• Mar 18th 2010 at 7:56PM
  • 59
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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  • 59 Comments
      • 8 Months Ago
      I can tell you right now... there's no way in hell the management company that owns my apartment complex would share the expense of installing a charging station. They would probably give me permission to HAVE it installed, but then would expect me to leave it if I ever move. Why in the world would I realistically spend that kind of money on something that I have to leave behind? All of this "green" living looks and sounds great on paper, but until the expense of living green is roped in a bit, its not a reality for anyone except the elite.... just like everything else!
      • 8 Months Ago
      Here's an interesting tidbit, a company called Car Charging, Inc. in Florida will provide and install an EV charger to businesses and property owners free of cost and share a percentage of the revenue from the charging stations.

      Here in my area Coloumb has partnered with Verdek to do the same, with the same revenue sharing idea as well.

      Businesses can benefit by having happy, perhaps even loyal repeat customers because they offer charging. And they get a piece of the charging fees.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Green jobs installing chargers.
      I'm sure they will be lining up to sell those $3000 chargers.

      Luckily I'm a tech and wont have to get bent over for a charger.
      $2,500 to $3,000 and I bet its the same made in China part like every other piece of electronics made.
      I'll be using the extension cord before I get raped for a $3000 charger.
      Hopefully evs aren't just for rich people.
      Kellan O'Connor
      • 4 Years Ago
      Hello Readers! When I originally wrote the question to this article, I was looking at selling my gas guzzler and replacing it with an ALL electric car (which is still my dream, I just can't afford being that type of green right now, unfortunately). I have since solved this dilemma by purchasing a scooter. It is a Honda PCX and gets over 100mpg. This solution works for me because I live in Culver City and work in Santa Monica and spend about $4.50 a week on gas! I hope America can come to a great solution soon, and companies like Coulomb Technologies are doing a great thing bring this type of transportation option to the masses (thanks Richard). Thank you ABG for posting this article and helping answer my question. P.S. If you want to know what I believe the future is of transportation you can quote me on this: There are two types of drivers in the world (listed below) and they each have a totally sustainable solution: 1. Individuals and Couples within a City: A small 2 seater fully electric car for city driving (i.e. short commutes / shopping etc.) which can hop on a "solar-powered-electric-rail-freeway" that propels the small car and charges it on its way to the nearby city. 2. Families / larger vehicles intended for long travel: Hydrogen Fuel Cell powered vehicles that have ranges from 500-1000 miles per tank that can be used on long road trips, multiple days in the sun on the farm, or for Semi-trucks along a designated route with Hydrogen Stations. (if semi-trucks are not replaced by electric cargo vehicles that ride the "rail" mentioned above). I don't think it is a battle between Electric Cars and HFC cars. I think that different consumer needs will call on both to help us switch from Petrol to a cleaner more sustainable future. If I had to pick one tho?... HFC all the way. Especially with the research Stanford U. is doing on a straight Solar - to - Hydrogen tech... Thanks for reading...
      • 8 Months Ago
      Umm.. if you live in an apartment, you probably have access to public transport. What do you need a car for? I'm sure the bus driver knows where to plug in his bus at night.
      • 8 Months Ago
      For the hardcore that are bent on going EV I wonder if the charging equivalent of "sleeping on all your friends couches" might work.

      For me, if I was in that situation I could charge at work. For strictly commuting this would be no different than charging at home. For those other trips there are places I go where I could charge while there such as my parents etc. Depending on your use cases in terms of where you go and whether you have a BEV or a Volt this might be viable. In the case of the Volt you could theoretically still drive it on the weekend and if you consumed your whole charge and could plug in until Monday it wouldn't be a big deal. This is certainly no mainstream solution though I'd probably do this if thats what it took.

