LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

New logos and buzzwords come and go every year. Next year, range anxiety could join the list of new phrases. Range anxiety is the fear of being stranded in an electric car because the battery has run out of juice.

Andrea Kissack of member station KQED continues her exploration of electric cars. Today, she goes in search of a charge.

ANDREA KISSACK: The futuristic world of the electric car may finally be here. The first mass-produced electric vehicles for sale in the United States are being released over the next few months. But what's missing are places to charge up.

Mr. MARTY YOUNG (Aerovironment): All right, you have 100-amp main service.

KISSACK: Marty Young is with L.A.-based Aerovironment. He's opening the electric panel on the side of my house so he can work up a price quote for a home charging station.

Mr. YOUNG: The other part of our assessment is the actual loads in the house, and just by looking, really, at the circuit breakers, you can see...

KISSACK: With my old Honda's days numbered, I have been thinking of taking the leap and buying an electric car. Drivers are expected to do most of their charging where they spend the most time, usually at home or at work. I could plug a car like Nissan's new all-electric Leaf into any socket in my home, but Young says that would take about 20 hours for a full charge. He says a dedicated 220-volt line would be better. That's the kind your clothes dryer runs on.

Mr. YOUNG: The level two charging dock is the, you know, six-to-eight hour charge that will fill your car up every night.

KISSACK: For a cost of about $3, the price of one gallon of gas. And if I charge overnight, I can get a discounted rate from my utility. Now, I own my house, although I don't have access to a garage. But it turns out I can put a charging dock in my driveway.

Mr. YOUNG: And you can actually use it, the car in the driveway...

KISSACK: It can be outside?

Mr. YOUNG: Yes. Yes.

KISSACK: Oh, okay. So I won't electrocute myself in, like, the rain or something?

Mr. YOUNG: No, the great thing about the charging dock is that the power is off to this cord until it is plugged into the car and latched in the car, and then the car is communicating with the device to give power to the car.

KISSACK: This charging dock, which is the size of a large Frisbee, with a chord and pump, would set me back about $2,500 with installation. Federal tax credits would help with that. But what about charging away from home? The bad news is there are only a few charging stations around the Bay Area - around the country, for that matter. And that's a big problem. There is some hope, though. Thanks to help from the federal government and local air districts, thousands of car chargers should be installed in homes, apartments and office buildings in the next few years.

Richard Lowenthal is the CEO of Coulomb Technologies near San Jose. Coulomb, like a number of other companies, is giving away charging stations to businesses and residents to help jumpstart the market.

Mr. RICHARD LOWENTHAL (CEO, Coulomb Technologies): It's a $37 million program funded in part by a $15 million stimulus grant from the Department of Energy. With that program, we'll be rolling out 4,600 free charging stations across the United States, in nine different regions.

KISSACK: I caught up with Lowenthal outside the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, one of the few places that actually has a charging dock for public use. Lowenthal takes a small, pistol pump out of a sleek-looking charging dock and plugs it into his limited-release electric Mini.

Mr. LOWENTHAL: Pretty soon, you'll hear a clack.

(Soundbite of clacking sound)

Mr. LOWENTHAL: That clack is turning on the vehicle and bringing the electricity to the vehicle.

KISSACK: Just like a gas station, any electric vehicle can use any charging station. If a driver is not a member of a charging network, Lowenthal says they can just call a toll-free number on the dock and give their credit card number.

Mr. LOWENTHAL: So I can charge my Mini on this. You can charge a Leaf on it. You can charge a Chevy Volt on it or a Ford Transit Connector, the Smart vehicle.

KISSACK: Well, we're not there yet - at least not until there are many more charging stations around the country. Bottom line: production of the EV has jumped ahead of the infrastructure. Still, companies like Coulomb are optimistic and they have big plans, including one to install high-speed chargers, which could rev up a car like Nissan's Leaf in less than 30 minutes. Commercial fast chargers will make their debut in major cities in January.

For NPR News, I'm Andrea Kissack.

WERTHEIMER: Tomorrow, Andrea visits Silicon Valley, which is vying to become the Detroit of America's electric car industry.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.