Electric car charging station Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Electric car charging station Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Two years ago, it was difficult to find an electric car charging station in Dallas. These days, they’re all over the place.

Some of the more common are Blink charging stations, installed by parent company Ecotality. The company has installed more than 350 chargers in DFW in a little over two years, says area sales manager Dave Aasheim.

Electric car engine Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Electric car engine Photo by Danny Fulgencio

“We try to find locations where people are going to park their cars for an hour, maybe two hours,” Aasheim says. “We’re not putting them in places like gas stations. We’re putting them in places where you want to be.”

Shopping centers, libraries and parks are some of the spots Ecotality has chosen. The company began seeking out locations in 2009 when it was awarded a $99.8 million EV Project grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to help build the charging station infrastructure. Ecotality has spent $115 million on infrastructure in addition to the grant, Aasheim says.

One of the deterrents to people driving electric cars is “range anxiety,” or fear of running out of charge in the middle of a drive. The electric Nissan Leaf, for example, can travel only 75 miles on a full charge.

So one of Ecotality’s goals is to provide plenty of charging spots for current customers.

“Most people are going to get a majority of their charge at home, but [charging stations] give them some range,” Aasheim says. “Every hour you’re plugged in puts about 12 to 15 miles of range back onto your battery — similar to if you see your cell phone getting low on charge, you plug it in for a few minutes to give it a boost.”

Blink station customers spend $1-$2 per hour to charge their cars.

Two Blink stations were installed in April at the Lake Highlands YMCA, one of five metropolitan Dallas YMCAs that is now electric car-friendly. Ecotality approached the Y about adding stations to some of its parking lots, believing that people might find it handy to charge their cars while they work out, Aasheim says.

In the first couple of months, the Lake Highlands Y stations had only two “connections,” or cars that plugged into the stations, says Stan Thomas, YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas vice president of properties and facilities. But at the McKinney Y, one couple joined the Y specifically because of its charging station.

Half Price Books on Northwest Highway was the first retailer in Dallas to install a charging station in September 2010. It purchased its own before the grant money was more widely available.

“We’ve always considered ourselves a very green company, and when the Chevy Volt was first coming out, we thought people obviously need incentives to use these cars, so we decided to lead the way and hope other retailers in Dallas would follow suit,” spokeswoman Emily Bruce says.

Thirty people used its charging station in 2010, Bruce says, “and so far this year, we’re up to 409. I think that now more electric vehicles are readily available, so there’s more of a need for it.”

Half Price Books doesn’t charge customers to use its station. It takes four hours for an electric car to charge completely, Bruce says, and most Half Price Books customers aren’t shopping that long, “but they can stay for an hour and get enough of a charge to get home or wherever they’re heading.”

Ecotality is collecting data on its Blink chargers to find out which chargers are used most. Right now, it appears that restaurants, movie theaters, grocery stores and similar “destination locations” are most popular, Aasheim says.

Ecotality is seeing an overall 11 percent increase in usage of public stations since this time last year, he says, and that number will only rise. For the last couple of years, only two electric cars — the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf — were major players in the market, Aasheim says, but by the end of 2013, drivers will be able to choose from 23 electric cars.