The future of electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and charging stations

The market for electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), as well as the electrical infrastructure required to support them, is on the verge of a major explosion of activity. The federal government is pumping tons of cash into this market. Car manufacturers are racing to bring their new models to consumers ahead of their competition. And electrical manufacturers are feverishly working on new designs for charging station, smart meter, and real-time communication equipment. In other words, it finally looks like the true start of a modern-day EV revolution — or what I like to call an Evolution. Tracking the news in this segment over the last six to nine months has been quite exciting. Here's a recap of a few of the most recent announcements coming out of the EV world.

  • A new market study from Oyster Bay, N.Y.-based ABI Research, “Plug-in Vehicle Infrastructures,” projects a fast-growing market for charging station infrastructure, with worldwide revenues reaching $11.75 billion for the installation of 3 million charging stations by 2015, up from approximately 20,000 stations installed in 2010.

  • The Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to drive the efficient use of energy resources, recently launched Project Get Ready to help cities prepare for the introduction of EVs.

  • Supported by a couple of U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grants totaling nearly $115 million, ECOtality North America will serve as the project manager for The EV Project and, with the assistance of more than 40 partners, deploy nearly 15,000 residential and commercial charging stations in 16 cities located in six states (Oregon, Washington, California, Arizona, Tennessee, and Texas) and the District of Columbia. The EV Project will collect and analyze data to characterize vehicle use in diverse topographic and climatic conditions, evaluate the effectiveness of charge infrastructure, and conduct trials of various revenue systems for commercial and public charge infrastructure.

  • ChargePoint America is a program sponsored by Coulomb Technologies and made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through the Transportation Electrification Initiative administered by the DOE. The program will provide electric vehicle charging infrastructure to nine U.S. regions and help foster the adoption of EVs. Coulomb is partnering with Ford, Chevrolet, and smart USA on this project.

Both of the aforementioned programs will offer a large number of the new EV car owners free home charging stations and installation. Not to be outdone, KB Home, one of America's largest home builders, is now offering an option to pre-wire its new Built to Order homes to accommodate charging stations for the homeowner's EVs.

In more recent announcements, a few heavyweights in the manufacturing and engineering arena have begun to flex their muscles in the EV arena. GE and Nissan have teamed up on the smart charging front, signing a 3-yr Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to explore new technology developments and potential areas of collaboration. Siemens Energy and Coulomb Technologies announced a joint marketing agreement for an integrated EV product offering, allowing Siemens to offer companies — including utilities, electric retailers, municipalities, and EV suppliers — the ability to monitor, bill, and clear financial transactions for EV infrastructure market participants.

So, as we quickly move closer to the launch dates of the new model EVs and PHEVs, the tension starts to build. Have we reached the tipping point for widespread adoption of EVs? Will free home charging stations and hefty cash rebates be enough to jump-start car sales? And more importantly, have advancements in technology resulted in a reliable vehicle? The answers to these questions and more are debated in this month's cover story, “Charging Ahead,” starting on page 22. Only time will tell us if U.S. car owners are finally ready to make the transition to a cleaner form of daily transportation.

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