By John Addison (8/4/12)
California is the leading state for the early adoption of electric cars. California was the first state to have 10,000 hybrid cars, 10,000 light electric vehicles, and now 10,000 electric cars. These California EVs are primarily charged in home garages, but their range is extended with 2,000 installed charge points. By 2014, 50,000 electric cars will be on California roads supported by 10,000 electric car charging stations.
In addition to these public charge points, California employers are adding electric car chargers for employees and their own fleet vehicles. Some have started with a single charge point under a solar covered parking lot. Google has installed 400 charge points for its electric car driving employees and Gfleet.
The battle for charge station market leadership is gaining the intensity of the network competition between AT&T and Verizon, or between Google and Facebook. These charge points offer the potential of a steady stream of income. Many think that the real value is in the network membership.
Venture-capital backed Coulomb with its ChargePoint Network has the early lead with 800 California charge points and the most robust network. ECOtality with its Blink network has over 400 charge points thanks to being the DOE’s EV Project manager. AeroVironment has taken the lead in a network of DC Fast Charge stations that will enable electric car drivers from San Diego to Seattle.
Partnerships have been established with automakers such as Nissan and GM, and retailers such as Best Buy and Lowe’s. Giants such as GE, Siemens, Schneider, and Eaton are moving in with competitive equipment and complete solutions for large fleet owners. Electric utility NRG will invest $100 million in EV charging in California and over $1 billion in renewable energy projects.
Electric car charging is Easy
For over a year, my wife and I have found it easy to keep our Nissan LEAF charged. We have never spent over $35 in a month for garage charging, compared to over $100 monthly in gasoline for our former Prius. When we return the Nissan LEAF to our garage, we plug in our Level 2 charger and it starts charging at 10 PM (our pre-programed preference). When needed, we can start charging immediately.
Range has rarely been an issue because we also own a hybrid, which we use if someone is driving over 60 miles for the day. Last week, however, range was an issue. My wife was in Lake Tahoe with our hybrid and I needed to travel 80 miles on the freeway to a technology summit. After the meeting, I could have selected from dozens of Coulomb charge points and had dinner while Level to charging. Instead, I used a Blink DC fast charger and increased range 30% and 22 min.
In my Nissan LEAF, I can use voice-activated navigation to find a nearby charging location and hear directions to get there. I have also had good luck with Google maps and with charging vendors smart apps for iPhones and Droids. To encourage early adoption, most charge points have been free, but some have required me to pay $3 per hour to use a covered parking lot. Some are solo charge stations. At the Oakland airport, I used one of 15 paid charge points in a preferred parking area.
I have learned to arrive over one hour early for meetings in Silicon Valley, where up to 40 attendees arrive in their Nissan LEAFs, Chevrolet Volts and other electric cars. We desperately share charging and move vehicles while Tesla drivers with their 250-mile range cars kindly take regular parking spaces.
By owning 2 cars, our all all-electric car works for us. Other drivers prefer the Chevrolet Volt or the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid with gasoline engines that extend electric range by hundreds of miles.
California Public Utilities Commission and NRG Energy
When I interviewed Mr. Arun Banskota, President of NRG’s eVgo, he told me that he plans to invest over $100 million over 4 years in California EV charging. In Texas, NRG has a growing network of charge points at workplaces, retail locations, apartment buildings, and more. Some are its Convenience Stations with Level 2 chargers, some are Freedom Stations costing over $100,000 each with both DC Fast Chargers and Level 2 chargers.
When NRG installs a home charger, customers are offered 7 different plans from which to choose. 75% select a plan that includes access to public charging.
NRG continues to expand from its base of coal, nuclear, and gas power generation in Texas, California, and the Northeast. NRG now proposed to buy GenOn to be one of the nation’s largest power producers with 47GW capacity. NRG also continues with major expansion in natural gas power generation, renewable energy, and EV charging. It is investing in over $1 billion of renewables in California including 290 MW of solar PV, 390MW of BrightSource solar thermal, and 450 MW of wind. NRG is installing innovative district heating and cooling in San Diego and San Francisco. By 2020, California is targeting 33% of electricity from renewables and zero percent from coal.
The California Public Utilities Commission and NRG Energy agreed that NRG would build a comprehensive electric vehicle (EV) charging network in California. Dynegy and Enron were famously accused of manipulating California’s energy markets leading to a crisis 12 years ago. The agreement, pending approvals and finalization, resolves outstanding litigation arising out of a long-term electricity contract entered into over a decade ago by a subsidiary of Dynegy and now part of NRG. Dynegy was accused of $940 million of price gouging in California in 2000 and 2001.
