Cars Energy Department launches Workplace Charging Challenge for electric vehicles

Published on February 3rd, 2013 | by Tina Casey


Charging Stations Up, Gas Stations Down: Yet Another Reason to Go EV

February 3rd, 2013 by  

One huge advantage of electric vehicles is the potential to fuel them up at convenient locations without having to make an extra stop, like say, whenever you park your car at work, and that’s what the Department of Energy has in mind with its new Workplace Charging Challenge. Announced just last week, the Charging Challenge aims to get more U.S. employers to install EV charging stations, to the tune of a tenfold increase over the next five years.

Workplace charging might not seem like much of a make-or-break perk, but when you look at how fast EV prices are falling, the extra convenience could make an enormous difference in the future U.S. car market.

Energy Department launches Workplace Charging Challenge for electric vehicles

Affordable EVs for the U.S. EV Charging Network

Electric vehicles have barely made a dent in the U.S. so far, but if you’re thinking that the whole idea of giving a heavy push to workplace charging right now is kind of like putting the cart before the horse, the Obama Administration has already thought of that.

According to DOE, the average cost of electricity is the equivalent of just $1.00 per gallon in gasoline so all other things being equal, EVs start looking mighty attractive compared to conventional vehicles.

The Charging Challenge is just one part of a broader public-private initiative launched by the Administration last spring, called the EV Everywhere Grand Challenge, which has the ambitious goal of making plug-in EV ownership just as widespread and affordable as gasoline vehicle ownership (in case you’re interested, here’s the EV Everywhere Blueprint).

Fuel availability is not a challenge unique to EVs, by the way. When the U.S. automotive industry was first getting off the ground a century ago, there wasn’t exactly a gas station on every corner, and partly for that reason electric vehicles were more popular in the early years (that didn’t last long, but still…).

Who’s on Board with Workplace EV Charging?

It looks like the Charging Challenge is already off to a roaring start. Twenty-one stakeholders are already signed up to lead the way, including  a who’s who of major private sector employers: 3M, Chrysler Group, Duke Energy, Eli Lilly and Company, Ford, GE, GM, Google, Nissan, San Diego Gas & Electric, Siemens, Tesla, and Verizon.

Among the organizations pledging to support and promote the effort are the California PEV Collaborative, CALSTART, Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA), Electrification Coalition, International Parking Institute, NextEnergy, Plug In America, and Rocky Mountain Institute. DOE will also chip in with technical and organizational support.

Given what we know about low cost wind power, the participation of GE and Siemens is especially noteworthy. GE’s wind power projects run the gamut from  wind and solar powered EV charging stations to “Industrial Internet” wind farms, and Siemens’s wind turbines are popping up all over the U.S.

Baby Steps to Workplace Charging

The initial goal is pretty modest, requiring each participant to analyze the demand for EVs (plug-in EVs, that is) and plan for installing workplace charging stations at one major work site.

In terms of EV charging in general some of the private sector participants already have a running start to say the least. Nissan and NRG, for example, have just announced a new partnership to add  500 public fast-charging stations to the U.S., including the first EV fast-charging network for Washington, D.C.

Right now there are only 160 public fast-charging stations in the U.S., so that partnership alone accounts for a significant jump.

NRG’s plans for the EV charging “ecosystem” also include public fast-charge networks in California and Texas, along with home and workplace charging.

EV Charging Stations Going Up, Gasoline Going Down

In terms of fuel station availability and convenience, EV charging stations of all types will soon overtake retail gasoline locations by a wide margin. According to EDTA about 1.5 million public charging stations will be up and running by 2017. That’s all types, not just fast-charging, and that figure doesn’t even include home and workplace charging stations.

By comparison, as of 2011 there were less than 160,000 retail gas stations in the U.S.

Even worse for the gasoline vehicle outlook, retail gas station availability has been trending negative since at least 1994. According to the American Petroleum Institute as of 2004 there were about 168,000 gas stations, down from a little over 200,000 in 1994.

