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California, a leader in the United States in adopting electric cars, is experiencing the growing pains that accompany any paradigm shift: Its roads are being navigated by more than 150,000 electric vehicles (EVs), but its roadsides have too few charging stations to keep these cars running. And the tempers of many EV drivers are growing short.
That problem is recognizably big, and made bigger when you consider that the average gasoline-powered car can travel about 200 miles on a single tank of gas. But a full charge in an EV can’t deliver a driving range of more than about 80 miles. And that’s fraying some tempers at crowded charging stations.
The state’s governor, Jerry Brown, hopes to solve that problem. On Oct. 7 he signed a bill designed to fight climate change that, in part, urges California’s leading utilities to compete with one another in setting up thousands of charging stations in convenient locations for EV drivers around the state.
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Many environmentalists say they believe this new law will lead to competition not only among the utilities, but between the electric utility industry and its petroleum counterpart. Max Barmhefner, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, put it this way: “It basically tells the electric industry to go eat the oil industry’s lunch.”
The bill, written by Sen. Kevin de Leon, a Democrat from Los Angeles, originally included language that would have required the state to adopt policies that would cut California oil consumption by half. But that provision was dropped due at least in part to intense lobbying by the oil industry.
Still, the gist of the legislation remained intact, thanks to the efforts of California’s three largest utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison, which set aside about $2 billion to lobby the state during the first half of the year, outspending such oil companies as BP, Chevron, Shell and Valero.
EV charging stations aren’t cheap, however. On average, such a station can cost between $5,000 and $9,000, plus subsequent maintenance. Nevertheless, PG&E plans to build 25,000 Level 2 chargers at workplaces, apartment buildings and public parking lots.
Level 2 chargers can add 25 miles worth of energy to a car for each hour’s charging. PG&E also says it plans to set up 100 DC Fast-Charging stations, which can provide an EV’s battery an 80 percent charge in just a half-hour. The cost: $654 million over five years.
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But until the state’s utilities can build a network of EV charging stations to rival that serving gasoline-powered cars, some Californians will be acting less laid-back than usual.
So far, disputes at crowded charging stations have been limited to drivers bickering and unplugging one another’s cars to avoid the wait during a long recharge. And some EV drivers have resorted to creating electricity black markets and paying others for prime parking spaces in parking that have charging stations.
This may sound a bit beyond the pale, but recharging a car can be much more crucial than recharging a cell phone or a laptop. After all, if your car’s battery is dead, you’re stranded.
The concern has led to some unfriendly encounters. For example, Don Han, who works in Silicon Valley, told The New York Times that he recently plugged in his EV at a charging station near his workplace. He then walked away to kill time elsewhere during the charge, but noticed another EV driving up to the charger. The driver stepped out of the car, removed the charger from Han’s car and plugged it into his own vehicle.
“I said, ‘Hey, buddy, what do you think you’re doing?’ And he said, ‘Well, your car is done charging.’” Han told the other driver that the charge had actually only just begun. He attached the charger back on his own EV and when the charge was complete, he said, he drove off – “after saying a couple of curse words, of course.”
It appears California’s utilities can’t act quickly enough to create the network of charging stations.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com