How Much Will a 'Fill-up' Cost for an Electric Car?

With only 50,000 electric cars on the road now, many charging stations are free - but what happens when the number multiplies? Electric car charging companies are counting on the number increasing and are determining "how to charge for the charge."
September 20, 2012, 11am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Already a problem has developed with the free chargers - cars stay parked at the charging station longer than necessary. But deciding what to charge, and how to charge, for charging these cars is no simple matter.

The Wall Street Journal's Rebecca Smith interviews professionals in the electric vehicle (EV) charging industry to get an idea as to what the challenges and the solutions are and finds there are different approaches. Paying to 'refuel' an electric car requires a new model, unlike the days of gas stations on the four corners of an intersection, each keeping an eye on how much the other is charging for a gallon of gasoline.

"ECOtality Inc.,(a) big installer of charging stations, said in August it is dispensing free electricity at about 3,000 Blink-branded public charging points (see You-Tube of a consumer charging her Nissan Leaf). But it expects to begin charging fees this fall.

As charging companies begin collecting fees, it looks like the most common approach will be to bill customers by length of time spent charging or by a monthly subscription fee, not the amount of electricity dispensed."

"Free is just not a sustainable model," says Colin Read, ECOtality's vice president of corporate development in San Francisco.

"Mark Duvall, an electric-vehicle expert at the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, Calif., says a typical plug-in car can soak up 3.3 kilowatt-hours of electricity an hour or 30 to 50 cents of electricity. He figures that means a price of $1 to $2 an hour is fair.

NRG Energy Inc. is using a subscription model for the 28 fast-charging stations that it's built in Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, with dozens more on the way. The price is $39 a month for unlimited access to the public chargers that can fully charge most cars in half an hour or less, and $89 a month for unlimited use of fast public chargers and a slower 240-volt home charger."

It is not clear to this correspondent how a low charging cost or a monthly subscription fee for unlimited access prevent the vehicle owner from leaving the vehicle at the station longer than necessary.

NRG also appears in a related article in this Wall Street Journal special energy section. They installed the solar panels for the "Washington Redskin's stadium last year - the largest parking-lot solar installation in the NFL."

Ms. Smith did not indicate whether the cost for charging EVs would include a transportation cost akin to a gas tax, the topic of the cover article (Planetizen: Solutions to Fixing the Gas Tax Crisis) of the Sept. 17 energy section.

As for the number of EVs multiplying, one current estimate is that "(s)ales of plug-in electric vehicles will reach 400,073 units nationwide by 2020, according to an estimate released Tuesday by Pike Research, a number far short of the Obama administration's goal of seeing 1 million EVs on the road by 2015."

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Published on Monday, September 17, 2012 in The Wall Street Journal
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