There are numerous challenges involved in rolling out an energy infrastructure that can accommodate the thousands, if not millions of plug-in electric cars that are being touted as the wave of the future in the United States. To be sure, the logistics associated with building charging stations and ramping up electrical production are first and foremost on the minds of policy makers attempting to guide the development of this new transportation paradigm. However, there are some other, less obvious stumbling blocks strewn across the path towards a greener America.
One such sticking point are local energy laws. In short, there are few jurisdictions in the United States that allow electricity to be sold by anyone other than a registered utility company. While this particular piece of legislation might seem a bit restrictive from a free market perspective, its origins are actually fairly benign - it was initially put into place to prevent unscrupulous landlord from re-selling electricity at a premium, either to residential tenants or power-hungry commercial establishments.
Naturally, if it's not possible for a non-utility to sell electricity, it becomes quite difficult to interest the market in forming electric car charging companies. Fortunately, the challenge of selling the power needed to recharge vehicle batteries without technically breaking the law has been met by a private corporation intent on serving this hole in the EV market. Coulomb Technologies has decided to make available charging posts that can be installed at anyone's place of business specifically to top up the charge level in an electric car's battery pack.
Called ChargePoints, these nifty little stations resemble the hitching posts of old that were meant to keep horses from wandering off while their owners were patronizing the local saloon. ChargePoints make an end-run around the 'no selling electricity' portions of the law by instead charging vehicle owners for an individual session spent connected to a post. The electricity that flows to the car is not metered in any way, and as such drivers are buying time, not kilowatt hours, with the money they hand over to Coulomb. The approach is similar to that of an internet provider, which charges a fee for access to bandwidth, not necessarily the content or data that is transmitted over the bandwidth itself.
Coulomb Technologies plans on deriving a portion of its sales from the fees associated with installing a ChargePoint, which typically run the buyer around $5,000. As a way of softening the blow, Coulomb allows establishments to pocket the fees paid by motorists using the charging posts, as this helps them cover their initial investment as well as the actual energy costs feeding the station. Instead of tracking individual charging sessions, Coulomb instead acts in an administrative capacity and collects a yearly fee from electric vehicle drivers that lets them hook up to any ChargePoint they wish. ChargePoints will additionally be available on an 'a la carte' basis through instant phone access and pre-paid cards, and a try-before-you-buy program is also in place to allow free access to ChargePoints for curious Chevrolet Volt or other plug-in owners.
Photo: Coulomb Technologies