PSE&G Addresses Other Half of Electric-Car Equation: Convenient Charging

Tom Johnson | September 11, 2015 | Energy & Environment
Pilot program deploys charging stations to places people work -- companies, colleges, and hospitals

electric cars
If the public is going to embrace electric vehicles, people need a place to charge their cars other than at home. The logical location is the workplace, some experts say.

That’s an option Public Service Electric & Gas is pursuing in a pilot program in which it donates charging stations to companies, colleges, and hospitals if they agree to have staff and others commit to using them.

To the Newark utility, it is a way to help the market for electric vehicle develop faster in New Jersey, which has been lagging behind other states in promoting the cleaner-running cars.

“The lack of convenient charging stations remains an impediment that keeps potential EV (electric-vehicle) drivers from going all electric,’’ said Joe Forline, vice president for customer solutions at PSE&G. “New Jersey’s been a leader in energy, but not with EVs.’’

The workplace solution may alleviate one of the biggest worries that owners of EVs face: range anxiety — or where they can recharge their vehicle when the battery is running low.

So far, PSE&G gas donated 35 charging stations at seven locations, including St. Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick, where owners, but not the public, can “fill up” their electric cars.

The smart-charging equipment can power up a vehicle in about three hours — far less than the seven to eight hours it takes for most homeowners to charge their cars.

Dr. Irving Kaufman, a physician at the hospital, is happy to park his Ford Focus electric vehicle at one of the fast-charging stations at St. Peter’s. “I haven’t been inside a gas station in two years,’’ he said.

The utility plans to donate 150 units to various facilities under the $400,000 pilot, but would like to eventually expand it statewide, according to Forline.

“It should be expanded,’’ said Chuck Feinberg, coordinator of the New Jersey Clean Cities Coalition, a nonprofit organization working to promote alternative-fuel vehicles. “The workplace is going to be the second most-popular place to charge your car.’’

The pilot also has the added advantage of offering a charging station to people who want electric cars, but cannot charge them because they live in multifamily housing and other dwellings not suitable for deploying a station.

There are some challenges with the PSE&G program, Feinberg said. While the utility donates the charging equipment, it is up to the recipient facility to install the systems, which can account for the bulk of the project cost, he said.

The long-term issue is how PSE&G will be compensated for the equipment — the cost currently is borne by shareholders — if it significantly expands the pilot, a step that probably would require regulatory approval. One approach could involve having ratepayers help foot the cost, as they do with other clean-energy programs.

Feinberg supports such a step. “While it is socializing the costs, the other side of it is that it has social benefits,’’ he said, such as reducing pollution from vehicles, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in New Jersey.

“If New Jersey wants to be a leader in EV, it needs policies to promote them,’’ Forline said. “We currently don’t have those policies in place.’’