This fee-based charging network will consist of at least 200 publicly available fast –charging stations—installed in the San Francisco Bay area, the San Joaquin Valley, the Los Angeles Basin and San Diego County—which can add 50 miles of range in about 20 minutes of charging. Retailers, restaurants, hospitals, multi-tenant buildings, and schools will be promising target locations.
The DC-Fast Charging will especially be helpful for drivers of pure battery-electric cars like the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i, many which were purchased with DC-Fast Charge Ports. Currently many of these electric car drivers are limited to ranges of 60 to 120 miles without access to fast charging.
Additionally, NRG’s EV infrastructure commitment will include the wiring for at least 10,000 individual charging stations located at homes, offices, multifamily communities, schools and hospitals located across the State. The charging locations will be easy for drivers to find with Google Maps, smartphone apps, and electric car navigation systems. NRG California EV Charging:
- 200 direct current (DC) fast chargers to the state, such as the 11 eVgo Freedom Stations installed in Houston.
- 10,000 parking spaces retrofitted with wiring necessary to charge EVs at multifamily buildings, large work sites, universities, hospitals, etc.
- Training and potentially 1,500 jobs for the installation and maintenance of these charging stations in California.
- $5 million is estimated to advance smart grid, grid storage and vehicle-to-grid (V2G).
- $102.5 million in infrastructure investment over four years
- $20 million in cash to go to the California Public Utility Commission.
NRG will NRG is already building stations from Maryland to Texas to California. eVgo wants to have stations running in California by the end of 2012, pending approval of FERC and ECOtality legal action. When I asked Mr. Banskota about his biggest issue in expanding to a nationwide network of charge stations, he replied that NRG must deal with 44,000 government permitting jurisdictions, each with their own rules and processes.
NRG’s CEO, David Crane, personally owns 3 electric cars including a Tesla, Fisker Karma and Nissan LEAF. He envisions the day when at least 50 million Americans drive electric cars and he is pushing NRG for early market leadership.
ECOtality Sues To Stop NRG
ECOtality filed with California’s First District Court of Appeal to halt implementation of an agreement between the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and NRG Energy. ECOtality alleges:
”that the agreement, which was intended to settle NRG’s role in overcharging California energy ratepayers $940 million during the 2000-2001 energy crisis, instead rewards NRG by requiring only that the company spend $102.5 million on its own EVCS business. The PUC intervened outside of its authority in the private marketplace by endorsing one of multiple competitors, and indeed the most powerful, thereby handing the company a monopoly over the nascent market in California.”
“This so-called ‘punishment’ is like a restaurant failing a health inspection then being given an exclusive franchise to open and operate every restaurant in the city, subsidized by public funds,” said ECOtality CEO Jonathan Read. “This is an illegal giveaway, negotiated without public input, that will not only impede the development of the electric vehicle market in California and ultimately cost consumers more — but it also denies California rate-payers any refunds from the nearly $1 billion in overcharging that occurred during the energy crisis.”
The California Public Utility Commission has filed with the District Court opposing ECOtality’s requested stay. The CPUC states that Dynegy paid $281 in claims resolution in 2004 and with the charging station project will pay a total of $400 million. The CPUC feels that it negotiated a strong settlement and wants to move ahead with the statewide charging infrastructure.
Since ECOtality is benefiting from managing the EV Project with $230 million of DOE funding, many see irony in its attack on NRG.
California’s Strong Support
California leads the nation in installed solar power. Many early adopters of solar are also early adopters of electric car charging. California based SolarCity, has installed 2,500 car chargers, such as Robo Bank’s central coast network of bank branches using both solar power and providing Level 2 charging for bank customers.
In 1967, Governor Ronald Reagan established the California Air Resources Board, in part to attack the multi-billion dollar healthcare costs of its citizens chocking in smog. Now, the air is cleaner but the fight against lung damage and sick school children continues. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has offered $5 million to co-fund 2,000 public chargers and employer sponsored chargers and 3,000 home chargers.
San Diego is the first city in the U.S. to charge 1,000 EV with a smart grid. With hundreds of charge points, San Diego attracted car2go to place over 200 electric Smart Cars into downtown car sharing.
To the benefit of electric car drivers, intense competition is spurring the build-out of an extensive charging network.
50,000 Electric Cars will soon be enhancing their home and employer charging with 10,000 Charge Points that give drivers the range comfort of gasoline cars and allow electric-car travel of 1,300 miles from Baja to British Columbia.