A Legacy of Cleaner Cars

With a heavy push from the Obama Administration, the U.S. EV market has come full circle back to fueling convenience as well as providing a high performance, practically noiseless, emission-free driving experience.

That brings us to outgoing Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who left the agency with a bang by announcing his resignation last Friday, just one day after launching the Charging Challenge in a keynote speech for the Washington Auto Show.

Mr. Chu’s email to DOE staff has been made public and it’s worth reading in full because it provides a rundown of the agency’s progress on future energy initiatives over the past four years, particularly regarding the EV market.

Chu will remain in his slot until a successor is named, and it will be mighty interesting to see what the next four years bring.

Image: EV charging sign courtesy of Oregon DOT

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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  • wattleberry

    This is taking off in the US in a big way; more, it seems, than in Europe. It could be that the absence of diesel cars in the former is now emerging as an advantage.

  • Can we get a Chevy volt or other similar USA made car that runs on CNG/ Battery instead of gasoline/Battery? Then I’d do my best to buy one!

    • RobS

      Why bother with the safety issues and complexity of CNG when all the studies so far show that Chevy Volt drivers use their car in full EV mode around 95% of the time? If you are only using 1 or 2 gallons a year really who cares what the fuel is? About 8% of the nations oil or 1.6 million barrels per day comes from the Persian Gulf, about 50% of the nations oil of ~9 millions barrels daily is produced domestically. Given that the Volt decreases oil consumption by ~90% there is very little upside to making whats remaining another fuel and a whole lot of downside. Volts and cars like it can easily completely free the US from relying on any Oil imports, and only 10% of cars would need to be range extended electric cars to reduce oil consumption by more then our total Persian Gulf imports.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Something I’d love to see…

        A few years back GM and Toyota did a study of US driving patterns. They found (IIRC) that on 85% of all driving days US drivers drove less than 40 miles. (Did I get enough “drives” in that sentence?)

        I think that was the basis for giving the Volt a 40 mile range.

        I’d like to see numbers for the 15% ‘>40 mile’ days. On those days drivers are going to do the ‘first 40’ using electricity. How many, in a year, would they need to do using gas?

        IOW, if we put everyone into a 40 electric-mile range PHEV how much would we cut our use of liquid fuels? 75%? More?

      • Your point is valid, but Volt drivers are closer to 85% in real world driving. Still, I am at about the 95% you quote and have about 1 gallon of gas consumption a month (vs. my previous car, a Saab 9.3, which was at about 45 gallons a month).

        • Bob_Wallace

          US drivers average about 13,000 miles a year and their cars average about 25 MPG. That’s 520 gallons of gas burned per driver per year.

          If you’re a “95%” Volt driver and burning 1 gallon a month, 12 gallons per year and the average Volt driver is an “85%” driver, burning 3 gallons per month, 36 gallons a year I think we can afford to not worry about whether Volts run on gas or CNG or biofuel.

          It’s the non-Volts that are killing us. Move everyone into 40 mile range PHEVs and (back of envelop numbers) we cut personal gas use from 520 gallons to 36 gallons. We cut gas use by 93%.

          We could quit worrying about CO2 from personal transportation. We could quit worrying about our oil purchases screwing up our balance of trade. We could quit spending trillions protecting oil fields and supply routes.

          In fact, if we cut our personal fuel use to about 7% of what it now is we might be able to fuel our rides with non-food sourced biofuel.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Rob makes a good point, Justin.

      Why not start collection some data on your personal driving?

      Simply record your daily driving – write down the last few digits from your odometer each day – for a while.

      Stick it in a spreadsheet and see how much gas you would actually burn if you were driving your ‘first 40’ with electricity.

    • Bob_Wallace

      CNG isn’t a decent transportation answer. We’re going to run out of natural gas soon enough without extending it to transportation.

      Buy a Volt if it works for you. Putting more EVs and PHEVs on the road will help bring down battery prices and boost battery development.

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