Electric Cars – How Are You Going to Charge Yours?

Los Angeles is undertaking a quiet revolution, a switchover to electric cars. This is a revolution that promises bluer skies and greater freedom from foreign oil. At this writing, the Middle East is involved with its own, noisier revolutions, and the stock market is tumbling thanks to perennial shakes over skyrocketing oil prices. Everybody who wants to be independent of foreign oil right now, raise your hands!

Getting back to the other revolution, the quiet one, going on in Los Angeles… car makers and dealers, drivers, and electrical contractors are all involved in a switchover to electric vehicles (EVs). The government is backing it with tax credits and rebates. More on that in later posts.

In December 2010, Nissan started selling an electric car in L.A., the Nissan Leaf. Early this year, G.M. will start selling the electric Chevy Volt. This revolution isn’t confined to L.A. – all along the West Coast and some of the East Coast, deliveries of EVs to new owners are starting. But L.A. is out ahead of a lot of the rest of the country. The Leaf and Volt won’t go on sale, for example, in South Carolina until next December. Pike Research, a transportation analysis firm, has projected that only New York City will beat us out in electric vehicle sales. Pike Research projects 96,000 EVs will be sold in L.A. by 2017. Of course, EV sales could move faster if the price of gas shoots past projected levels.

Both the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt will be priced for middle income families. As electrical contractors in Los Angeles, we’ve already started installing chargers, including in home garages, apartment buildings, and commercial venues.

The Leaf is all-electric with an average range of 100 miles before its battery needs to be recharged. The Volt is a hybrid. With a fully charged battery, it can drive about 35 miles and then, it starts burning gas. Drivers can recharge their Leaf or Volt batteries by pulling out their special cord called a “Level 1 Charger” and plugging it into an outlet that carries regular house current.

The advantage of Level 1 charging is that it’s simple and inexpensive to set up. Hire an electrician to install a circuit in your garage or carport. It will need to be a dedicated circuit, meaning that no other appliances, like a washer, for example, will use it. The outlet will need to be the safety version usual in garages and outdoors (a GFI outlet). Also, your electrician will need to check whether your electrical panel should be upgraded in size to handle the increased power demand. Once the outlet is installed, the EV driver pulls out the Level 1 charging cord that comes with the car, starts charging, and lets the car sit … for a long time.

Level 1 charging is… well, slow. A Chevy Volt battery takes 10 hours from empty to full; a Nissan Leaf takes 20 hours. But help is on the way – Level 2 charging. More on that in my next post or click here for our article which talks about Level 2 Charging.

And did I mention that The Electric Connection website offers $25 off your first electrical job? Plus coupons for Whole House Surge Protectors and other services? Check it out.