Mar 9, 2010

Science Scene - Electric Cars and Charging Challenges

SAN FRANCISCO — If electric cars have any future in the United States, this may be the city where they arrive first.

The San Francisco building code will soon be revised to require that new structures be wired for car chargers.

The first wave of electric car buying is expected to begin around December, when Nissan introduces the Leaf, a five-passenger electric car that will have a range of 100 miles on a fully charged battery and be priced for middle-class families. Around the same time, General Motors will introduce the Chevrolet Volt, a vehicle able to go 40 miles on electricity before its small gasoline engine kicks in.

The California Public Utilities Commission, whose headquarters are in San Francisco, has brought together utilities, automakers and charging station companies in an urgent effort to write the new rules of the road. Success or failure could turn on more mundane matters, like the time it takes car buyers to navigate a municipal bureaucracy to have charging stations installed in their homes. At the headquarters of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), utility executives are preparing “heat maps” of neighborhoods that they fear may overload the power grid in their exuberance for electric cars. “If you just allow willy-nilly random charging, are we going to have neighborhood blackouts?” asked a PG&E utility executive. He said a single car could consume three times as much electricity as a typical San Francisco home.

Later this year PG&E will lead a “smart charging” pilot project, connecting 200 cars to special charging stations that let utilities control the electrical demand at a given moment. To avoid problems in areas with high car concentrations, utility executives said they would encourage people to charge their vehicles at night or to use smarter electric meters that help control demand.

Before the first Nissan Leafs and Chevrolet Volts reach the show room, an electric car infrastructure is getting a test drive in the Bay Area, in a limited way. Google, which is talking to automakers about using its PowerMeter energy management software, has already become something of an electric transportation hub. At Google’s Mountain View headquarters, a handful of employees drive to work in Tesla Roadsters, and more drive a fleet of modified Priuses that Google owns. The employees pull into carports that are covered with solar panels and plug their cars into the 100 available charging stations. Nearby, in downtown San Jose, the city has reserved street parking for electric vehicles and installed charging stations. Nearby, at Adobe Systems' headquarters, an executive showed off a dozen charging stations in the parking garage. Eighteen more will be installed this year.


  1. It's about time this technology was more fully explored and utilized.
    i do know that in portland, Oregon, they have parking structures, and sapces on the street, allotted to electric cars and charging.

  2. This is almost a 'futuristic' idea, in the sense that building planning will have to accomodate for electric cars, with charging station ala S.F.

    I think the Chevy Volt is a practical way to move into the hybrid market and eventually an electric car, or whatever power source there will be in the future.

  3. The FUTURE is here. It's about time the rest of world caught up with it.

  4. Thanks for this one ken. Glad to see one city is stepping into the future.

  5. Electric Cars are the new technology cars but the charging problem is very common for these cars.

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  6. interesting entry, ken. i'm eager to see what the future electric car market will look like. i saw the chevy volt at the chicago auto show and was very impressed, much more so than i thought i'd be. the tesla roadster proves that a great electric car can be made, the trick will be to make it affordable.


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