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Home chargers bring power to electric car drivers

posted 19 Apr 2011, 08:33 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 19 Apr 2011, 08:35 ]

Amid ongoing debate about the future of oil and nuclear power - and after many false starts - all-electric cars and home charging stations are being rolled out in the United States. Big name companies like Toyota and General Electric are getting into the home-charging business but so are a handful of smaller companies in an effort green activists say is now unstoppable.

Los Angeles resident Matthew Sweet calls himself both a tech geek and an early adopter. In March, he became the proud owner of a Nissan Leaf, one of the first all-electric cars to hit the US market. The Leaf has a range of 117 kilometers (73 miles) before it has to be recharged.

"All my life I was into the idea. I always thought, when there is an electric car that's easy to get, I would get one. But helping out in the motivation is also what happened with the big oil spill, with the humongous subsidies that go to the oil companies. It's so frustrating, and the feeling to be able to just not want their oil at all is very attractive to me," said Sweet.

Up until now, electric vehicles (EVs) have not been widely adopted because of limitations such as a short driving range and long recharging times. But that might be about to change. Companies large and small are beginning to offer home recharging services.

"It's daunting, the idea that you will install a thing to give you the electricity. But it's really not expensive and not that big a deal," says Sweet.

Nissan put Sweet in touch with AeroVironment, a company that took care of upgrading his house's electric system and installing his home charging station in his garage. The charging station cost $750.

Now all Sweet has to do it to plug his car and let it charge overnight or even just for a couple hours to get enough range for the next day.

AeroVironment has started the process of setting up similar chargers at grocery stores, retailers and even restaurants in the US, Europe, Asia and Latin America. It is also working with a company called NRG Energy to build a complete charging eco-system in the city of Houston, Texas. The operation, which will be rolled out in the next couple of months, will install both private and public charging stations all over the city.

"What's unique about today is that you have a confluence of environmental factors, economic factors and international, political factors that are all pointing towards the need to find alternative fuel for transportation," says Steven Gitlin, AeroVironment's Vice-President. "And because electricity is ubiquitous here in the US and in most countries, and because it's reliable and because the pricing is pretty stable, every major auto maker around the world has decided that it's time for them to produce plug-in vehicles."

Other recently launched plug-in vehicles include the Chevrolet Volt and the Prius PHEV, both hybrids. But for Sweet, going all-electric was the only way.

"Bottom line right now is this will go a hundred miles for the electricity cost of a gallon of gas. So for starters is just great in that way," he says.

The Nissan Leaf retails for about $33,000 in the United-States. But according to Sweet, the various state and federal tax breaks for owners of clean vehicles can bring the overall cost down by more than $10,000.

After many false starts, and continued debate about fossil and nuclear fuels, the stars might finally be aligned for the electric car to take off.