      The hardcore may have to blaze some trails.
      • 8 Months Ago
      This is exactly why the optimal plan is to have cars that can either be charged or have their batteries quick-swapped. Those without designated parking spots (in a low crime location where the charger will not be vandalized) will best be served by gas station-like locations where batteries can be quickly swapped. Otherwise, even if a charger can be located, there are considerable logistical difficulties in parking at that location for at least a couple of hours to get a decent level 2 charge. I can only hope that OEMs soon see the wisdom in the logic of swappable batteries.
        • 8 Months Ago
        Level 3 -- 440V -- requires considerable new infrastructure, as most of the US has 220V in typically-available lines: it will usually require new transformers and new cabling, at a steep cost. Also, level 3 is generally agreed to be destructive to batteries and degrades battery life. It will still require at least 20 minutes for the charge. Certainly it could be accomplished, just as battery-swapping could be accomplished, but both require quite a bit of infrastructure work and capital investment. However, swapping batteries can be performed in less than a minute (Better Place has such a demonstration video), removes the burden from the car owner of hanging around somewhere for 20 minutes, allows smaller battery packs due to removing the range limitation issue, and does not require more KWH of batteries to be manufactured (there will be more packs, but each smaller). But again, this is all academic unless OEMs agree to uniform packs, and that is not happening.
        • 8 Months Ago
        The video doesn't show the driver paying at the kiosk, selecting which battery based on which make and model vehicle, waiting for the carriage to select the proper battery from the storage racks.

        That video was of a "single type" of battery ALREADY pre-loaded onto the carriage. And of course the time to get to the station and back NEEDS to be factor into the total customer time. Why? Because we are so used to driving by at least 5 gas stations on our daily commute that travel time is non-existent. But place 10 of these quick swap stations in a city and it will still be an average of 15 minutes away from where you need it to be. More realistically, only 2 will be built in a typical city. And that would mean about 30 minutes each way.
        • 8 Months Ago
        Funny how the claims of how quickly batteries can be swapped become less and less. It started a 20, now its less than 10, and some have been saying less than 1.

        Nobody ever factors in the fact that the swap stations would have to be almost everywhere in order to be THAT convenient.
        What about the 15 minute drive out of your way to get there and the 15 minutes back. You cannot place them in existing facilities like you can a level 3 charger.

        And everyone focuses on the needed "grid upgrades" for 440 volts. Probably because there are so few things to complain about. The upgrades aren't that difficult. And what would the power requirements be for a swap facility that needs to recharge the incoming packs. Sure, each pack only gets level 2, but charging a few packs at time will require more wattage than a level 3 charger. The stations would need to turn around packs quickly to be profitable.
        It is far better to have more well placed, smaller level 3 chargers that spreads out the load.

        Rapid charging is not dangerous to a pack unless you do it consistently. But it would be Better to take the responsibility for your own pack rather than swap it for a pack from a stranger.
        • 8 Months Ago
        It is MUCH easier to design a battery pack that can accept a Level III "quick charge" within 30 minutes and only takes up the space of a typical gas pump.

        The alternative is have a whole shop with several dozen lithium ion battery packs multiplied by the different make or model of EV they would fit into... sitting on shelves is NOT GOOD for lithium ion batteries as they loose life even when not in use.

        Even when fully automated by robotic arms, it will likely take just as long as an oil change... which is about 15 - 20 minutes if you could get started right away. And since the facility would be as big as a full size jiffy lube... and be stocked with expensive packs and heavy machinery, you could only place a few in choice locations. So expect a wait to get in on that Friday when everyone is wanting to swap a battery for the weekend drive.

        Alternatively, a 30 minute quick charger (that allows for 2 EVs) can be installed seamlessly at any current gas station, movie theater, restaurant, shopping parking lot. And will likely be quicker than going to a swap facility and trusting that the machines will not damage your car during the swap or that the battery you're receiving is of good quality. After all, it is the single most expensive part and you wouldn't want to be getting someones abused battery pack.

