Electric Vehicle Project Update

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The latest on the EV Project – a massive deployment of electric vehicle chargers in the U.S. – with Don Karner, ECOtality North America’s President.

Ted Simons: As car makers continue to produce new electric vehicles, the E.V. project is installing thousands of chargers needed to keep those vehicles running. It's a $230 million program funded in equal parts by the federal government and private industry. I'll talk with the president of the company that's managing the project, but first David Majure introduces us to a valley woman who's taking part in the E.V. project.

Andrea Convey: I remember the first time I drove past a gas station, and it was a really good price come paired to what I had been seeing in the valley. I looked down to see if I needed gas and I'm like, I don't need gas. I don't need gas anymore.

David Majure: That's because Andrea Convey and her husband are the proud owner of the Nissan Leaf, a car that runs only on electricity.

Andrea Convey: Plugging in every night instead of visiting the gas station once a week is really the only difference I can find.

David Majure: Convey charges the car's battery each night. This blink charger in the garage didn't cost the couple a cent, because they participate in the E.V. project. Allowing data to be collected about their charging habits. After five hours, the Leaf is fully charged and ready to roll. How far depends on how it's driven.

Andrea Convey: It's really dependent on speed, acceleration, and air conditioning. City driving with no air conditioning and not zooming by -- at every red light, you can get over 100 miles in this car. Easily. Freeway driving with the air conditioning, you're looking closer to 75 miles.

David Majure: That's more than adequate for her 40-mile round trip to work and home.

Andrea Convey: There was even a day when I had errands to run, I live in north Phoenix, drove out to the queen creek area, downtown Phoenix, and home and the only difference from any other day is planning the route so I had an hour stop at the bookstore and coffee shop in Mesa, bookman's and have a cup of coffee, buy some books, get a little top off so I can make my way home. The E.V. project hopefully will make that easier, and it's building more chargers around the valley. Right now there's just a few, but they are very nicely placed, so that if you are within normal business hours, at least, if you do end up somewhere unplanned, with a quick stop you can top off and get an extra 10 or 20 miles to get you home within 30 minutes or 45 minutes.

David Majure: And perhaps best of all, Convey says charging the car has had little impact on her monthly electricity bill.

Andrea Convey: The car is costing about a penny a mile going 40, 50 miles a day, 50 cents, 50 cents a day, five or six days a week. So it's Negligible.

Ted Simons: Joining me to talk about the rollout of electric vehicle charging stations is Don Karner, the president of Ecotality North America, the company that's managing the E.V. project. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

Don Karner: Thanks it's good to be back on "Horizon."

Ted Simons: Last time we had you here this was still very, very early in the process.

Don Karner: It was.

Ted Simons: The process is underway. How it is going?

Don Karner: It's going well. We're installing chargers in 18 metropolitan areas in the United States. Phoenix and Tucson being two of them. And vehicles are being delivered; we have installed a little over 2,000 chargers in the homes of people that have bought Nissan Leafs. And so things are moving along with that, and we're beginning to install commercial chargers like you saw at Monti's, so that the people can charge away from home and get better utilization of their vehicles.

Ted Simons: To be part of the project, you have to agree to go ahead and maintain, but also monitor and let you guys know and the project know how it's going. Correct?

Don Karner: We ask people to participate in surveys with us, but all of our equipment that was designed for this project is connected to the internet, and collects data on when people charge, how much energy they use, how much power they use, and we correlate that with one of the national labs of the department of energy to study how we can better utilize chargers, how we can better place them, get better vehicle utilization, and essentially what we're trying to do is figure out how for the next 50 or 500 cities in the United States we can get the most efficient deployment of electric vehicle infrastructure. We don't have a lot of resources to waste in this country, and so we want to make sure that when we do deploy infrastructure, we put it where people want to charge. We put it where they can blend that charging in with the rest of the things they do in their life. I like to talk about people having a blink lifestyle. When you bought your cell phone, the first time, there was some anxiety about where am I going to charge it, how am I going to get this charged so I can always use my phone. But very quickly you figured out how to just integrate that into your life. Some people charge at work, I have a charger on my night stand. You just figure out how to make it work. We want to people to dot same thing with their electric vehicle -- we want them to integrate charging their vehicle with what they do with the rest of their life. Where they sleep, where they eat, where they entertain, where they shop, so our idea is to have chargers in all those locations, so they can do that integration themselves.

Ted Simons: Back to the survey, what are you finding out? You mentioned people's habits, but what kind of information are you getting from folks, and are you surprised by some of that information?

Don Karner: Well, it's very early now that we're getting information. We actually just have our second quarter of information. And one of the things that we're seeing that we're pleasantly pleased with is that people at home are charging off peak, so from an impact on the electric utility grid, people are using the least cost energy, they're filling that valley that exists in generation at night, and this is going to be a very friendly thing for the electric utilities. So people are saving money with their electric vehicles by utilizing some of the scheduling features in the charger. You can program the charger to that you can plug it in when you get home at 5:00, but it won't start to charge until, say, 9:00 when the rate goes from on peak to off peak. And we see people utilizing that and doing the off-peak charging. We're just getting start with our commercial charging, and we'll track where people go and which chargers are getting the most utilization, and then try and understand why is that. So that when we place new chargers in new cities, we can try and put them in the most valuable spots.

Ted Simons: And Macy's, Sears, Best Buy, these folks are involved in the project?

Don Karner: Ikea, several large national accounts. These are retailers that are interested in understanding how electric transportation can enhance their business. So we're working with them, sharing data that we collect, helping them to figure out where they can put chargers and how it's going to impact their business. BP is also a partner. So even the petroleum retailers, the oil companies are interested in this shift to electric transportation that is happening in the United States.

Ted Simons: Is there a concern regarding evolving technology in the sense that there could become a charging stations are X and Y right now, but you might be able to get A and B in the near future, or something could change with electric cars? How much of a moving target is that?

Don Karner: Well, the cars will obviously have an evolving technology. Just as in internal combustion engine vehicles have evolved over the last hundred years.But there's a standard that has been agreed to between the electric vehicle charging industry and the automotive industry on how the chargers connect to the vehicle. So one thing you can be sure of is that you can always connect your charger to whatever vehicle you might have, and if you're at Macy's or Monti's, the charger that's there will be able to connect to your vehicle, because it's just like the gasoline dispensing nozzle that has a standard and it fits in your car every time, there's a standard for that connector that Andrea stuck into her leaf to charge it.

Ted Simons: If I have a Chevy Volt, or if I have something else, that works as well.

Don Karner: Same standard will work with that, one charger works with all vehicles.

Ted Simons: I gotta ask you, last time you were here you were a Scottsdale company, are you a San Francisco company, are you a Phoenix company? I heard you moved to San Francisco.

Don Karner: Well, our corporate offices moved to San Francisco, and we have a staff of folks there that include the corporate governance folks, a lot of the creative people, the marketing and the brand folks are there. Our engineering staff is still here in Phoenix, and we've been here for over 20 years. Just south of downtown. So we have a foot in both places.

Ted Simons: All right. Very good. Continued success and good luck. It sounds like things are going well.

Don Karner: Thanks. We're very excited, and happy to be deploying chargers in Phoenix, Arizona.

Ted Simons: All right. Very good.

Don Karner: ECOtality North America, President;

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