TAMPA — Charging stations for electric cars near apartment complexes. A charge that takes 10 minutes in a mall parking space. Affordable electric vehicles.
That's the dream — making electric vehicles an alternative to gas-powered vehicles. There's a long way to go, but the Tampa Bay region is getting a start.
NovaCharge, a Tampa-based distributor, gives the area its first charging unit for electric cars this week. To be installed outside Solar Source, 10840 Endeavour Way in Largo, the stand-alone unit provides a full charge in about four hours.
As manufacturers prepare to introduce new electric cars, more charging stations are starting to appear. The U.S. Energy Department recognizes two stations in the state, but a nonprofit organization has put in 25 more.
In Cocoa, for instance, three units each with three plug-in options wait for motorists at the Florida Solar Energy Center. Someone drives in for a charge about every two months.
It's slow, yes.
But the installation of charging stations needs to grow before car manufacturers release electric models in the next couple of years, said Ron Phillips, Solar Source's director of training and sales.
The Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf, both extended-range electric cars, are scheduled be released in more than a year.
"It's an egg thing," said Bill Young, a board member of the Energy Department's Florida Space Coast Clean Cities Coalition. "Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?"
That's the problem. And the Florida Electric Auto Association won't wait. The organization paid for 25 units and installations between the Florida Keys and New Smyrna Beach.
Charles Whalen, the group's charging director, said local politicians can't justify using tax money to put in the stations during a recession — especially when there are only 200 electric vehicles capable of driving on Florida's highways.
As more charging units appear, Whalen predicts affordable electric vehicles for a broader audience will develop in five years. He thinks it will take 30 years for electric vehicles to account for more than half of new car sales.
Offers for the free units and their installation at about $7,000 each have been welcomed except in Delray Beach.
The stations NovaCharge expects to start planting around the Tampa Bay area are manufactured in California by Coulomb Technologies and part of a global network tracked online. A map on the company's Web site shows real-time availability.
A consumer uses a subscription-based card or credit card for each plug-in session. An e-mail or text message announces the end of a charge hours later to a subscribing customer.
Unit owners can make money by collecting 80 percent of revenue on a unit. The rest goes for maintenance, said Helda Rodriguez, NovaCharge president.
"The first person who took a chance and put an ATM in Busch Gardens today is probably making a lot of money," Rodriguez said.
Unlimited monthly charges go for $50.
By the end of 2010, at least 600 charging units are expected to dot the Southeast from Washington to the Florida Keys.
Rodriguez wants to see 200 to 400 of those units in Florida.
There's big support.
President Barack Obama recently granted $2.4 billion in stimulus money for the development of electric vehicles, including $95.5 million for a cell and battery manufacturing company in Jacksonville, according to the Energy Department.
In time, technology developments will lead to cheaper cars and better batteries.
"It's just that this is going to take longer than flat-screen TVs and cell phones did," Whalen said.
Ileana Morales can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3403.