San Diego Chargers: Region Serves as a Testbed for new EVs and Their Charging Stations

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San Diego County, which is bounded to the South by the U.S. border with Mexico, along the West by the Pacific Ocean and in the East by the parched deserts of Imperial Valley, has often served as a test market for everything from light beer to broadband wireless plans. And over the next year or so, this cul-de-sac of Southern California is expected to serve as an extensive test market for at least 10 types of plug-in electric vehicles.

The largest rollout, which is expected to begin in December, will be the five-passenger Nissan Leaf, a zero-emission all-electric vehicle—which is powered solely by a pack of advanced lithium-ion batteries. Nissan says its Leaf can reach speeds of about 90 mph and can go about 100 miles before its batteries must be recharged.

Amid high consumer interest in all things clean and green, both startup and establishment automakers are formulating plans to introduce a variety of new electric vehicles—from the high-end Tesla Roadster Sport car (at a base price of $101,500) to a midsize sedan from China’s BYD Auto (estimated at almost $22,000). Behind the scenes, however, utility, energy, and government officials have voiced concerns about the combined effects that new fleets of Plug-in EVs (PEVs) could have on the local power distribution systems.

To some industry observers, the anticipated introduction of EVs embodies potential changes in energy demand on a scale that the utility industry hasn’t seen since air conditioning was introduced in the 1960s. (And then there is another disquieting matter that is not often voiced: If electric vehicles are charged on power grids that get their energy from power plants that burn fossil fuel, then aren’t we just moving the carbon emissions problem from one bucket to another?)

While utility officials expect most EV owners will do their recharging at home overnight, studies done by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and others suggest that EV owners will likely be clustered in affluent … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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