Business: Could electric cars be the wave of the future?

JENNETT MERIDEN RUSSELL | A socket for a car charger.

Bob Dunigan is all charged up about electric cars.

The co-owner of Schwing Electrical Supply, which has locations across Long Island, including Riverhead, feels so strongly that the electric car industry is going to provide a jolt of revenue for local electricians that he held a seminar Tuesday at the Riverhead Polish Hall just to pitch the new technology.

As electric cars become more popular in the coming years, Mr. Dunigan believes local professional electricians are going to be in high demand to install the electric charging stations for the cars at both residential and commercial sites.

“I think this is the leading edge, and it’s my responsibility as a distributor to educate my customers, so they can support their customers,” Mr. Dunigan said. “The electrical vehicles are coming, there’s a high demand for them and every time you turn around there’s something about them on TV or newspapers and magazines. And I feel we have to be out in front of it because the consumer is not going to buy the car unless he has a comfort level knowing he has a place to plug it in.”

Roughly 100 electricians turned out for Tuesday’s seminar, some having traveled from as far away as New Jersey to attend. The presentation featured electric car chargers from Leviton, a Melville-based manufacturer of electrical wiring devices.

Leviton recently signed a deal with Ford Motor Co. to make a faster electric charger.

The system, Leviton boasts, at 240 volts, can power up the soon-to-be-released 2012 Ford Focus EV, which has a 23-kilowatt pack, in just 3.5 hours.

It takes the Nissan Leaf EV roughly seven hours to replenish its 24-kilowatt-hour battery pack at the same voltage, according to Nissan.

But for those who are eager go get an electric-powered Ford Focus, Chris Pagliaro, a sales consultant with Riverhead Ford Lincoln Mercury, said the Route 58 dealership does not expect to have the models until 2013. The company is also waiting for Ford’s Transit Connect, a small electric van.

“We’re very excited about these products,” Mr. Pagliaro said. “These vehicles are keeping up with technology and people like the idea that the car companies are trying to conserve energy and save the environment. And it’s exciting for us because it’s generating more customer interest in Ford overall.”

Pointing out that every major car manufacturer in the world is currently scrambling to put out an electric car or hybrid, Leviton’s vice president and general manager, Michael Mattei, reiterated that local electricians have a chance to plug into the electric car industry via their products.

He explained that Leviton currently offers two levels of charging devices. Levels one and two feature alternating currents, and are typically used for electrically powering a home or business.

A level three charging station is still in the works, but Mr. Mattei said the device will eventually be able to offer 480 volts, but at a direct current, which is the type of current used to power vehicles and lawnmowers.

Level one, a 2-kilowatt output delivers 120 volts at 16 amps, and level two, a 7.2-kilowatt output delivers up to 240 volts at 30 amps.

“There are a greater number of charging units that will be placed in the home initially, because that’s the first place you’re going to want to charge your car,” said Mr. Mattei, who owns a Chevy Volt, an electric car that recently hit the market. “But, the opportunity on the dollar side – if you can envision going to do a commercial install – the product is more expensive and it requires more labor, so the dollars are higher. It’s a great mix, electricians can promote this to both commercial and residential customers.”

While Leviton was able to create a faster charging station, Melissa Martin, director of business development with the company, said the company lacks software development capabilities that are necessary for electric-car drivers to find charging stations easily.

Leviton enlisted ChargePoint Network Support Services, a product of Coulomb Technologies of California, which allows drivers not only to find a charging station, but also permits them to reserve charging time at a station via computer or smartphone, such as an iPhone or Blackberry.

Electric car owners can use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) cards to access the power station, which is locked until the charging provider allows access. RFID is technology that uses electromagnetic tags, which are stuck to or embedded into a product, such as a credit card, in order to uniquely identify that object.

For those who don’t want a card, drivers can dial an 800 number that is printed on the charging station to order a charging session. ChargePoint also provides the owners of charging stations the ability to keep track – by computer or cellphone – of how often their stations are being used, as well as payment collections.

“This technology is very impressive,” said Wading River electrician Frank Vaughan of Vaughan Electric, who attended the event at Polish Hall. “I can see it being a big industry in the future.”

The cellular system also gives both personal and commercial charging station owners the ability to keep track of who is using what stations, which could benefit a company that provides electric cars to its employees, or a parent with teenagers using their electric car.

Station owners also have the ability to shut off charging services with the push of a button. An employer, for instance, can simply remove the RFID card number from their list of RFID cardholders.

“You can see the status of your station from anywhere in the world,” Ms. Martin said. “You could be sitting in Aruba, by the pool with a margarita in your hand, and as long as you have your laptop and a high speed connection, you can get on the online software and see whose charging at your station, how long they’re charging at your station, how many kilowatts are being consumed, you can see all of it, right there on your laptop.”