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Public EV chargers popping up in California's major cities

The chargers, many of which are free, are meant to assuage fears of dead EV batteries leaving motorists stranded.

August 28, 2011|By Tiffany Hsu, Los Angeles Times

Public electric vehicle chargers are cropping up across California's major cities, emerging in parking garages, near subway stations, alongside roads, and at shopping centers and office buildings.

The idea is to soothe range anxiety — the fear that EV batteries will abruptly die, leaving drivers stranded without a power source. Public chargers could also help attract apartment dwellers to try out electric vehicles.

Many are fast-chargers, which can juice up a dead battery in less than half an hour. The rest will be the slower Level 1 and 2 chargers, which most drivers will use as a stopgap until they get home to their garage chargers.

Many of them are also free to use — for now. Government and private companies are contemplating how to charge for electricity once more people begin driving electric vehicles.

In addition to new installations, hundreds of Southland chargers that were set up in the last electric vehicle rush in the 1990s are in line for upgrades.

Newer and upgraded chargers are all standardized to be compatible with the latest EVs.

But outside of eco-minded communities such as Santa Monica, drivers are complaining that public chargers remain in short supply, especially for long-haul trips to Las Vegas and the Bay Area.

Many older charging stations installed a decade or two ago are defunct or have been removed for lack of use.

In a chicken-or-the-egg situation, government and company officials are waiting for EV demand to pick up before spreading out more chargers, while drivers are waiting for the infrastructure to improve before buying EVs.

For now, many government buildings and businesses plan to allow free charging to encourage EV adoption.

Through 2013, drivers will be able to charge up for free at city-owned stations in

San Francisco — including the airport and public libraries.

Companies such as Google Inc. are setting aside premium parking spaces equipped with chargers for employees with EVs. Retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Ikea are reserving EV parking spots for workers as well as shoppers.

But daytime charging, when electricity prices are at their peak, is expensive. Operators of charging stations are considering adding the cost of charging to parking fees. Some are considering an electricity surcharge.

Planners are also considering options besides upright charging consoles linked to the utility grid.

Tesla Motors Inc. and solar panel installer SolarCity have set up four sun-powered charging stations along the 101 Freeway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Google, which already has more than 200 chargers at its facilities, uses solar power as well.

Google is also testing inductive charging systems, which can wirelessly juice up nearby EVs. The so-called proximity charging technology, from Evatran, involves a magnetic coil inside a floor-mounted pad that senses a companion device installed under the car.

German engineering firm IAV is developing a similar system of inductive loops that would be buried beneath roads, generating a magnetic field that could juice up cars driving overhead.

Some drivers want more battery switch stations, like the test version being used by electric taxis in Tokyo. Rather than waiting for a

recharge, the automated system can quickly replace a dead battery with a new one.

If all else fails, there are always mobile charging stations. Starting this month, AAA will send out chargers mounted on truck beds to rescue stalled EVs with a quick boost.

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