Permits, prices are challenges for those building EV infrastructure

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“78% of the vehicle charges are done at home,” said the U.S. Department of Energy's Patrick Davis.

Electric vehicles (EVs) have support from governments and many corporations, but building an infrastructure to support them still poses many challenges. Installation costs are fairly high and licensing can be a challenge.

For plug-in hybrids and EVs to see solid success, there must be an infrastructure of battery charging stations, both at homes and in commercial areas. During the nascent years of the EV industry, most recharging is done at home.

“78% of the vehicle charges are done at home; public charging or charging at work is still fairly rare,” said Patrick Davis, Program Manager for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Vehicle Technologies Program Office.

During a panel at the SAE World Congress, he shared statistics gathered through the EV Project, which is funded by the DOE. Monitoring the 8000 EV owners in the study shows that charging usually began around midnight and it takes 2.2 h to charge the vehicle. That data is supported by General Motors, which uses its OnStar connections to monitor Chevrolet Volt usage.

“Half the Volts are charged at 120 V. Most of them travel 30-38 mi per day,” said Charles E. Freese, Executive Director, Powertrain Engineering at GM.

Though federal and state governments have provided incentives for EV buyers, many local governments aren’t as supportive. Getting the permits to install chargers in both homes and businesses can be difficult. Panelists noted that in some areas, it took weeks rather than days to get permits.

“There are a lot of challenges surrounding permits,” said Thomas Turrentine, Director of the California Energy Commission’s Plug-in Hybrid Electric & Vehicle Research Center at the University of California, Davis. “In California, you’ve got 1000 different local boards, many of them looking at permits as a revenue generator. We need to have some pressure from higher levels of government.”

Those installations are still fairly pricey.

“The average home installation costs $1500. In homes built in the last 10-15 years, it’s fairly inexpensive, down to around $500, while with older homes it costs more, up to around $3000,” said Michael Mahan, Product General Manager of EV Infrastructure at General Electric's Energy Industrial Solutions Business.

Though there are challenges, panelists on the “Zero Emissions Challenge in Infrastructure” session were optimistic about the future of EVs. GE is making EVs a central part of its vehicle plans. The company committed to deploy 25,000 EVs by 2015, beginning with the purchase of around 12,000.

Davis noted that internal-combustion engines alone can’t help the U.S. reduce its reliance on imported petroleum.

“When you look at the technologies needed to reduce our petroleum consumption by 80% and reduce emissions, the only technology that will work is the electric vehicle,” Davis said.

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