Charging Electric Cars in Los Angeles
This is a good time to buy an electric car and a good time to install a charger for it. Why? The federal government, the State of California, and the Los Angeles utility companies are all offering financial incentives to encourage the switch to electric vehicles (EVs). This includes rebates and tax breaks for installation of chargers as well as lowered utility rates for charging your EV at night.
Installing a charger for an EV is a new approach. The Prius, which has been driving on Los Angeles streets since 2003, is a Hybrid EV. It runs on its electric battery and then when the battery is depleted, the car switches to burning gas. The battery doesn’t plug in for charging but is charged by a mechanism that is triggered whenever the driver steps on the brakes.
The new 2010 and 2011 EVs are “plug-ins” or “PEVs.” They come with a charging cord, like the one your cell phone or computer comes with. The EV charging cord is called a “Level 1 charger.” The Level 1 charger is plugged into an electrical outlet in your garage or carport. With the Level 1 charger, ordinary house current (120 volt) charges your electric car.
The outlet for charging your car needs to be on a dedicated circuit – one that doesn’t serve any other appliances. It should be a special safety outlet called a “GFI.” Your electrician will check that your electrical panel has the capacity to deal with an additional circuit or if it needs a capacity upgrade. An electrician experienced with installing chargers can also give you information about tax breaks and rebates. If your panel has the capacity, then all that is required is adding the new circuit and safety outlet and you’re good to go.
Level 1 charging is inexpensive to set up, but it has a downside – it’s slow. For example, taking a Nissan Leaf from empty to full takes 20 hours. This may work for you if you usually drive short distances and if you are able to recharge your battery each night. You will be able to avoid totally depleting your battery and will need only a short charging time to top it off.
Many people will want to be able to charge faster, however. EV drivers can buy a “Level 2 charger” which can charge a Leaf in about eight hours, overnight. A Level 2 charger is housed in a container that is about 18″ by 18″ and can be hung on your garage wall. It comes with a “hose” that hangs in loops. When you’re charging, it looks very similar to filling a car with gas, only you’re able to do it in your own garage or carport. You stretch the “hose” over to the charging socket in your EV and let it sit until it shuts off by itself when your car battery is fully charged.
A Level 2 charger is installed by an electrician familiar with EV chargers. It runs on 240 volts, rather than ordinary house current, and will need a special circuit. Your electrician will start by determining if your electrical panel can take the additional load or will need a capacity upgrade. He or she will work with you to determine the best location for the charger and will give you a price bid.
If you decide in favor of adding a circuit for Level 1 charging, you might want to build in the voltage capacity (240 volts) for a Level 2 charger should you want to make the switch to faster charging later. This is something to ask your electrician about.
The good news about installing chargers now is that in 2011, the federal government is offering a tax credit of up to one-third of the installation price. This means that the effective cost of the installation can be reduced by one-third. In addition, the State of California is offering rebates on installation costs. Funds for these rebates are limited and are being offered on a first-come-first-served basis.
The cost of electricity for charging is also a good deal. Both Southern California Edison and DWP offer lower off-peak (night) rates for charging your electric car. They will meter your charger separately so that you can take advantage of these lower rates.
When you buy an electric vehicle in Los Angeles, you are reducing air pollution as well as America’s dependence on foreign oil and your vulnerability to rises in gas prices. You’re also contributing to creating green jobs. If you act soon, you can take advantage of the financial incentives that governments and the utility companies are providing to drivers who make this switch.