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Reports Analyze Electric Vehicle Charging in Los Angeles

Do you have "range anxiety"? That's the worry that you'll get stranded in an electric car because charging stations are too few and far between, and it's a major obstacle to greater public acceptance of private electric vehicles. A pair of reports by UCLA's Luskin Center for Innovation look at ways to remake L.A.'s vehicle charging amenities so that range anxiety plays less of a role in shifting to cleaner cars.

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A previous UCLA study estimated that there will be 80,000 plug-in cars in private use in Los Angeles by 2015, so it's clear that plenty of people don't find the relative rarity of charging stations as opposed to gas stations much of an inconvenience. Most drivers travel less than 35 miles a day in their cars, which is well within the range of many electric vehicles assuming a single overnight charge.

But range anxiety affects the behavior of even enthusiastic adopters of electric cars. In 2009 Japan's Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) provided electric company cars to its employees with a central fleet charging station, and the company noted that most drivers were bringing cars back with more than 50% of the vehicles' charge remaining, a clear sign that the drivers were nervous about running out of juice on the road. TEPCO installed chargers throughout Tokyo and almost immediately drivers started coming back to base with less charge remaining in their batteries. Adding additional charging stations distributed throughout the city had alleviated the drivers' range anxiety.

There are plenty of places where Los Angeles could sensibly install vehicle chargers. Homeowners with electric cars can usually handle their own charger installation, but it gets more complicated when we're talking about public spaces. A Luskin Center report released this month, "Financial Viability Of Non-Residential Electric Vehicle Charging Stations," analyzes the costs and benefits of charging installations at commercial and business locations, and discusses different economic strategies for charger installation, operation, and maintenance. The study's authors call for continued subsidies for businesses that install chargers, while encouraging retail outlets to consider the promotional benefits of charger availability. They also caution that as improved battery technology increases electric vehicle range, the need for chargers per car will drop -- though that seems a less crucial concern given electrics' very low percentage of private autos. There are 2.5 million private cars in Los Angeles, and even if the city does gain 80,000 electric cars in the next three years that's still only 3% of the total.

A second Luskin Center report released last month addresses the non-homeowner side of the residential charging picture. More than half of Angelenos live in multi-unit dwellings (MUDs). MUDs present their own unique obstacles to installing vehicle chargers, from tenant-landlord negotiations to building upgrades to HOA politics to even just getting tenants to agree on swapping parking spaces. The authors of the Luskin Center's "Increasing Electric Vehicle Charging Access in Multi-Unit Dwellings in Los Angeles" offer a set of recommendations to make things easier for tenants, landlords, and HOAs to install chargers, from immediate measures such as enacting subsidies to longer-term solutions like reworking building codes to encourage charging stations.

Car-centric Los Angeles is uniquely positioned to become the center of the electric vehicle movement, both reports' authors maintain, with most auto commutes well within the range of available electric vehicles. Making it easier to charge those cars will go a long way to releive range anxiety among drivers who might be ready to make the switch.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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