blink chargerA charger dock for the wireless Blink network from ECOtality.

Mass produced electric cars are finally here but will drivers buy them? Unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, you probably are more than aware that GM and Nissan will begin selling the first mass produced plug-ins before the end of the year and several other electric models will be released soon. It has been a rocky road to getting here. But something is still missing along that road: places to charge up.

The Obama Administration is spending 2.4 billion dollars to try to revitalize the industry but much of that money has gone toward battery research, making longer lasting, cheaper batteries. A fraction of the federal funds is going into creating a charging infrastructure, via grants to charging companies and consumer tax credits.

nissan leafThe Nissan Leaf has two plugs, one for high speed chargers and one for 220/110 voltage.

115 million dollars in federal stimulus funds are going into the installation of chargers via two programs.

The EV Project is rolling out in 16 U.S. cities and will be installing chargers in homes, workplaces and public places. San Francisco based ECOtality is managing the project. ChargePoint America is a program brought to you by Silicon Valley based Coulomb Technologies that will also be offering, and installing, free chargers. Both companies are designing smart chargers which will be part of a wireless network. Members could use their smart phones, or a web portal, not only to find stations but to make a reservation, pay for a charge, find out if service has been interrupted or their car is fully revved up. Smart chargers are also designed to work better with our antiquated electric grid.

Both ECOtality and Coulomb will be installing some fast chargers in major metropolitan areas by January. These high speed chargers can rev up a car, like Nissan’s all-electric Leaf, in less than thirty minutes. Look for these chargers at some gas stations, super markets, coffee houses and highway truck stops.

blink chargerCoulomb Technologies ChargePoint America dock.

If you can’t score a free charger from a charging company, you can try your local air district. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has a plan to install 5000 chargers in homes, apartment buildings and work places in the next few years. They are considering requests.

In addition to shopping for a charger, drivers should think about notifying their utility that they might be increasing their load at home. Apparently, utilities like PG and E require they be notified so they can send someone out to check the impact on the neighborhood grid. The good news is California utilities are offering overnight discounted charging rates. The bad news is you would never know about it because it is very hard to find anything on their website that remotely resembles advice about electric vehicles. Southern California Edison, on the other hand, has a great site for drivers considering the electric options.

Now we just have to cross our fingers that some brave early adopters will take the leap and the charging companies will follow through to keep pace with the need for places to recharge.

Listen to Looking For A Charge radio report.

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Reporter's Notes: Looking For A Charge 1 October,2010Andrea Kissack


Andrea Kissack

Andrea has nearly three decades of experience working as a reporter, anchor, producer and editor for public radio, large market television news and CBS radio. In her current role as KQED’s Sr. Science Editor, Andrea helps lead a talented team covering science, technology, health and the environment for broadcast and digital platforms. Most recently she helped KQED launch a new, multimedia initiative covering the intersection of technology, health and medical science. She has earned a number of accolades for her work including awards from the Radio and Television News Directors Association, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the Associated Press. Her work can be seen, and heard, on a number of networks, Including NPR, PBS, CBS and the BBC.

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