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Life on the edge of the electric car ecosystem: A desperate drive from charge to charge

Melissa Riofrio | Oct. 10, 2013
You don't drive an electric car. It drives you, from charging station to charging station, as you plan your trips around maintaining the battery.

The electric-car infrastructure has little mercy for people living on its fringe. Forrest North, chief operating officer of Recargo (a software and services company focused on electric cars), told TechHive recently, "You wouldn't get an electric car if you really needed to rely on the public infrastructure." In his earlier conversation with TechHive, Ford's Tinskey said, "Most people will have a charge station at their home and workplace. The public charge station will augment that."

The experiences of Nissan Leaf owners in the San Francisco Bay Area echo my own. Tim Jacobsen, for instance, has easy access: "I can charge for free at my workplace via Chargepoint," he says. "At home, I mostly use the trickle charger [for a standard AC outlet] that my Leaf came with, or I can plug into my 240-volt dryer outlet for faster charging."

But driving beyond known resources is another matter: "The biggest adjustments [come with] trip planning when driving long distances across the bay," says Jacobsen. He belongs to two charging-station networks—Chargepoint and Blink—so he can replenish his battery on longer trips. "It's almost impossible to do without them."

Russ Atkinson, a retiree, drives around town in his Leaf and charges it on a standard outlet: "At night when I take out the garbage, I plug in the car," he says. Atkinson's experiments with longer trips have not been so simple: "I've made a few long trips to see how much quick charging enabled range extension," says Atkinson, "but the results were discouraging due to QC stations not working or [being] out of the way." Atkinson couldn't get far—at least, not very quickly. "It took me six hours to get to Santa Rosa from Los Altos once. So now I don't take the Leaf anywhere that requires a public charge, just out and back from home."

"I was surprised by the amount of changes I had to make," says Leaf owner Mustafa Kamal. "The projected distance on the car was always an issue, there was a constant need to keep the car charged at all times." Kamal loved his Leaf's environmental creds, but the inconveniences rankled nonetheless. "I could not heat up the car while driving in cold months because the stupid heater took so much power."

The DC Fast stations that could solve everything
Level 3 charging stations could change many of these stories for the better. That's why Tesla is building its own nationwide infrastructure of these puppies. Discussions about QC stations's availability and cost come up frequently on the SF Bay Area Nissan Leaf Owners Facebook page, with stories of drivers waiting impatiently for their turn to charge—or groaning when a station is offline. I tried to use a DC Fast station at a local mall, but a Prius was squatting in the space. When it finally left, I still couldn't charge, because the station was out of my network, and no one answered the toll-free number posted on the station.


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