Preparing a Home for the Electric Car

henry ford model T electric cars adoption

Below is an article I wrote on the Mapawatt Blog.  I thought I would share it here on Home Energy Pros as well.  Are you preparing your home for an electric car?

As my electric Porsche Boxster reaches the final stages of construction, I’ve been working on preparing my home for the car.  Bringing home an electric car is a different experience than trading in an old Volkswagen for a Toyota Prius.  The Prius takes the Volkswagen’s place in the garage or driveway with the only disruption being the fanfare and excitement of having a new car.

Preparing for the evBoxster requires thought about such things as length of commute, where to charge the car, type of electricity at the point of charge, etc.  These thoughts naturally lead to contemplating the bigger picture of how our nation will prepare a home for the electric car.

The early adopters of electric vehicles have the same spirit  and enthusiasm of “living on the edge” that owners of the first motor cars had when they purchased the first mass-produced autos of the 20th century.  However, will these electric car owners have to overcome the same obstacles?

In September of 1908, when the first mass-produced motor cars went into production, new owners had to make a place in their home for their Ford Model T.  There were no gas stations for fueling, no auto parts stores for buying oil and no local repair shops every few miles to troubleshoot problems and service your car.  Owners had to outfit their homes with the tools and equipment to fuel and maintain their vehicles and learn how their vehicles work to keep them on the road.

first filling stations electric vehicle adoption

An Early Gas Station circa 1920

The Model T didn’t have a battery or starter.  Owners had to hand-crank the car and then a magneto supplied electricity for the ignition system.

The cars did not have a water pump since Henry Ford understood that hot water would rise to the top of the radiator where it would be cooled by air flowing through it.  This created a circulatory flow without a pump and is known as convection.

The cars also lacked a fuel pump.  The gas tank was located under the seat – higher than the carburetor so gravity caused the flow of fuel to the engine.  Owners had to learn to go up steep hills in reverse when there wasn’t enough fuel in the tank to feed the carburetor.

They had to buy gasoline at the hardware store from a barrel or from some pharmacies and grocery stores that sold gasoline as a side business.  This often required having storage space at home for fuel and a way to transfer it from a barrel to the gas tank.

Imagine how carefully owners would have to plan for a trip in the motor car?  A long trip on dirt roads built for horse-drawn wagons made it difficult to calculate range between refueling stops in towns that sold fuel.  What if the car broke down or had a flat tire from the muddy, rutted roads that were the only paths available?  These first car owners had to carry tools, parts and tires in case the inevitable happened away from home.

So how does this compare to early adoption of the electric car?  We have paved roads built for cars that make it much easier to gauge range between charges.  The entire country is electrified and there are power outlets in 99.9% of all structures in the country.  We have AAA for nationwide towing capability and lots of other infrastructure that caters to the automobile.

electric charging station electric vehicle adoption

Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

I would wager that if you asked the average homeowner in 1908 if they could see a future of millions of automobiles traversing the country on paved roads at speeds of over 70mph, over 120,000 gas stations covering the nation and accessories sold in almost every type of store, they would have smiled and chuckled.  This is the same smile and chuckle I’ve witnessed when visionaries speak of our nation dotted with charging stations and electric cars whizzing down the roads silently in every city and town across the country.

We have a lot of work to do to prepare for the coming of the electric car.  We have to adapt our infrastructure to this new fuel source but this seems like a much easier hill to climb than those that Model T owners climbed in reverse over a hundred years ago.

However, I did check with the engineers working on my evBoxster and it does have a reverse gear.  ;-)

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Comment by Powell Smith on June 9, 2011 at 6:02pm

Good point about the garage issue.  I live in the suburbs where everyone has a garage or carport so charging at home or work is an option.  For city dwellers a hybrid or PHEV is probably a better option for now. (or walking, biking or public transit for that matter)  The Tesla Model S will be an interesting option once J1772 Level 3 chargers start showing up.  Charging in 30 mins at a "filling station" might work fo those who can afford one.

When my evBoxster is ready I expect a long extension cord in the boot will be an important accessory!

Comment by tedkidd on June 9, 2011 at 3:01pm

My GEM has a port in the front, so no worries about traffic clipping it.  But until parking meters also have plugs the "on street parking" issue is a bit of a challenge.  

 

I suspect for people without parking the car share model will be the best way for them.  Solves the refueling challenge that business model might face.  I know "fuel" for my car is 2c per mile summer and 4c per mile winter (heated seats, lights, battery eff drop.)

Comment by Tom on June 9, 2011 at 12:29pm

My problem: On street parking.

 

I believe the number of Americans with garages is about 20% (that's the figure I remember; I don't recall where I saw that). So I'm certainly not alone with this issue.

 

So I would have to charge somewhere else - work would be the obvious option, but with brutal parking costs, brutal traffic, and a liking of both bicycles and trains I wouldn't use an EV to get to work even if I had one. So aside from the occasional long weekend mall run or the like (which doesn't really happen that often), I wouldn't ever be likely to be leaving an EV somewhere I could charge it.

 

With on-street parking, I couldn't have managed a Model-T either.

 

In unrelated news, this morning I finally saw a Chevy Volt charging at the public station at 14th & U streets in DC. With the handle for the charging cable sticking out into traffic where it could easily be clipped by a driver or cyclist. But nifty to see someone using it (though I've seen Teslas and Volts around 'in the wild,' I still haven't seen a Nissan Leaf outside a show context...).

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