        Battery swapping is fools gold. The idea is meant as a fairy tale to appeal to folks who don't want to change how they think about refueling cars. They want to pretend that EVs can be "refueled" like a gas car.
        • 8 Months Ago
        About 480 volt infrastructure

        Agreed, it is not very easy and is very expensive. Too expensive for many existing gas stations to implement and impossible for the small business or resident. So I asked myself, where does 480v (30kw) power already exist.

        1) Industrial zones: Just like hydrogen filling stations tend to crop up closer to airports or industrial areas, 480 volt power is available already. Airports for instance already use rapid chargers for their fleets of fork lifts, baggage movers, etc. Also, large commercial facilities such as hospitals and large office buildings (skyscrapers) carry the necessary requirements.

        2) Distribution sub-stations: Any place you see where high voltage transmission lines come down to a bank of transformers surrounded by a gate. Sure a transformer will still be needed to get the appropriate 480 volts. And yes this is utility property so they would be selling direct to customers. But you only need two parking spaces added.

        3) Not the best environmentally friendly solution, but portable Diesel 480 volt 3 phase generators are widely available. They are the smaller than the size of a minivan and will not need a separate transformer. They can be modified to run biodiesel easily. And since rapid charging is supposed to be a last choice in a clinch, the environment and fuel cost is a low priority compared to convenience.

        Even with these three options, not every commercial enterprise can succeed in providing rapid chargers. But there industrial zones, large commercial buildings, and utilities can be the providers for rapid charging while others can handle Level 2 normal charging. And if so inclined, provide bio-diesel fired rapid charging.
        • 8 Months Ago
        Joe,

        You raise some good points. I agree that these stations would have to be ubiquitous to avoid wasting time and energy getting to them -- but, with hope, they would simply replace existing gas stations on a steady basis. However, the swap does indeed take 52 seconds (check out the video of an actual operation), and thus time is dramatically saved in the actual swap v. charge. But, please don't minimize the significance of installing level 3 chargers -- I have been in meeting with utilities who express considerable concern regarding the impact on the local grid, and moreover it simply costs a significant amount of money to change transformers, install new lines, and install level 3 chargers. I recall one estimate to be $50,000-100,000 for the lines and chargers (consider that urban 440v would have to be dug in, not hung), irrespective of the transformers (very costly!). So, this is not something to be brushed off lightly.
        • 8 Months Ago
        And ignoring the higher cost of swap stations compared to Level 3 chargers (which is MUCH higher because of the area need, building, land taxes, capital for the machinery and buying a few dozen of each model of pack).

        The cost premium for a vehicle with Level 3 charging capability is so much less compared to the cost of standardization of a pack and VERY DURABLE quick release mechanisms of electrical connections (and probably coolant connections too).
      • 8 Months Ago
      Simple solution, apartment dwellers and residents who do not have off street parking adjacent to their dwelling will not buy EVs.
      • 8 Months Ago
      I commute in an EV. It's the BMW Mini-E. I love this car and I love never bringing it to the gas station. I charge at work at a Coulomb ChargePoint station. It takes about an hour to charge it while I work.

      The station at my office is 220 Volts, 30 Amps. It takes about $3.00 of electricity each week for my commute and I'm a happy camper.

      Richard - CEO of Coulomb Technologies
        • 8 Months Ago
        TheTom -

        We are happy to sell DC Chargers to anyone who wants to buy them, including governments. The current crop of cars that can do DC Charging (formerly called Level 3 charging) will charge in about 30 minutes. It would be most appropriate to have those at truck stops and other places where perhaps you might want to stop for lunch or dinner.

        The DC charger will be needed for trips in BEV's (battery-only vehicles) that are longer than the range of the battery. DC Charging is not good for commuting.

        Rest stops would work too but 30 minutes is somewhat of an awkward time at a rest stop and anyway, the truck stop industry should be brought into this shift in transportation.

        The MINI-E doesn't have a fast-charge port so I use the two-car model. The Mini-E for commuting and the Minivan for skiing.
        R
        • 8 Months Ago
        Thanks for the response, Richard.

