Electric Vehicles

Electric Vehicles Continue to 'Charge' Ahead

January 2013, Green Fleet Magazine - Feature

by Lauren Fletcher - Also by this author


Web Extras


Part one of this two-part series on electric vehicle infrastructure reviewed the state of the industry, whether infrastructure or electric vehicles should come first (“the chicken or the egg” argument), and challenges the industry currently faces.

Part two puts electric vehicles and charging infrastructure for fleets into perspective. One current concern revolves around the need for, or lack of, public charging infrastructure. Could the future look more like the present? And, where did electric vehicles all begin? Experts share their insight.

The Changing Needs of Fleet
One thing to keep in mind when understanding electric vehicles (EVs) used in fleet applications is that they are used mainly for shorter, stop-and-go urban routes with return-to-base operations. Because of this main difference between how consumers and fleets use EVs, the big question is whether public charging infrastructure is needed for fleet operations.

The first difference is that one of the most common reasons for the hesitation in buying an electric vehicle is so-called range anxiety.

“Range anxiety is the nervous feeling that a driver will run out of ‘juice’ while on the road,” explained Greg Fioriti, chief revenue officer for ECOtality. “Commercial infrastructure is an important backbone of the EV lifestyle, because it allows drivers to extend the range of their vehicles.”

However, Richard Lowenthal, founder and CTO of ChargePoint, has a different take on that nervous feeling. “Range anxiety only afflicts people that don’t actually drive electric vehicles. If you have done the math, and figured if the vehicle fits your driving pattern, you know you will be fine,” Lowenthal said.

So, while it may not be a necessity for fleets, Brian Hanrahan, director, In-Home Technologies and Electric Vehicles of Florida Power & Light (FPL), noted that access to public charging can help reduce range anxiety and help increase the awareness and adoption of electric vehicles.

Also noting reduced range anxiety was John Nakamoto, manager, national sales training, technology & electric vehicle sales operations for Mitsubishi Motors North America.

“Although the vast majority of EV charging is done at home through either Level 1 or Level 2 electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) charging units, establishing access to public charging stations helps reduce ‘range anxiety’ and other concerns, which, in turn, leads to greater sales and acceptance of EVs in general,” Nakamoto said. “The more charging stations available as part of a public or private network, the better for EV owners, whether stations are located in public parking lots or on city streets.”

Through the EV Project, launched in 2009 by ECOtality after a $99.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, data shows most drivers use public infrastructure for “opportunity charging,” or adding a little power to the battery to keep it fully charged, when possible. According to Fioriti, this gives drivers “the surety that they can make it to their next destination.”

Lisa Jerram, senior research analyst for Pike Research, a part of Navigant, also sees public infrastructure used for opportunity charging. “There is a desire to use public charging as long as it is in convenient locations and can be used for ‘top-off’ charging. However, early on you don’t need total coverage to satisfy the charging needs of most plug-in-electric vehicle (PEV) drivers,” according to Jerram. “Companies are still trying to work out the best business model for public charging infrastructure.”

Jerram noted that the markets for PEVs and EVSEs are occurring successfully in tandem. “There are several more PEV models set to be introduced in North America over the next two years, and the number of companies offering EVSE equipment has grown dramatically in response to the growing PEV market,” she said.

Currently, the vast majority of charging is happening at home or at fleet locations. According to Hanrahan of FPL, “Access to public charging can enable those who don’t have the ability to charge at home to drive an electric vehicle.”
No matter how it is used, Deb Frodl, chief strategy officer and GE global alternative fuels leader, is one expert who believes public infrastructure for fleet use is “absolutely essential.”

“The drivers of GE’s EVs are sales and service personnel. They are on the road daily and weekly. They desire hotel and public charging so they can maximize their electric refueling when traveling,” Frodl explained. “Additionally, having infrastructure deployed really helps create comfort with these new vehicles. Seeing charging stations at different locations goes a long way toward building public awareness of the technology.”

Michael Farkas, CEO and co-founder of the Car Charging Group, also sees a need for public infrastructure. “There is absolutely a need for public EV charging infrastructure. While most studies report that charging will be completed primarily at home, in many urban areas, people do not have their own private garages,” Farkas noted. “EV drivers in these markets are not able to install personal EV charging stations, nor should other non-EV driving residents have to pay for the electricity consumed by EVs. Therefore, public EV charging stations, which include their own meter to monitor the electricity consumed, have become necessary.”

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