, was in New York unveiling its first ChargePoint 220-volt public charger, part of a $37 million program (funded in part by the Department of Energy) to put 4,600 free chargers around the U.S.
GE's WattStation will be ready to recharge cars next year. (GE photo)
Both companies plan to market their chargers in big-box stores, so they could become very familiar to bargain shoppers. Hmm, I need milk, cat food and...an EV charger. Installation is extra, of course.
We won't have any idea today if 220-volt EV chargers will be in every garage by 2020. The public's experience of EVs, and how consumers will want to charge them, is a complete unknown. Keep in mind there is also Level Three charging, 480 volts. That isn't something you'll have at home -- the Starbucks or the Home Depot might have it. (Best Buy is talking to me about their plans later this week; stay tuned.)
How long does Level Three charging take? Ten minutes! You're up and on your way. But Better Place (which favors battery swapping) and others raise doubts about fast charging effects on the longevity of your battery pack. Zapping cells with that much current really heats them up.
In the end, GM may be right. A lot more people than we realize will be fine with plugging their EVs into the wall. In effect they'll take the long way home, from grandma's house or otherwise.
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