        My intent was to set up a ridiculous scenario to illustrate that if we (as a nation) had the will to get off foreign oil we could do it with today's electric vehicles, flawed as they may be, and today's products readily available for sale. Although an upgraded charge controller seems to be needed as well? That it would only take 1 months worth of foreign oil to do this was my main point. 540,000 "DC Chargers" (ok I like that better but couldn't they be called DC super freakin' quick chargers?) would free us from foreign oil forever.

        I feel it is idiotic for us to continue to sabotage our own economy by continued reliance on foreign sources of transportation fuel.

        My choice of 5 miles distance between charging locations was just a number I pulled out at random but in hindsight works for the current crop of EVs which only go 30 or 40 miles between charges, including the Chevy Volt, as well as any future models like the Leaf. Rest stops/truck stops are too far from one to the next for today's EVs but may be just fine for the Leaf in most parts of the country.

        Could be 2 miles between stations and 16 vehicles charging at a time. Or 10 miles and 66 vehicles charging. Could be 40, or 50 miles but then you wouldn't have a choice in all likelihood - you'd really have to stop there even if you don't like the establishment. I am an advocate of consumer choice so I may see things a bit differently from other people.

        I did not mention in my posts but I always envisioned a concession of some kind at each of the stations. If you build the stations you can also build a retail or food establishment, carwash or tourist attraction at each, perhaps alternating them to attract people to any particular charging station based on the amenities. I definitely don't want to stop out in the middle of nowhere and be sitting for 30 minutes with nothing to do (ADHD ya know). There could be a Zen garden or ballpark, too but that wouldn't generate any residual income... Think game arcade! Cha-ching!!!
        • 8 Months Ago
        Richard, what do you think of my idea for installing a network of 540,000 Coloumb Technolgies Level 3 fast chargers over the entire National Highway System (which includes the Interstates).

        If the government gave you an amount of money equal to the money we spend on foreign oil in the month of January alone ($27.5 Billion) would you agree to install the charger network?
      • 8 Months Ago
      In this case Better Place has it figured out. They Have the software to connect and bill you For any charge spot you park at and they promise that in your city there well be were to park. It gets my vote for the city driver.
      • 8 Months Ago
      Here's an article calling for an integration of the interstate highway system, high speed rail and an electrical grid. They even stole my idea about EV charging along the interstate.

      http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1884779_1884782_1884764,00.html
        • 8 Months Ago
        The fact that you are now twisting my comments to say that I have said 120 volts only and that highways have "no power"... proves that I have been arguing with a child.

        I will not indulge you further.
        • 8 Months Ago
        No. Again you show your ignorance of all things electrical.

        I didn't say that two 120 volt lights make a 240 volt light. Voltage is not additive, current is. Two 100 watt lights in series will draw 200 watts. There is no getting around that. I am stating that freeway lights are 480 volts, you claim now that they are 120 volt whereas your link was to 240/277 volt street lamps. So your own claims keep changing.

        You are the one stating that these lights - which you can clearly see by my links are at least double the size and output of the ones you linked to - are only 240 volts. The burden is upon you to prove that the porch lights that you linked to are the same as the ones they use on the interstate. All anyone has to do is look at my links to see clearly that you are wrong. Prove your assertion or shut up. Put up or shut up. You are the one who says that there is no power running along the interstate. Prove it. You are the one saying that hundreds of high voltage/ high current lights (12 lights that are each 2 or 3 times the size of the one you show in your link) use no more power than the single in-town street light you linked to. Prove it. You are the one that says we can't put an EV charging station anywhere along the interstate because there "isn't any" power there. Prove it.

        You have proven nothing. You continue to make incorrect statements with no proof that you are right. You have the burden to prove, nobody else. The fact is your own links prove you wrong and your own statements prove your ignorance and that you are flat out wrong.

