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Plugging Into Electric Cars

One thing that often gets raised as a problem when the issue of all-electric cars is discussed is the matter of “refuelling”.  It’s easy enough with hybrid cars such as the Toyota Prius and the hybrid Ford Focus – the battery that provides the force needed to get the wheels turning is recharged by the engine when it’s running on petrol.  But what about all-electric cars?  The battery is always doing its thing and the motion of the car won’t charge it up again (if only it did!).

We all know how petrol-powered cars get refuelled.  We all know where our local gas stations are and many of them double as corner stores and takeaway food outlets.  In small towns, the petrol station often serves not just as the mechanic’s headquarters but also the post office and the general store.  But do these shops cater for electric cars?  Your local petrol station probably doesn’t have a place to plug in one of these.

The obvious thing to do is to plug the car in at home and recharge it in the same way that you would recharge your cellphone or camera.  So far, so good.  You’ll certainly notice the difference in your electricity bill, but this is only to be expected and you won’t be forking out at the petrol station.  But what about when you go on holiday or out of town on business?  Now where are you going to plug in to recharge?  Installing solar panels on the roof of your car so it can charge up as you go could be one option, especially in the more tropical and desert bits of Australia.  However, people do need to and want to drive at night and in bad weather, for one thing, and nobody’s taken a car covered with solar panels past the concept stage, at least so far.

This issue is one that does get considered by those in places of power who want to encourage electric cars as a way of decreasing dependence on fossil fuels (However, it must be remembered that the electricity plant has to be run on something, and if the plant is run on petrol, oil or gas, electric cars aren’t going to solve the problem of greenhouse gases and a non-renewable resource.  Electric plants powered by wind, water, the sun or nuclear energy (which has its own issues) don’t have this problem.)  In the United States, grants have been awarded to at least one organisation to develop the equivalent of a petrol station for electric cars: a plug-in station.

Richmond, in Virginia, USA, is one recipient of one of these grants.  The money will go towards working out how to build a charging station, as they are calling these facilities, and ultimately building them.  It will also go towards educating mechanics, most of whom got their training on your good old standard internal combustion engine and aren’t familiar with what’s under the hood of a purely electric car.  Things to be considered when designing a charging station will include how to make it straightforward to use for drivers, getting the station onto the grid, how not to cause brownouts if heaps of people charge up their cars, how to charge (in the payment sense) for the electricity and so forth.

This isn’t the first initiative taken regarding electric cars in Virginia.  One power company, in an effort to get more people adopting electric and hybrid vehicles, introduced a special charging rate for electricity for owners of electric cars, who paid less for their electricity if they wanted to charge up their cars overnight.