February 13, 2014 at 1:00 am

EV owners fixate on charging up

They think in terms of charge per hour, not miles per gallon, as plug-in spots remain scattered

Chevrolet Volt )

If the electricity is being offered for free, as it is in many electric-car charging locations, Michael Delune will park his Tesla Model S there. Even if he isnít running particularly low on juice.

ďIf itís free, Iíll take it,Ē said the Irvine, Calif., lawyer. ďI admit that I have done that on occasion.Ē

Free is free, even if you did spend $70,000-plus on an electric car.

As Tesla, Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt owners can attest, buying an electric car tends to rewire your brain. You no longer think in terms of miles per gallon, but charge per hour. With a gas-powered vehicle, itís safe to assume thereís always a gas station within reach. Not so with an e-vehicle.

So the electric-car driver installs smartphone applications to locate the nearest charging stations. They start coveting that plug-in spot at work or the grocery store. And even though they might have a free pass for the carpool lane, e-car owners might not blow past the speed limit because that dramatically lowers their range.

Charging spots are scattered among parking structures, public transportation stations and businesses throughout the region. Local malls each have a few spots. Disneyland recently joined the EV charging party, with 20 spots on the first floor of the gigantic Mickey & Friends parking structure.

ChargePoint, one of the larger charger networks, has grown from 5,254 ports at the beginning of 2012 to more than 15,000 now. A person starts charging a car on that network every 10 seconds.

Competition at those public spots can be fierce. Unlike the proprietary super-charging stations that Tesla is building, most public plug-in spots accommodate the majority of e-vehicle types.

So you get fully electric cars, like the Leaf, vying for spots along with plug-in gas hybrids such as the Volt. The Volt owners likely bought a hybrid to relieve range anxiety then discovered they could reduce their gas costs by living off electric and hopping from open charger to open charger.

And charging at public plug-ins is often relatively slow: Tens of miles of charge per hour versus hundreds at the Tesla station. So drivers often leave a car plugged in longer.

To cut down on plug squatting, parking structures and businesses which have installed chargers started shifting from free to asking for a nominal amount for the first few hours and then several bucks for longer stays.

In the past year, ChargePoint has seen the number of free ports on its network shrink from 80 percent to roughly two thirds, and itís still dropping.

ďIf you talk to me in six months, itís probably going to be 40 (percent),Ē said Pasquale Romano, CEO of ChargePoint.