Charger Congestion a Problem for Electric Cars

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NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- I never thought I would write this article. Could we already have too many electric cars?

You read that right. By at least one measure, we do.

In some places in America today, there are too many electric cars competing for too few electric chargers in public locations, primarily in city and mall parking garages. This is causing some unhappiness and grief among electric car drivers, and it's getting worse every day.

Let's start by stepping back for a minute, reviewing the relevant numbers. By the end of 2012, there were over 70,000 electric cars on the road in the U.S. In 2013, estimates mostly range between 100,000 and 125,000 electric cars sold, so we would end 2013 with at least 170,000 electric cars on the road, cumulatively. This counts both pure electric cars and plug-in hybrids.

Most electric car owners charge their cars in at least one of two places: home and work. However, sometimes it is either necessary, desirable or simply possible to charge while you are parked in a parking garage such as in a city center or at a mall. It just makes sense.

Except I'm starting to see more congestion at chargers in these locations. Granted, this is not universal. Some electric car chargers are still used very little.

However, at a rising number of locations, especially in California, I am noticing an increasingly more typical scenario: A parking garage has two chargers, each with one 240 volt and one 110 volt outlet. Four electric cars are plugged in, two of whom are charging more than twice as fast as the other two. In the same parking garage are many other electric cars, parked without charging.

In other words, you may have 15 to 20 electric cars in the parking garage, but only two are able to charge at a speedy rate, and two others at a turtle-slow rate. A year from now, you could have 30-40 electric cars in that parking garage, waiting and unable to charge. There is already today an acute need for many more electric car chargers, as the current ones are utilized nearly 100% of the time.

An even smaller, but more recent, phenomenon are the Tesla(TSLA) "superchargers." These chargers are DC -- as opposed to AC -- and operate at 440 volt. These charge many times faster than AC at 240 volt. Tesla tends to talk about these chargers giving five miles of range per minute you are charging, so in 12 minutes of charging you would get 60 miles.

So far, the Tesla superchargers are located in a few places connecting San Francisco with Los Angeles and Las Vegas, as well as on the freeway from Washington, D.C., to Boston.

One obvious problem with the Tesla superchargers is that there are too few locations spread over too much space. Not too far to make it, but too far for an ideal safety net given the risk of a detour or delay. There are also not enough Tesla superchargers at each location.