3M is getting ready for a future in which more people drive electric cars.
The company is deploying two fast charging stations for electric cars on its Maplewood campus, anticipating electric vehicles will become more common in coming years.
When they run on 220 volts, the stations can juice up a car in about four hours.
They're networked with other charging stations being deployed across the country. Via the Internet, the charging stations report if they're available or in use. And they'll send car owners a message when their vehicles are fully charged.
"This has really been put in place for guests and visitors to 3M," said Tom Heim, 3M's director of administrative services. "And also this particular unit has the fast and slow charge capability. Our parking ramps only have the slower charge ability."
The charging stations at 3M are part of Coulomb Technologies plan to deploy a national network of charging stations. The California company currently has about 750 stations in operation.
Coulomb Technologies' chargers start at about $2,000 each.
"The Coulomb mission is to ensure that when somebody is considering buying an electric vehicle -- choosing between electric or gas -- we don't want them to hesitate to buy a car with a cord on it," said CEO Richard Lowenthal.
He said the federal government will spend more than $100 million this year to subsidize the deployment of charging stations by his firm --and competitors. He says interest in the chargers is greatest among employers, municipalities and utility companies.
"The United States will have a million plug-in vehicles by 2015," Lowenthal said. "At least that's what our president tells us, and we believe him. Each one needs roughly two charging stations. That's 2 million charging stations we need to have deployed by four years from now."
Coulomb Technologies chargers can be set to give free charges, as the case at 3M, or collect fees. It seems about $2 is the going rate.
3M said only a "handful" of its employees now have electric cars. But the company expects more and more workers will go electric in the future.
Heim said 3M employees can charge electric cars at 300 parking ramp spaces on the Maplewood campus. Those are only 110-volt connections, however. They're slower, requiring about ten hours to power up a car.
Nationwide, about 400 electric vehicles were sold in January. But the marketing firm J.D. Power and Associates projects electric vehicle sales will hit about 250,000 by 2015.
Michael Omotoso of J.D. Power said the greatest distance electric cars now on the market can travel on a charge is about 100 miles. And they are expensive.
"The Nissan Leaf is about $25,000 after the tax break," Omotoso said. "The Chevy Volt is more expensive. It's $35,000 after the tax break."
He said electric car buyers tend be environmentally conscious people who are better-educated, wealthier and a bit older than the average consumer.
Omotoso said electric cars do give drivers more miles for their money spent at the pump -- or charging station.
"Typically, with a gasoline-powered vehicle, it's about ten cents per mile," he said. "With an electric vehicle, it's close to two, two-and-half cents per mile."
At this time, electric cars aren't as "green" as they could be, he said. That has to do with the often not-so-clean fuels used to generate the electricity the cars need.
"Almost 50 percent of the energy in the U.S. is generated from coal, and then there's about 25 percent nuclear and 20 to 25 percent natural gas," Omotoso said. "That is one of the reasons why President Obama -- in his State of the Union address -- mentioned getting energy from renewable resources over the next 25 to 30 years."