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GE's WattStation Electric Vehicle Charger Hits Streets in 2011

If the electric car is to succeed, it needs charging stations that are both easy-to-use and well designed—a clunky infrastructure will quickly turn off potential drivers. That's why GE brought in fuseproject's Yves Behar to design its upcoming WattStation, a sleek EV charger for city streets that can juice vehicles in just four to eight hours. Today's standard "level 1" chargers take 12 to 18 hours to fully charge a car.

Behar factored in a number of considerations when designing the WattStation: visibility from the street, ability to withstand various weather conditions, and general attractiveness.

The WattStation's status can quickly be seen by passing cars. A green LED ring around the top of the charger indicates that it is available, a red ring signals that the charger is out of service, and a blue ring indicates that it is in use. The plastic and aluminum charger is easy to clean, too—the sloped top allows rain and snow to quickly slide off.

"EV chargers [in the past] tended to be more influenced by their ancestors, the gas pump. The WattStation is much more integrated into the urban landscape, the built environment. It's a smoother, more organic object—more influenced by nature in a way," Behar says.

It makes sense, then, that Behar made the WattStation both modular and customizable. "One of the ideas I'm excited about is the ability for different cities to customize the finish of the [WattStation's] materials depending on their identity, on the street, and on their look," says Behar. "There are many different versions of streetlights and benches. I think in the future, electric vehicle chargers will be so commonly available that people will be able to fashion them after the environment they want to live in."

WattStations might one day have full screen displays—so they can act as, say, combination parking meters, information centers, and car chargers.

The first WattStations to be released in 2011 will be intended solely for city streets, but Behar and GE are working on different models for homes, garages, and elsewhere. Future WattStation will be tweaked for different environments, but the goal remains the same: to reduce—or even eliminate—our reliance on traditional gas stations.

GE will be in direct competition with Shai Agassi's Better Place, which produces a similar charging station that has already won multiple design awards.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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  • Mark Picton

    We have to remember not to always evaluate new solutions based on what we are used to. In order to change to sustainability, we have to change. 30 second refuels or battery changeouts and long distance electric personal transportation convenience are objectives for our current lifestyles. If they are hard to achieve in a sustainable way it suggests not that sustainability is hard to achieve but that our lifestyles are hard to sustain. But mass transit that used to work well for both urban and long distance travel are already part of our social and cultural history; we could even change back to move ahead, and augment that with short distance personal electric transportation, powered by distributed renewable energy sources. It matters where we focus our mental energy too.

    M P

  • M A

    I agree with the earlier commentor. Given the short life span of electric car batteries service stations should be equipped to swap batteries quickly. - However, what this technology does not fully address and what I believe is missing is the fact that even still, to recharge your electric car battery you have to tap the grid. Shouldn't legislation mandate that these rechargers or recharging station utilize renewable energy?

    If more and more people switch or move to electric cars then energy consumption will rise - only differently. Let's not stop thinking, but let's look down the road. Short thinking - quick fix - but possible long term negative impacts. To meet "our" desired end then at the very least rechargers and recharging station should have to utilze renewable energy sources.

  • scott griffis

    Charging stations are only part of the deal to get electric cars to be standard for travel. It is great if these show up at workplaces, homes, and public parking areas, but what about long distance travel?

    In order to solve that, company manufacturers need an easy to change battery that allows you to drive up to a "gas" station, swap the batter, and have a new one in your car in 30 seconds just as you would refill your standard gas car in 30 seconds. The battery you leave would then by set to charge and ready for the next person. Batteries will need to become standard for all electric vehicles (or only have 2-3 types as we do kinds of gas) so that this type of scenario will work.

    Until then (or until batteries are good enough to travel across the country) electric cars will never be 100% of the market.


  • Sheena Medina

    I feel like history is repeating itself here. Has anyone seen the doc "Who Killed the Electric Car?" Seriously, look it up. Watch it. I'd love to hear thoughts on how cyclical this whole thing is sounding.