Thursday, March 4, 2010

America's First "Electric Highway" Takes Shape Along Highway 101 in California

Commuters between San Francisco and Los Angeles, along Highway 101, will no longer have to worry about the lack of electric vehicle charging infrastructure along this key California artery. 

While innovators like Shai Agassi of Better Place are still testing large-scale electric charging networks in a few prototype locations, Solar City, a Foster City, CA startup, has already created approximately 2,500 charging stations across the US, five of which are arrayed along the famously picturesque Highway 101, in what is now being dubbed "the Electric Highway." 

According to a story on the green technology blog Inhabitat, SolarCity's charging stations along Highway 101 are each located at Rabobank locations, one of their key patrons. Part of the reason Solar City's efforts have not garnered more public attention is because their stations, for the moment, are only compatible with the Tesla Roadster. The Roadster is a gorgeous driving machine whose starting price tops $100,000, making it in many ways a status symbol of the environmentally-conscious elite. The charging stations also have limited practicality, taking up to 3 hours to fully charge up a Roadster, though thankfully for Roadster owners, the vehicle's battery has a 300-mile range, meaning that intermittent stops along the Electric Highway need not be anywhere near three hours long. 

Three of the five charging stations - the Salinas, Atascadero, and San Luis Obispo locations - along the Electric Highway are solar-powered, offering a challenge to up-and-coming charging station providers to ensure, for publicity's sake, that their stations draw their electric energy from renewable sources. Currently Solar City has been offering its charging station services for free, although that may change as soon as it adopts a universal electric plug that any electric vehicle can use. As soon as that becomes a reality, the idea of "electric highways" and "green commuting corridors" may become the new status quo of transportation planning.

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