I have seen the future of EV charging, and it's really cool looking. ECOtality just emailed me a photo of its station, which will be unveiled at the Plug-In 2010 trade show in San Jose on the 27th. I can't show it to you until then, but it's proof that we're in a designer race with these babies. ECOtality's Jonathan Read says its' "way smarter and easier to use than any other similar product. It makes it very easy for consumers to switch over to electric driving."
Soon, we'll be buying EV chargers in big-box stores, and they'll be competing to make them visually appealing. Maybe Apple will have one, too, and Steve Jobs will be up there in his jeans introducing it. Stranger things have happened.
EVs have arrived, and they're not yesterday's super-clunky nerdmobiles. If even the chargers are getting cool, we're on to something. I was watching a video of an old-technology solar EV charger in action, and the thing was so boxy, so ugly, so poorly labeled (dozens of confusing buttons) that it's no wonder they didn't take off back then. Just look at the thing:
I can't show you the newest charger, but this was a week for innovation in the space. I got a first look at the pretty sleek Coulomb ChargePoint charger in New York this month, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg introduced it to his city with HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan in attendance. The station is one of 200 coming to New York, paid for with a $15 million Department of Energy grant.
Bloomberg plugged in a Smart car, which like most coming EVs is "smart" in more ways than one--it can interact with the grid and charge itself only at night when the rates are lower and demand is down. ECOtality's station offers "smart phone appliations for status charges and notification of completion or interruption of charge." That means you'll get a text on your phone letting you know your charge is complete.
Also just rolled out is the new public version of the WattStation, designed by Yves Behar ("the $100 laptop") for General Electric. That one's cutting edge, a rounded shape angled toward the EV owner. The cord retracts so you don't get tangled up in it, and an LED display lights up in designer colors to let you know if it's free or in service. There's a friendly "Hello!" message, too.
Behar, who helped unveil the charger in San Francisco, told me the WattStation represented "a really elegant solution. A lot of considerations went into designing a product that will end up becoming urban furniture. It was exciting to work on a product that will have such a positive impact on the urban environment."
"Urban furniture," I like that. The WattStation will certainly be better looking than the parking meters that it will replace in cities like San Francisco. The design of those municipal horrors hasn't changed in 40 years.
Contrary to what you might think, EV charging won't require a steep learning curve. You line up a standardized plug (J1772, certified by the Society of Automotive Engineers) and drive that sucker home. The car will either start charging right then, or you can make like a VCR and time your session to start later. Check in later via cellphone to make sure everything's going well. Most people will have Level 2, 220-volt charging in their garages, which means cars will be 100% ready to go in six or eight hours.
Maybe 80% of charging will be at home. Another maybe 10% at work. And the last 10% in public, at the aforementioned big-box stores that will also be selling the wall-mounted chargers. I just got off the phone with Best Buy, and the company has already got a small fleet of Mitsubishi I-MiEV plug-in cars doing duty for the Geek Squad. It's next step is putting in charging for them, and after that it's going to be offering charging to consumers. Best Buy is likely to sell $1,000 to $1,500 chargers, too. Soon they'll be just another consumer product, and you'll be buying one because you like the brushed aluminum finish.
Richard Lowenthal, CEO of Coulomb Technologies, told me in New York that his company is talking to big-box stores about offering the company's chargers at retail. GE is doing the same, said spokeswoman Megan Parker.
All this stuff is coming together to build a zero emission future that works. I can't wait to see what happens next.
From Popular Mechanics: Toyota and Tesla Plan to Unveil an EV in 2010
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.