Making Electric Cars work with Radio Frequency Monitoring and Credit Card Payments for Electricity

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 12th, 2012

Week in Review

They’re working out the bugs of electric cars.  Figuring out a way to charge their drivers for their electricity.  And to monitor you.  So they can balance these new loads on the electric grid.  And figure out how to direct advertising at you.  Like the advertising you see at the gas pump.  Only without collecting information on you.  Especially if you pay with cash (see Electric car drivers left hanging in charger wars by Eric Evarts posted 5/11/2012 on Consumer Reports).

Naturally, charging networks install electric car chargers in people’s homes and in public places, such as parking lots and airports. For public chargers, they provide an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) key tag to customers to activate the charger and authenticate payment. Some charging network providers say it’s important to them to collect authentication information even if they’re providing free charging, because it helps them track where future chargers should go, what kind of electric car you have, and how to manage loads on the power grid.

Perhaps the most important reason for charging networks is to collect and aggregate payments. Unlike buying gas, when you charge up an electric car, the cost amounts to just a few dollars. Charging our Nissan Leaf test car at our test track in Connecticut, for example, cost less than $4.50. And that figure is a worst-case scenario. (Our area has among the highest electric rates in the continental United States, and that cost is based a completely drained battery, which ideally should never happen.)

At the modest energy costs for recharging, credit-card processing fees take a significant bite out of providers’ profit margins. Companies are exploring more creative approaches to ensure profitability, such as aggregating payments from different tenants in an apartment garage. This business model may evolve over time.

Charge people for plugging in?  Collecting information?  Wasn’t just simply buying gas with cash simpler?  Do we really need another place for people to hack into our private lives? 

Guess that electricity isn’t free.  Still, $4.50 a charge isn’t so bad.  It may get you about 100 miles.  Probably less if you use the heat or headlights.  If you only charge once a day seven days a week that comes to about $31.50 a week.  Of course, if you have to recharge at work to make it back home and maybe drive a little further on the weekend to a nice restaurant or too see a movie that can easily take you to two charges a day.  Taking you to $63 a week.  It adds up, doesn’t it?  And how many miles would $63 in gasoline buy you in a week?  Well, if gas is at $3.75 a gallon and your car gets about 24 miles per gallon that comes to about 57.6 miles per day for one week (63/3.75*24/7).  Which is about one hour’s driving time on the expressway going 60 miles an hour.  Without worrying about using your heat or headlights.  With one fill up during those 7 days.  A bit more convenient. 

But what about those charges away from home?  Let’s say you take your electric car on vacation.  At the end of a long day’s driving you pull into a motel.  Plug your car in.  Go into your room.  And turn the AC on to cool off.  Take a good look at that air conditioner/heater poking through the wall of your room.  Or imagine looking at one.  Your typical unit plugs into a 20 amp circuit at 240V.  If the motel installs a 30A, 240V fast charge battery charger to get your car charged up for the next leg of your trip in 4 to 5 hours (instead of the 10-12 hours of a 120V charger), that charger will draw more power than the room air conditioner.  And to provide for all of those electric cars in the future the motel will have to more than DOUBLE their electrical service to meet this additional demand.  As electric utilities will have to do everywhere if EVERYONE uses an electric car.  A burden our aging electric grids just can’t handle.  Not with a lot of rolling brownouts and blackouts.  Not without building new electric generation and distribution grids.  And the last time I looked that wasn’t cheap.  Not to mention all of those carbon emissions they’ll throw up into the atmosphere.  Because neither wind power nor solar power will be able to double our electric generation.  That will have to come from our good old reliable fossil fuels.

Of course this is a silly example.  For no one will be able to drive a long day in an electric car.  Unless there’s a fast charge station every 100 miles or so.  And people don’t mind waiting 4-6 hours for that fast charge at each of those fast charge stations.  Or subscribe to some battery leasing program that can change your battery every 100 miles or so.  As long as there is a battery changing facility every 100 miles or so.  Or you can carry a spare battery or two.  But all of that weight will reduce your driving distance.

Before we go ‘all in’ with these cars of the future we really should be looking at the big picture.  For that big picture will ultimately have a very large price tag.  For a world that won’t be as good as the one it replaced.

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