It looks like a gas pump back there behind the Mitsubishi, but it's actually a 15-minute recharger.

The Achilles’ heal of electric vehicles is range all,  except fanatics admit, and in every problem there’s an opportunity. At least that’s the thinking behind the latest announcement from Eaton Corporation and Murphy Oil USA that starts an alliance to provide fast charging for range-challenged EVs at Murphy’s gas stations.

Oil companies have been notably silent, of course, on the potential threat that EVs, especially pure EVs, pose to their monopoly on transportation fuels. One of the reasons no doubt is how few of them there are now, and likely will be in the immediate future, given the fact that an EV leaves the driveway fully charged with about the same range as a gasoline-powered vehicle has when the gauge reads empty and the low fuel warning light is on.

The Eaton Murphy collaboration will attempt to address this “range anxiety” that electric vehicle drivers will face with from weak batteries and the limited – virtually non-existent – availability of installed and operating charging stations.

After an initial test at one location in Tennessee, the home state of the 47+ mile range Nissan Leaf (allegedly, your mileage may vary), the joint venture could expand during the next three years to the more than 1,000 retail gasoline stations in 22 states that Murphy owns and operates.

Key here is Eaton’s DC industrial charger, which in theory can provide 15 minute refills of down-and-about-to-be-out-of-spunk EVs. This isn’t a wimpy home charging unit that takes 8 to 12 hours to recharge the EV and cost the owner $1,000 to $2,000 or more to install. Eaton’s is a 500-volt DC powerhouse that is ideal for commercial applications such as service stations and –stay tuned – delivery fleets.

Eaton also has what it calls a “level two” charger that operates on 240 colts of AC and can top up an EV in 3 to 6 hours, which puts it in reach of at least home owners with 200 amp service. These units are about to go on the market as well.

Also key here is Murphy’s ownership and active management of its outlets so the charging stations can be monitored and serviced when needed by Eaton to ensure constant operation.

“Murphy Oil USA is committed to being a pioneer and early adopter of alternative fuels and Green Energy. Through our collaboration with Eaton, we are paving the way for development of the infrastructure leading to adoption and expanded of use of Electric Vehicles,” said Hank Heithaus, president, Retail Marketing.

Eaton is also working with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) on a solar-assisted electric vehicle charging station, which will be erected at EPRI’s research laboratory in Knoxville, Tenn. Additional stations are planned for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Nashville, Chattanooga and another site in Knoxville.

Theses collaborations come after the creation of a new business unit at Eaton that will be responsible for the overall direction and growth of the emerging electric vehicle and transportation infrastructure business within Eaton’s Electrical Sector. Eaton has named Tim Old the new business unit manager of this new Electric Transportation Infrastructure unit.

When I asked Old if this was the creation of a new industry, he said. “Yes.”

Eaton had 2009 sales of $11.9 billion so it appears to be able to go head to head with “Big Oil,” or at least form JVs that do an end run around carbon fuels.

Eaton has developed electrical and hybrid power systems for heavy trucks and buses for more than 20 years – an area that promises to save more fuel and reduce the U.S.’s dependence on foreign oil than personal transportation EVs and even hybrids.  The company’s electrical business includes power distribution, power quality, control and industrial automation products and services.

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