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Time, cash needed for EV charging station installations

Allow a few days to several weeks and between $500 to $2,000 — plus the cost of the charger.

August 28, 2011|By Tiffany Hsu, Los Angeles Times
(Courtesy Tesla Motors )

Setting up charging stations for electric vehicles at home may test your patience.

The process can take from a few days to several weeks, and cost $500 to $2,000. That's not including the charger, which usually falls between $1,000 and $2,500 before government incentives.

The standard steps:

Have a certified electrician assess the home's power capacity. Certain homes may need upgraded circuits or a dedicated one for the vehicle depending on their existing electrical load. Many EV dealers partner with charger and installation companies and will recommend their services — as Nissan does with Monrovia-based AeroVironment and Ford does with Best Buy. Homeowners can also use local electricians. Their services may be cheaper, some EV owners say.

Pick a charger. Most homeowners will choose a wall-mounted version of what's known as a Level 2 charger, a 240-volt contraption with about as much voltage as a clothes dryer. Compared with a 120-volt Level 1 charger, which requires up to 20 hours to replenish a depleted battery, the Level 2 unit needs fewer than eight hours. But the latter needs to be specially installed; the former can be plugged into an average socket. Most new chargers are compatible with any EV.

File a permit. Government agencies, such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, have attempted to streamline the process, allowing permits to be filed online and immediately vetted. Confer with the local utility, which will need to check whether the neighborhood grid can handle the added demand of charging an EV. The DWP says it has updated 10,000 transformers in the last three years to accommodate the vehicles.

Schedule an installation. How long this part takes depends on who's doing the work and where. Specialty contractors familiar with charging systems tend to be faster than general electricians. Homes that require underground or long-distance conduits may be in for a wait.

Get a site inspection and approval if required by local regulations.

Incentives for early adopters could significantly slash charger costs. A federal tax credit could knock 30% — or up to $1,000 — off the price of a charging unit. The DWP is offering subsidies of up to $2,000 for as many as 5,000 residential customers with a Level 2 charger.

So far, the DWP has received fewer than 20 applications for the program and has cut checks for three. Although hundreds of locals have inquired about home chargers, utility officials said the tough economy, lower gas prices and delivery shortages linked to the earthquake in Japan had stymied EV growth in the region.

Coulomb Technologies is offering nearly 5,000 free chargers to L.A. residents under its ChargePoint America program. A similar project from ECOtality will provide up to 8,300 EV drivers with free units and subsidized installation. The programs, backed by federal stimulus funds and the Energy Department, require participants to allow access to their charging data for research purposes.

Customers also can charge their vehicles with solar power from rooftop panels. The tactic could cost drivers a quarter of the cost of fuel and half the amount spent on standard electricity from the grid, according to panel installer SolarCity.

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