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Technology is the term we use for things that don't quite work yet.

Energy storage technologies are improving. There is no denying that. Whether it’s batteries, ultra-capacitors, or kinetic energy systems (flywheels) improvements are being made across the board. With that, every few weeks or so someone says “my energy storage will allow electric vehicles to be charged in under X minutes” (Typically 5-10). This is usually followed up with something about how the electrical grid will never be able to handle that and how you could never do that at home.

I also periodically run into someone who starts talking about swapping batteries out of the cars for freshly charged ones. This is obviously being pursued most famously by Shai Agassi’s Better Place. As intriguing as this may sound for some people it is totally unrealistic for the consumer marketplace. Besides all of the obvious possible ways to try and cheat the system for profit, the practical limitations are also overwhelming. Imagine how many batteries a refueling station would need as technology improves with multiple chemistries and vehicles of various sizes need different capacities and voltages. Packaging alone will not allow quick replacement for all vehicles. Thus this technology will ultimately be limited to fleet vehicles.

Does anyone really believe people are all going to want to drive the same vehicle or even the same line of vehicles or even vehicles that can only have batteries exchanged from the same company?

The reality is this, batteries will charge faster, the power for these batteries will come from the grid. Most homes will not be equipped to do fast charging. So where will it come from?

Let’s see, who has the existing real estate, the resources for the necessary equipment, and the economic incentive? Duh… Refilling stations.

We already know the majority of income from existing refilling stations comes from ancillary products (cigarettes, snacks, etc.). Stations will slowly allocate additional space for charging electric vehicles using existing parking areas and other under-utilized space. The local electricity providers will work with them on meeting requirements of both maximum draw and potentially energy returned to the system at peak needs. This could potentially also help offset costs of on-site storage of electric energy. Whether they use Kinetic, Capacitor or Batteries, refilling stations will have the ability to store this energy on site and dispense it to vehicles as needed. They could even have electric signs that say things like “Full charge* in 7 Minutes for $5!” (*and tiny print for 30kw maximum [insert additional legal disclaimers here]) that changes based on their current available energy.

Electric vehicles will not appear all at once out of thin air. Most arguments for electrical grid issues make the assumption that all vehicles will need to charge off the existing grid all at once and today. the reality is, it will take years for the vehicles to get on the roads, years of standards committees working out the system ( charging rates, voltages, connectors, etc.) and years for the filling stations to upgrade. No, they will probably not charge in under five minutes day one, no it won’t be free, and yes you will still be able to charge slower at home.

Electric vehicles are coming, fast charging stations are not going to be free and they will be available at refilling stations. It’s so obvious that no one seems to say it…

Update: A prime example, at least one intelligent commenter pointed out if you charge at home you actually SAVE time because you don’t have to spend time at the gas station.

Update 10/2: According to this study by the US Department of Energy If 84% of the cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs in the US were Plug-in Hybrids they could be supported using the EXISTING generating, transmission, and distribution capacity (if vehicles are charged during the least used hours at night). This would also result in a 27% reduction overall of the total greenhouse gasses in the US.

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