Just in time for the Super Bowl, a Buffalo Wild Wings sports bar in Kissimmee, Fla. installed a Coulomb Technologies ChargePoint station for electric vehicles. This is fantastic news for the smattering of EV owners who are fans of deep-fried, factory-farmed food served at chain restaurants and live in Central Florida (assuming these people exist). Unfortunately, there are a few reasons why the marketing ploy of Level II charging stations at restaurants is misled, at best.

First of all, there’s charging time. Buffalo Wild Wings could have a better case than, say, McDonald's, because people might stay put for a 4-hour Super Bowl game. However, if you stop in for some wings and a fraction of a game, you’ll only get a partial charge. Maybe you only live a few miles away, in which case, if you really wanted to be environmentally friendly, you should have ridden your bike. But I digress.

A full charge using a 240V charger for a Nissan Leaf will take about 6 hours. More than 80 percent of that charging will happen at home, according to Jose A. Salazar, Senior Project Manager at the Advanced Technology, Field Technologies Group for Southern California Edison. When you’re not juicing up in the garage (or maybe street charging, for those without garages), you’ll probably be looking for a plug at or near work.

It’s not stopping chains like Buffalo Wild Wings and McDonald’s from making a play for EV customers, but it will likely be years, and maybe decades, before you would make a decision on where you eat fast food based on charging. At the Networked EV conference in November, there was a lively debate on whether charging at malls, restaurants and movie theaters shifted the focus away from how to realistically mainstream EVs, which could include fleets, heavy-duty and fast-charging buses.

Of course, if gas prices continue to creep back up, then people will be more likely to adopt EVs, in which case faster charging will be in demand. However, one of the ideas being tossed around now is that charging might be subscription-based, so depending on which company you pay to charge your car (Coulomb, Ecotality) -- you might not plug in just because you can at a restaurant if it means you’re paying above and beyond what you are already charged monthly. Of course, if it’s free, which it likely will be at many retail locations, then that’s another story.  

The conventional answer to the long time required for charging is DC charging. A high-voltage DC charger can fully charge an EV in 25 minutes or less. But the systems are expensive and the infrastructure exists mostly in Fantasyland. Others, such as Better Place, have promoted battery swapping, but the idea has yet to catch fire beyond Better Place.
But there are cheaper alternatives. Ford, for instance, will put a 6.6-kilowatt charger in the all-electric Focus that is coming out at the end of the year, which will allow the car (with a 23-kilowatt-hour battery) to fully recharge in 3 to 4 hours. Most other cars have a 3.3-kilowatt charger or smaller and thus will take 5 or 6 hours to charge. It’s sort of like having a bigger garden hose.

In the real world, that will mean that Ford drivers will be able to substantially top off their cars during trips to the mall or restaurants, said Ed Pleet, one of the designers behind the software and consumer interfaces that will be coming with Ford’s electric cars. An hour at lunch will allow for one-third of a full charge. The interface for smart phones will help as well. Users can instantly tap into the level of charge, how long before the car is fully (or three-fourths) charged, and other information. Ideally, the information will reduce any anxiety about how long a charge will take to complete.

General Motors, meanwhile, has another idea: buy a Volt. The Volt contains a gas generator that extends the range to a few hundred miles.