Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hard Charging -- The Seemingly Impossible Task of Obtaining a Home EVSE

One of the hardest parts, so far, of entering the EV world is obtaining an EVSE for my home, that elusive charging equipment.  I have tried four different options to obtain my home EVSE and each one has achieved various levels of success.  I use the term “success” lightly because as of now, I don’t actually have an EVSE.
In an effort to be creative and resourceful, neither of which has paid any real dividends, I have explored four different option.
1.         AreoVironment.  This is the company blessed by BMW to install home EVSE’s and their version comes with a cool BMW logo on it—although the electrons flow freely to any brand of electric vehicle.  We were required to have the nice people, and they were, at Aerovironment inspect our home and provide a quote for an EVSE install.  My quote was $1,750 for the cost of the EVSE and labor to install it.  But this did NOT include the labor needed to run conduit from my electric panel to the garage—the problem being a doorway in between the two.  So on to plan B.

2.         Coulomb/ChargePoint America.  They offered a FREE charger, can’t beat that right?  As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as free electrons.  The problem with obtaining a free anything is that you have to wait in line, assuming that the free anything is worth something.  And this anything is worth something, so I waited.  And waited.  And waited.   Finally, I did obtain a site visit from Clean Fuel Connection (the subcontractor for Charge Point, who then sub’s it out again to another electrical company), which went well but presented two new options for my home EVSE:

            A.         Subpanel Install.  A subpanel has to be installed because my main panel has a full dance card and can’t make room for one more potential spark.  Adds a bit of cost, but whatever it takes is fine by me.  Or I could choose option B:
            B.         Second Meter. Southern California Edison offers a special EV rate of 10 cents per Kwh for vehicle charging from 9:00 p.m. to noon, but only when a second meter is installed dedicated to tracking only the EV usage.  The second meter is provided free of charge, but I have to pay the labor to install it.  And SCE must conduct a site visit to determine the placement of the second meter and whether I have enough juice in the existing wires to feed two meters. 
My gate and battered electric meter
After waiting another week for the SCE site visit I was told: “you have to relocate your gate because it might hit the meter.”  What?  That gate has been there for over 10 years and has hit the existing meter hundreds of times with no visible damage.  Only now does SCE notice a problem with the gate?  That’s what I get for drawing attention to myself I guess.  Better to fly under the radar.

So scratch plan “second meter.”  I don’t really need a second meter anyway because I have solar and by using net metering and time-of-use billing for solar and EV I can obtain a very similar result to having a second meter.  It just limits my prime EV charging time from midnight to 6:00 a.m. 
And my quote from ChargePoint for the EVSE install?  Don’t know yet.
Leviton evr-green 160
3.         Solar Company.  I had solar installed last year by Peak Power Solutions and they did a great job.  So I called to find out if they handle EVSE’s and whether they could put a package together that included not only the EVSE, but also a few more solar panels to help offset the extra power usage.  I thought for sure this would be my saving grace.  And I would love to add more solar panels to my system—what a perfect excuse.

But not so fast because (1) the cost of the additional panels were way higher than expected, and (2) the EVSE that they wanted to install (a Leviton "evergreen 160") was a 3.8 Kw unit.  Keep in mind that the Active E can consume up to 7.2 Kw and most EVSE’s being installed have a 7.2 Kw output.  Not this one.  They found the small Sony Walkman of EVSE’s in an iPod world, and while it looks ugly it's also entirely underpowered.  Wait those are both bad things.  Power down this option.
GE WattStation
4.         Private Electrician.  The last straw is hiring a private electrician to come in and run conduit to a GE Wattstation that I can buy from Home Depot for $999.  May not be free, but it’s not too expensive given the scheme of things and it has one very large benefit: it may actually arrive in my garage!  A free charger does little good when I can’t use it…because I don’t have it. 

My only hold-up under this plan is…I can’t get my electrician to call me back. 
The Hard Charging Conclusion.  That’s four options, four different avenues to a home EVSE, and only one partial quote in hand.   
I don’t want this process to be difficult.  I can steer through it because my wife and I really want an electric car.  So unlike most people, we will slog through the unpleasantries to get this technology.  But I also want everyone else to want electric cars too.  And with hurdles like this to overcome, the dream that EVs will be widely adopted is still out of reach.
Of course, the companies in the EVSE arena appear to be very busy, which is good.  But there’s not enough EVSE usage to keep every electrician busy.  So at some point, there has to be a shift so that more companies have the ability to learn about and install EVSE’s. 
There is one thing the EV adventure has taught me: patience.  By the time we’re done I will be a regular Zen master. 


  1. Yes, it can seem like the wild wild West out there right now but things will settle down. Don't forget, a lot of your difficulty has been because you want to look at all your options, and choose the right one that suits your budget. You could have had Aerovironment install the EVSE very quickly right from the beginning and not had to deal with any of this if you wanted to pay what they were charging you.
    I've installed four of them so far with none of the problems you have encountered. In fact, I did the last one entirely myself after watching my electrician install the first three. Now I happen to be friends with my electrician so he really showed me exactly what to do (It's only one wire with three connections inside)

    It really doesn't have to be a difficult endeavor. The EVSE is no different than any other electrical appliance you would add to your home, like an electric clothes dryer or cooking range. It simply needs a 40amp circuit and a single run of #8 wire. The only hard part is if the run from the service panel to the garage is far or difficult and even then, it's just one wire and electricians do this stuff easily all the time.

    As more and more EV's hit the market and more and more electrical contractors try to gain competitive advantage in installing the units the prices will go down and the process will be streamlined. In fact some municipalities are adding requirements in building code to require all new construction homes to be pre-wired for a garage EVSE. this will make it immensely easier for future EV owners to install the EVSE in their garage because they will already have the 240v dedicated circuit terminated in the garage.

    1. Good point, Tom. Thanks for your comments. I certainly could have used AreoVironment in the first place. My experience with them was good, and they were responsive. But my need to see what else is out there got the better of me.

      Part of my problem too is that I am located about 60 miles outside of L.A. and 30 to 40 miles from Orange County. Both AreoVironment and Clean Fuel Connection sent people out from those areas because they aren't set up with electricians in my area. In fact, the Clean Fuel Connect rep came from Glendale, about 60 miles+ and he said they have not found a qualified electrician in Riverside. Well there certainly are qualified electricians in my area, its just a matter of locating them. But the demand is not as high in Riverside County. BMW of Riverside was only allocated 3 Active E's, whereas dealers in L.A., Orange County, and San Diego, are delivering at least a dozen Active E's and some as many as 20 to 30 cars. That makes a big demand difference for EVSE installation.

      I would guess that if I were calling around for a new water heater or new pool, I could receive multiple bids in much shorter time and get the project started. And someday making a call and asking for an EVSE quote will be no different from getting a quote for a water heater or a new pool. But were not quite there yet.

  2. Don't sweat it. The electrician subcontracted by AV did a great job and was very professional. The work was inspected by SCE and the City of Hermosa Beach and was deemed perfect.

  3. Update: Coulomb/Charge America takes the prize. They came back with a quote of $1,400 after the $1,200 CEC credit. This includes the actual EVSE, a new sub panel, swap out of my existing panel, and about 30' of new conduit. Now it is just a matter of waiting for the EVSE to arrive and installation to be scheduled. Probably another 3 to 4 weeks, I would guess.

  4. It’s really a great and helpful piece of information. I’m glad that you shared this useful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.especially the Peak Power Solutions system is very amazing
    Thank for sharing

    BMW auto service