Charging stations: More jolts for Volts
By Marilyn Bowden
A couple of years ago, with the introduction of electric cars such as Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf, electric car charging stations were installed at Aventura Mall. As the technology improves and electric cars become more common, other locations in Miami-Dade are offering the same service.
"We're seeing substantial interest," said Michael D. Farkas, CEO of Miami Beach-based Car Charging Group, which owns and maintains the charging units at Aventura Mall.
Local clients, he said, include the City of Miami Beach, the Fontainebleau and Four Seasons hotels and Artech Condominium. "The Related Group will be installing them in their condo projects," Mr. Farkas said.
Thanks to government tax incentives, subsidies, loan guarantees and grants, Car Charging is able to provides EV charging stations at no charge, he said. Property owners have some input into where the units will be located, but once an agreement outlining rules and responsibilities is signed, Car Charging takes care of the details.
"We do a site survey, install the hardware, provide maintenance, management, insurance and upgrades, and add more units when the need arises," Mr. Farkas said. "We reimburse their electricity cost plus provide a percentage of revenues."
At the current rate of usage — about 20 to 30 charges per month — Aventura Mall's four charging stations — two at Bloomindale's and two at Nordstrom — "are not a moneymaker for us," said Assistant Manager Jory Thomas. "It comes to just a few dollars a month. It's more a service for our customers."
A charge typically takes about two hours, she said — which is also the average time customers spend at the mall.
Usage has been picking up slowly, Ms. Thomas said.
"We try to keep the parking spots empty," she said. "We hope to add more stations once we have usage uptick."
Mr. Farkas said Aventura Mall's four stations is unusual. "Typically we install one unit, unless there is a specific need or the property is extremely large," he said. "One unit can handle one, two or even four parking spaces.
"These units are smart. They are all networked, and we can monitor the usage. When we see increased usage, we can add additional units."
Car Charging has a map of stations on its web site, he said, and an app on Android, Blackberry or iPhone that lets electric-car drivers know where their nearest charging stations are. The app can also be used to start and stop the charge.
The City of Miami Beach is the first municipality to sign on with Car Charging.
"We're doing it as a pilot program for one year," said Saul Frances, the city's parking director, "at the municipal garage at 13th Street and Collins Avenue. We have two units and four dedicated parking spaces on the third level."
The city is working on finishing touches such as signages, he said, in advance of a ribbon-cutting ceremony next month, but the units are installed and can be used now.
"We're hoping it takes off," Mr. Frances said. "There's not a lot of electric cars on the on the road today, but as the industry grows we hope to see more of them."
At the end of the pilot program, he said, the city's mayor, commissioners and Sustainability Committee will decide whether to go forward with it.
While a two- or three-hour charging time may be ideal for mall shoppers, it’s less so for other users. But the technology is changing rapidly.
"Each car has different-sized battery," Mr. Farkas said, "and each manufacturer limits the rate of output. For example, Nissan Leaf charges at 3.3kWh, but their new model will be almost twice that.
"Battery sizes are increasing, and each location has a different need."
The company currently installs Level 2 charging units, he said, "but when Level 3 is released in the near future, we will see that time reduced to 20 to 25 minutes."
Range is also improving. "Right now, it's 100 to 200 miles on a single charge," Mr. Farkas said, "but the new ENVIA battery coming out soon will double the range and could even reduce the price of an electric car to comparable to or even lower than the internal combustion engine within five years. So a lot of technological obstacles that were there yesterday are not there today."
Pricing is complicated, he said: Since each state has different regulations about how you can charge for electricity, there's no standardization.
"The State of Florida, which is one of most progressive states in this regard, recently adopted legislation permitting charging by the kilowatt hour," Mr. Farkas said. "Therefore we charge 49 cents per kWh in Florida."
Established in 2009, Car Charging Group, which also has offices in San Jose, CA, and Barcelona, has 40 strategic partnerships in the US representing more than 6.5 million parking spots. South Florida, Mr. Farkas said, is a relative newcomer to the industry, but he expects it will grow rapidly.
"Electric cars were released by geographical area," he said, "and Southern Florida was one of the last.
"We could have cars charged with solar panels in Florida. This is doable; it is not some fantasyland. Pricing is coming down dramatically, and the power of batteries is increasing dramatically. But the infrastructure has to be there or people will not buy an electric car."
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