In the not too distant future, every shopping trip or outing will be an opportunity for an electric car owner to find preferred parking at an inexpensive charging station. Now that ECOtality, an EV charging company provider, has partnered with Walmart, another retailer is on the list to provide charging while shopping.
But before you get too excited, Walmart is so far only installing ECOtality "Blink" Level 2 charging stations at only ten Walmarts in three cities in California, Oregon and Washington.
There are already several other retailers who have a limited number of stores with charging stations. Ikea, Sears, Walgreens, Best Buy and Lowe's all offer EV charging in an effort to be more socially responsible and green. I applaud both the effort and the added convenience, but thinking practically about it, how much time would I want to be inside any one of those stores in exchange for a meaningful charge?
To put it in perspective, to get an additional 20 miles of range would take about 90 minutes on a Level 2 charger, which is what most of these stores will provide.
For me, Walmart is a "hunt and gather" store, where you know exactly what you're looking for, get in, get out and then get on with your life. My maximum charge time for a Walmart shopping visit would be around 20 minutes and that includes waiting in line. In my Nissan Leaf, that would barely move the needle.
I would have to say the same for Walgreens and Sears. The one advantage to Sears is that if you're there to buy a major appliance, it could take a little more time.
Best Buy - unless you plan to have long technical conversations with sales people about the latest television trends or sign up for a new cell phone contract, it's probably not a very long visit.
Lowe's Home Improvement store can be a long visit if you've recently moved or have a penchant for starting a new DIY project. I consider that more of an "event" than a typical retail visit, however.
As for Ikea, now that's a store you can get 90 minutes out of easily, especially if you're trying to furnish a room or re-invent your kitchen cupboards. There's also a restaurant in the store with Swedish meatballs to help pass the time away.
Because I'm an EV owner, I appreciate these and future retail establishments for stepping up and placing chargers on their lots. The preferred parking alone is a bonus. But where we really need the charging stations are at establishments that demand a larger block of time to visit or have fun. Museums, shopping malls, college campuses, theaters and amusement parks - these are destinations that can be extended outings. A short visit to a big box store probably won't equate for much at the Level 2 rate. If a quick charger were involved, that's a different story, since it takes only a half-hour for an 80% charge.
Ten years from now, I hope to reminisce about the good old days when charging stations were hard to find, other than the ones in your own garage. For today, the practicality of charging up to make it back from a longer-than-usual trip is still more of a wish than a reality.
Want to learn more? Follow our long-term test of the Nissan Leaf.