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Putting All 20,000 Electric Car Charging Stations on the Map

Forrest North works on the second floor of a Menlo Park, Calif., office building. Unlike other people in the office, North has an electric car charging station next to his desk. When he arrives at work, he dangles the charging station cord out of his window and plugs it into a Nissan Leaf (NSANY) waiting in the parking lot below.

North is an electric car buff and then some. He built a radio-controlled, solar-fueled car in high school and went on to join Stanford’s solar car team. After graduation he became one of the early engineers at Tesla Motors (TSLA). These days, North serves as the chief operating officer at Recargo, a company that maps and rates car charging stations in North America. He’s convinced that the electric car revolution has arrived, and he even has some data to back up the claims.

Two years ago, there were about 2,000 recharging stations scattered throughout the U.S. and Canada. That figure hit 6,300 in 2012, and by last May it had reached 20,100. California dominates the charging scene, but it’s clear enough that a countrywide phenomenon has taken effect.
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The counterintuitive thing about all these charging stations is that electric car drivers tend not to need them. Most people go to work and back home, maybe running errands in between. Even a Leaf, with its 80-mile range, is up to those tasks on a single charge. So electric car owners generally refuel at their houses overnight, and that’s it. What the influx of car charging stations does, according to North, is help potential electric car buyers get over lingering anxieties. “Even if you only need a charging station in emergencies, their presence is encouraging if you’re looking into purchasing an electric car,” he says.
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