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Oregon Invites Bids for a Network of Electric Car Charging Stations

April 03, 2009 11:30 AM
by Denis Cummings
Oregon hopes that more charging stations will inspire an increase in electric vehicle use in the state.

Oregon Solicits Bids for Charging Station Network

The Department of Transportation solicited bids Wednesday to build a network of charging stations for electric cars, becoming the first state to do so. State officials expect that a standardized network of charging stations will encourage drivers to buy electric vehicles.

“Currently, the biggest limitation for drivers thinking about making the transition to EVs is the absence of a reliable network of charging facilities to increase the range of these vehicles and to alleviate any fear of ‘running out of juice,’” says the Oregon Department of Transportation Web site.

The state wants to avoid the mistakes made in the Los Angeles area in the 1990s, when there were competing charging stations. “One was called inductive charging and one was conductive charging,” explains ODOT spokesman Art James. “It was sort of like the old Betamax VCR problem.”

Oregon officials, out of what James calls “environmental stewardship,” hope that the network will lead to widespread use of electric cars. Following initial investment by the government, James “expects that eventually there will be enough demand for the private sector to step in and profit from these charging stations,” according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Background: Electric cars

The first electric car appeared in the mid-19th century, but they were made obsolete after Henry Ford introduced the Model T in the early 20th century. Various electric models appeared through the mid-20th century, but it wasn’t until the early 1990s that automakers began seriously producing electric cars.

There were many logistical problems—such as the issue of recharging—that prevented any commercial success for electric cars. Over the last decade, however, companies like Toyota and Honda have had success producing hybrid vehicles, and the rise in gas prices has piqued interest in electric alternatives.

Several state and national governments have formed plans to implement charging networks to encourage the use of electric vehicles. “It’s the classic chicken-and-egg conundrum,” writes the Christian Science Monitor. “The infrastructure has to exist for the demand to rise, but the demand has to be sufficient to justify building the infrastructure.”

Hawaii, where high gas prices and short driving distances make electric cars an attractive alternative to gas-powered cars, intends to have a similar charging station network in place by 2012. It has a deal with Silicon Valley startup Better Place to create a network of 100,000 charging stations, where drivers of certain electric models can charge their cars and pay through a subscription plan similar to cell phone plans.

Better Place has similar deals in place with San Francisco, Israel, Australia and Denmark. There are serious limitations to Better Place’s plans, most notably that all cars and charging options are controlled by Better Place. Furthermore, the costs to implement their plans in very high—the Hawaiian plan could cost up to $1 billion—and its ability to generate revenue is uncertain.

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