The World's First Charging "Corridors" for EVs Attack the Range Problem

Last Updated Sep 28, 2009 10:14 AM EDT

If you find yourself in Cary, North Carolina with the need for a fast-food fix, bring your electric car along. The Mickey D's in that Chapel Hill suburb is decidedly green (with LED lights, solartubes for natural light and drought-resistant plantings), and its amenities include free EV charging.

If EVs are to take off, they'll need ubiquitous charging stations, and there are increasing signs that businesses will provide them, often free, as a competitive advantage. Already, an increasing number of parking garages, from Portland, Oregon and Davis, California (you're in luck, Tesla owners) to New Haven, Connecticut (where solar is part of the deal), are offering charging, and it's a matter of time before many big-box-stores do, too. If a 15 minute charge keeps consumers in a store five minutes longer, their shopping time is well worth the $4 average cost of the electricity to business owners.

And now there's the world's first EV charging corridor, between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The five charging stations, strategically located along the 101 highway 70 to 100 miles apart, are a joint project of Tesla Motors (which received two California Air Resources Board grants), the SolarCity company and Holland-based Rabobank, which has 91 retail branches in California and is hosting the stations, one of which is solar powered.

"Mass adoption of EV charging will change transportation," says Lyndon Rive, CEO of SolarCity. "And transportation is the single biggest source of greenhouse emissions, followed by the electricity sector. And we're addressing utility emissions with our solar panels. Only one of the four Rabobank stations is solar powered, but a Rabobank official said that he expects the other three will be soon, as well as bank branches without EV charging.

At the moment, the EV corridor is set to plug in Tesla Roadsters only, but as soon as a standardized Society of Automotive Engineers plug is available, the stations will be retrofitted.

A second EV corridor is under construction for the 110 miles between Phoenix and Tucson, along Highway 10. This one is the work of ECOtality and its subsidiary eTec, which is based in Scottsdale and is committed to building several charging networks in Arizona. eTec was recently awarded an almost $100 million Department of Energy grant to install 12,500 stations in five markets, which will also be serviced by 5,000 Nissan Leaf EVs.

The Renault-Nissan Alliance, ECOtality's partner in the Arizona network, is unique among automakers in taking a direct role in EV recharging. It's has zero-emission initiatives in Kanagawa Prefecture and Yokohama in Japan, as well as Israel and Denmark (with Better Place), Portugal, Monaco, Great Britain, France, Switzerland and Ireland. In the U.S., in addition to Arizona it is working in the states of Tennessee and Oregon, as well as Sonoma County and San Diego in California.

Transportation advocates have long called for regional high-speed rail corridors, and that idea--stalled during the Bush administration--is again gaining favor and funding. But it looks like the EV corridors will get built first.