Green Update–>Charging and Recharging Ahead

Japanese quick charging station

The electric-car future is far from here, but that hasn’t stopped many from planning for it and producing enabling technology. Solving the problems of convenient recharging will be central to bringing acceptance to electric cars. EVs will need fast fill-ups—provided by gas stations, if you will—using a common system that works in a variety of vehicles.

Nissan, Toyota, Fuji, and Mitsubishi are working with Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the Japanese government to make this happen and bring the system’s protocol to countries outside Japan. Already some U.S. companies have signed up in expectation of the Nissan Leaf’s arrival late this year. There are already some 150 quick-charging (50kw) stations in Japan, like the one pictured, serving 1,000 electric cars of various brands.

The threat of “going dry” is of course more severe in an EV, with its limited range, than in a conventional car. Creating such a network is really creating a kind of safety net for drivers and will encourage EV usage, says the coalition.

An Annapolis-based company, SemaConnect, is making a unit for hotels and apartment dwellers to sell recharges to the public. It uses a “smart card” system and charges monthly access fees—but costs a stiff initial price of $2,500 to $3,000 per station. The company says it will pay for itself in less than two years. Hmmm. They sold a local Loews hotel on it, at least, for charging an EV shuttle car that takes guests to local restaurants.

“Harry, we’ve got six people waiting at the Fish House while this bloody thing recharges!”

The idea, of course, is to spread recharging technology beyond places like San Francisco where the early adopters hang out. A different way to diffuse the technology is to “electrify” streets in a downtown so that buses, streetcars, and others can recharge while running (or idling) and keep going.

That’s being done in Seoul, Korea, where an OLEV (online electric vehicle) gets power magnetically from electric strips buried 5 cm below the road’s surface. A receiver in the bus pictured enables it to recharge while it’s operating.

By installing the strips in places where buses idle, like bus stops and busy intersections, they can more or less run continually using nothing but electric power and can do so with a battery one-fifth the size of that on conventional electric vehicle.

As a pioneering city for green cars, Seoul is planning to introduce OLEV this year, develop the routes, and “deploy green cars in all its public transportation systems, including taxis and buses, by 2020.”

As usual, America will end up looking abroad for its solutions to public and large-scale transportation. The best we seem able to do is create somewhat far-fetched startups, like this one to retrofit “hydraulic braking and propulsion systems” to existing vehicles, particularly fleet cars and trucks. Recaptured Energy Technologies claims to have a viable retrofit solution, but details are scarce, even on its website.

But the EVs are sure to come, and you can bet the fleets will be served first. Ford’s Transit Connect EV will be the company’s “first mass-market electric vehicle” to find its way into service by overcoming some of the technology’s barriers. Read more about it here.

Fleets and public transport will be the adopters of record of electric-car charging technology. Do you agree?

—jgoods

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