        What claim will you make next that is different from what you've been saying all along and yet still clearly wrong? I can't wait to see.
        • 8 Months Ago
        Your attempts to link your "jpegs" to your argument is laughable.

        You are trying to say that highway lighting fixtures are 480 volts.

        So you show a picture of the electrical grid network of high voltage transmission cables which has NOTHING to do with highways

        Then you show a picture of the nations interstate network congestion which has NOTHING to do with power lines.

        Sure, there are plenty of times where high voltage transmission lines run parallel to freeways. So what. They still do not directly power the highway lighting... the transmission lines must come down to a distribution node/sub-station and be stepped down in voltage. And it does, 120v or 220v!!!

        You still cannot provide even ONE example of a highway lighting fixture in the U.S. that uses 480 volts. Even the ones with 12 lamps. They still only require 220 volts.

        Your simplistic math is to blame. 1 light is 120 volts, so therefore many lights would need many times the voltage.

        Don't bother linking a another URL unless it is more than a photo, has the text "480 volts", and "highway lighting" in there somewhere.
        • 8 Months Ago
        Joe, here are your words:
        Your simplistic math is to blame. 1 light is 120 volts, so therefore many lights would need many times the voltage.

        the transmission lines must come down to a distribution node/sub-station and be stepped down in voltage. And it does, 120v or 220v!!!

        And no, the 480 volts (@ 100 amps) needed to charge a 24 kw pack in 30 minutes does not exist abundantly along the roadways.

        It would be cheapest to install these chargers only where 480v circuits already exist (see my comments on page 1). Any other place and you risk making that $50,000 charger cost $500,000 to install new power lines and transformers.
        - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - - - -
        Go ahead and run away from your own words now but you have clearly stated your opinion that there isn't enough power. All I did was to point out your lack of accuracy about pretty much everything.

        You continually state that the only way to power a new EV charging station alongside the interstate is to tap off an existing substation at 120 or 240 volts. And an entire new line would be needed to be installed? I don't follow your logic there. There is nothing stopping us from tapping off the substation at 480 volts or even higher. The power coming into these substations is at least 33,000 volts. Then another substation farther down the line reduces it even further. What would make you think that only 240 volts or less can come out of that? I happen to know that freeway lighting runs off 480volts so your statements on this front are demonstrably false. Even the voltage at the pole right on your residential street is several thousand volts.

        Here is a simplified explanation of electricity distribution:
        http://science.howstuffworks.com/power.htm/printable
        (unfortunately for you, it proves me right and proves you oh so dead wrong)

        I find it rather humorous that as soon as you are asked to prove your incorrect assertions you walk off in a huff. I don't blame you; you have been wrong all along and now you realize it, too. Thank you for proving me right. That wasn't so hard now was it.
      • 8 Months Ago
      The article oversimplified the charging options available. There are 3 levels of charging for electric vehicles that comply with the standard J1772 which specifies both the type of plug but also the charging voltage and amperage.

      The slowest charging is Level 1 which is your standard 120 volt plug, max 16 amps. This takes 8 or 12 hours or even more to charge.

      Next, and probably what most folks will have in their garage or apartment, is Level 2 which is 220 volts and up to 60 amps by the spec but most likely limited to 30 amps by the 220 service in most homes and businesses. This takes 3.5 hours or less.

      Fastest is Level 3 which is 480 volt and up to 400 amps. These will charge your vehicle in 30 minutes or less, probably 15 minutes. You'll find these mostly along interstates, at shopping malls, in public parking lots, etc., starting later in 2010 (eTec will be installing 260 of these in 5 states). Nissan will be working with states and localities to install 2500 of these.

      You have so much more choice than many people realize. Just like people develop their favorite brand of gasoline, their favorite station, etc., so too will people figure out their favorite charging locations.

      Already, two Dallas area apartment complexes have installed EV charging for their residents. Hotel chains are installing them, as are fast food chains, etc.
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