Innovations Improve Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure

Starting with less than 500 in 2009, there
are now over 19,000 public-access charging outlets available to electric vehicle owners
at commuter lots, parking garages, airports, retail areas, and thousands of locations where
EV owners can conveniently plug in as part of their daily routines. There are thousands
more located in private homes, and for the most part, these installations have been relatively
easy, presenting few hurdles in terms of the physical space and power requirements for
the new equipment. But it’s not always quick. Charging an EV through a standard 110- to
120-volt outlet is slow going, adding just 2 to 5 miles of range per hour of charging
time. Level 2 charging, using a 220- to 240-volt circuit adds 10 to 20 miles of range per hour
and is the best choice for a homeowner, but Level 2 chargers can require a dedicated circuit
of 40 amps or more, which can be a problem in many homes where electrical panels are
already maxed out. And what about apartment and condos or city dwellers with on-street
parking? Thankfully American ingenuity is already at work, finding solutions. EVSE LLC, a small company near Hartford, Connecticut,
has come up with a clever and inexpensive control panel that piggybacks onto an existing
220/240-volt appliance circuit, like a stove or clothes dryer, eliminating the need to
upgrade the home’s electrical service. The device, called Power Share, senses when the
dryer or stove is turned on and automatically scales back or completely shuts off power
to the vehicle charger and diverts that power to the appliance for as long as needed. The
company also produces this ADA-compliant charging station with a retractable overhead-mounted
cord. There’s no tangled cables to trip over and is less prone to vandalism when retracted.
For long-term lots and fleet facilities, EVSE offers this portable Level 2 charger. Outlets are installed at each parking space
and the actual charge unit can be moved from car to car as needed. But even when hardware
is not an issue, there are still hurdles to overcome. Baltimore city resident John Segal
has been waiting months for permission from the city to install a curbside EV charger
for his Tesla Model S. The city told us that we were the first residential
homeowner to request a charging outlet in the right-of-way and city property, and even
though they are, as is the state, very pro-electric vehicles, they’re trying to create a policy
that’s equitable for everybody in every neighborhood, and rather than wait, we moved ahead and put
a 240 outlet on our side of the sidewalk, on our property, and, when necessary, we plug
in, stretch our Tesla charging cable across the sidewalk, and charge the car. Over the past three years, the U.S. Department
of Energy’s Clean Cities program has awarded 36 Community Readiness grants to solve infrastructure-related
barriers for home, workplace, and public recharging, and to help streamline the permitting process.
Programs are underway in 24 states. For those in uncommon situations like the Segals, obtaining
permits, figuring out where to safely place equipment, and the need to upgrade electrical
service to existing panels are just some of the problems that must be addressed before
electric vehicle chargers can be universally available. Innovative hardware solutions along
with a continuing education of permitting officials, utilities, and consumers are working
to make the U.S. charging infrastructure viable for everyone and will help drive further acceptance
of plug-in EVs as vehicles for change.