• Mar 18, 2010
One of the challenges to making electric vehicles (EVs) "work" in the real world is figuring out how, where and when to recharge them. If you have a garage, then those questions kind of answer themsleves. You come home, take 15 seconds to plug the car into the wall and undo the plug in the morning with a full charge. One previous Greenlings looked at EV charging basics and another Greenlings explained some of the options for home recharging. We recommend reading through those pieces as a primer for the article that follows if you're unfamiliar with some of the underlying concepts for recharging electric cars. As more and more plug-in vehicles come to market, though, we'll need to be able to figure out answers for people who can't easily recharge in their own garage. So, today, we're going to answer a question from reader Kellan O., who wrote in to ask:
I live in an apartment along with a lot of other urban residents of the world. How would I realistically recharge a plug-in hybrid or pure battery car (aside from a 200 ft. extension cord out of my window)?
A 200-foot extension cord would indeed be a problem. Continue reading after the jump for some answers.

[Image: Jason Pratt - C.C. License 2.0]

This is a difficult question to answer, because each apartment and city presents their own set of challenges. We don't know which option will work best for Kellan, but here are some ways that automakers, urban planners, charging companies and others are making charging possible in cities.

Option 1: Near-by on-street charging

This option is most similar to recharging in your garage because you allow the car to draw energy from the grid at times when you know you won't need to drive. A lot of companies, for example, Coulomb Technologies, are developing on-street or parking lot chargers designed for opportunity charging during shopping trips and the like. If there's one of these near your apartment, then you're all set. The big problem, of course, is that recharging stations don't exist in a lot of places and even if there is one close to you, who's to say it'll always be available? Still, car-sharing companies like Zipcar have managed to carve out some dedicated parking spaces for their vehicles and it seems possible that city councils might be convinced to set aside some residential parking spaces for people who are actively reducing carbon emissions in a city. Getting neighborhood associations to push for local charging stations could also be a way for those neighborhoods to grow a green identity. Taking advantage of this requires a lot of work, but it could also reap the biggest rewards, especially if you're the only EV driver in your area. This also makes us think of Option 1.5, which would be to use an EV through a car-sharing service.
Option 2: Get charging installed at your apartment

Last fall, Mitsubishi announced it was working on an EV recharging system for apartment dwellers. Based on a system used by Japan Delivery System, Mitsubishi installed charging stations called i-Charger in apartment building garages that were accessed by a unique PIN. The benefit was a way to identify who was drawing power from the public cord. More recently, we heard about SemaConnect, which has developed a charging unit (right) that costs around $2,500 to $3,000 to install. Anyone could then recharge from the box by paying with a credit card. Talking with the apartment manager – or maybe a nearby business? – about installing one of these could provide the urban EV driver with easy access to power for their ride.

While it doesn't help people living in apartments now, there are some developers who are looking to the future and are making sure their residences are EV-ready. Glenwood Management is putting Coulomb chargers into its new Manhattan apartments. Similarly, the city of Vancouver is mandating the installation of electrical vehicle charging ports in new parking garages.

Option 3: Recharging at work

It's still kind of rare, but there are organizations that are installing or have installed EV chargers at their parking lots. Sometimes, this is because the company or city government is testing a fleet of plug-in vehicles. Sometimes it's to get ready for the big wave of EV drivers that we expect to start late this year with the introduction of the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt and to have something extra to offer customers. If you're lucky enough to work at one of these places, you may be able to use the charger yourself.

Option 4: Get a plug-in hybrid

This option won't please anyone who wants a full electric vehicle, but if there's simply no place to charge an EV near where you live, getting a vehicle that can use both electrons and gasoline might be the best idea. That way, you'll always have some way to get more energy for your car (until gas stations disappear, anyway). Whenever possible, charge up the car from an outlet for emission-free driving.

Option 5: Move

We're being a bit facetious here, but we know that some of the most serious EV fans will do whatever they have to to be able to charge where they park at night. If your apartment doesn't offer charging facilities, look for one that does. It's not possible for everyone, and that's why it comes last in our list.

No matter what option you choose, it's not going to be easy for most people to recharge an EV in the city. Not yet, anyway. More and more charge points are being built in urban areas around the world, though, so the good news is that urban recharging will keep getting easier as time goes by. Of course, if Better Place can get its battery-swap technology implemented in an easy way, recharging won't be an issue at all. Until that happens – if it happens – we'd better figure out clever ways to get people some juice no matter where they live. Have any other ideas?


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