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Plug-In 2011: New EV Chargers in All Shapes and Sizes

With gas prices as high as they are, and an increasing number of EV models to choose from, many people are now thinking about buying an electric car. Even so, questions of limited range and convenient charging still hold some of those potential buyers back. AAA’s new mobile charging technology and Plugless Power’s automatic, hands-free home charging unit, both announced at the annual Plug-In 2011 conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, go a long way towards easing those concerns.

As a company already known for getting drivers out of tight binds, AAA says they want to ensure that members with electric cars will have the same safety net as everyone else. And, with the launch of the first mobile emergency charging units in North America, AAA is taking consumers’ fears of getting stranded without a charge head on.

Using standardized connectors, the new service vehicles can deliver an emergency charge at 240 volts, which can add as much as 3 miles of driving range to a battery in 10 minutes of charging, or 400 volts, which can add about 15 miles in 10 minutes. All modern electric cars come equipped with the 240-volt capability, but in order to take advantage of the quick charging option, the vehicles will need to be specially outfitted at the time of purchase with a DC Fast Charging port. Currently, that option is only available as an upgrade on the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i.

Although drained batteries do not appear to be a common occurrence with early Leaf drivers, AAA expects that 3 to 15 miles of extra range should be enough to handle most drained battery emergency situations should they arise.

“If we can’t add the needed charge to get a stranded driver home in 10 minutes, 12 at the max, we may as well tow the car,” said John Nielsen, the company’s National Director of Automotive at Plug-In 2011, where the new service vehicle was unveiled. “It becomes uneconomical for us and it’s beyond what we think our customers will accept, so 10 minutes was our goal. With the 400 and 240 volt charging available we can address almost all of our customers’ needs.”

As part of an initial test program, six of the new service vehicles will be deployed in the regions of Seattle, Wash., Portland, Ore., Tampa Bay, Fla., Knoxville, Tenn., San Francisco and Los Angeles, Calif., with more added as demand increases.

Also at Plug-In 2011, start-up company Plugless Power was on site to show off the latest iteration of its automatic wireless inductive home charging unit. Using electromagnetism, a relatively compact floor mounted pad transfers electricity to a properly equipped electric car battery via a wall-mounted station. The system works completely automatically: as soon as the electric car drives shifts into park over the floor pad, the charging begins without another thought from the driver, eliminating the need to remember to plug the car in.

Although no manufacturers have signed on to include the wireless system at the time of purchase yet, the company says all the equipment can be installed without affecting the vehicle’s warranty. Plugless Power is in the middle of securing as many as 7 early launch partners and hopes to have the system on sale by mid-2012. The target price for all required equipment and installation of components in the vehicle is around $2,500 (not including the 30% federal tax credit). Mounting of the wall station and connection to a 240 volt breaker is not included in that price estimate.


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