Forget about California’s long-promised hydrogen highway. A solar power company has joined a regional bank to create an “electric highway” of quick-charge stations linking San Francisco and Los Angeles. It is believed to be the first network of its kind in the country, and electric vehicle advocates said it could spur the adoption of cars with cords in California.
SolarCity and Rabobank claim the 240-volt, 70-ampere stations unveiled today at five locations along Highway 101 provide the fastest recharge time available in a public setting, allowing EV drivers to charge up in one to three hours. The stations are located in retail areas, and Rabobank is letting people plug in and charge up at no cost.
“We hope that this corridor of charging stations provides new travel opportunities for electric vehicles and gives further momentum to the renewable fuels movement,” Marco Krapels, co-chair of Rabobank’s corporate social responsibility committee, said in a statement.
Although relatively small — there are just five stations so far — the “charging corridor” is significant because it is the first of its kind in the United States, if not the world, said Paul Scott, founder of the EV advocacy group Plug In America.
“I see it as a historic step forward,” Scott told Wired.com. “This is the first electric charging corridor, the first quick-charging station infrastructure between two major urban areas. People might look at it and say, ‘It’s no big deal, you’ve got to stay there three hours to charge.’ But you’ve got to start somewhere.”
Solar City and Rabobank are starting in three cities along Highway 101: Salinas, Atascadero, Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo. A fourth station, in a public parking garage, is run by the city of San Luis Obispo. A fifth, at a Rabobank branch in Goleta, goes online Oct. 15.
Each station uses the Tesla Motors high-power charger, so for the time being only those few people who own a Tesla Roadster can plug in. But SolarCity promises to retrofit the stations with universal plugs — known in the EV biz as SAE J1772 — once the standard has been adopted. That is expected in about six months, SolarCity spokesman Jonathan Bass told Wired.com, and will ensure EVs of all kinds can plug in.
“The goal is to make these charging stations accessible to any electric vehicle,” he said. “We will do that.”
The 240-volt, 70-ampere charging stations can charge the Roadster’s 53 kilowatt-hour battery pack in 3.5 hours. Cars with smaller packs, like the Mini-E and forthcoming Nissan Leaf, will charge up in less than two, and the owner of a Chevrolet Volt will be able to fill the car’s 16 kilowatt-hour battery in a little more than an hour. The idea is drivers will plug in, grab a bite to eat and come back when the battery is charged.
Bass said each station costs $7,000 to $12,000 to install. Tesla provided the charging stations with help from a California Air Resources Board grant. Most of the charging stations draw power from the grid, but the station in Santa Maria gets its juice from a 30-kilowatt solar array. Bass said SolarCity and Rabobank are working on a deal to bring solar power to each of the four sites on Rabobank property.
“This charging station corridor demonstrates an important component of SolarCity’s vision for a carbon-free lifestyle,” company CEO Lyndon Rive said in a statement. “We’re combining clean, renewable solar power with all-electric transportation, allowing drivers to travel through California with zero emissions.”