Walgreens, IKEA charge up parking lots

Will offering a charging station in your parking lot become a point of competitive differentiation?

Will offering a charging station in your parking lot become a point of competitive differentiation? It seems that certain retail operations are thinking that way. Drug store chain Walgreens plans to install as many as 800 electric vehicle charging stations at locations across the United States this year, which would make it the country's biggest retail supporter of the concept. Meanwhile, home furnishing retailer IKEA plans to test the acceptance of chargers at 10 stores in the Western United States.

The Walgreens installations, which are starting this month, will use eVgo Freedom Stations from NRG Energy. The technology will come with either a DC charger, which can provide a "top off" that extends an electric vehicle's range by as much as 30 miles in less than 10 minutes; or with a Level 2 charger that extends the range by 25 miles over a period of an hour. There are trade-offs, of course, since charging more quickly could shorten the lifespan of the vehicle's battery.

The sites targeted for the charging stations will include Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Other states that will get the chargers include Florida, New Jersey, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington. There are already installations happening across Chicago, Dallas and Houston.

Said Walgreens President of Community Management and Operations Mark Wagner:

"As more Americans embrace environmentally sustainable technologies, our convenient locations make us uniquely positioned to address the concern around accessibility or 'range confidence.' According to the Department of Energy, Walgreens will make up as much as 40 percent of all public EV charging stations across the country, making it easy for EV drivers to look to our stores for a quick charge near major highways, metropolitan areas or right in their neighborhood."

Of course, if the drivers drop in to do some shopping in the meantime, I'm sure Walgreens won't mind.

Although the IKEA installation is much less extensive than Walgreens, the home furnishing company will experiment with electric vehicle charging technology from ECOtality. The sites being considered are in Arizon, California, Oregon and Washington state. The installations of the ECOtality Blink systems could be live by fall 2011; the retailer is looking at the feasibility of a broader installation and these sites will be used to collect data about cost and installation requirements. There are two charging stations planned per retail location. The installations are part of ECOtality's EV Project.

Said IKEA U.S. Vice President Mike Ward:

"Hosting charging stations at IKEA locations known for regional draws furthers our commitment to a smaller carbon footprint and technology opportunities that help protect the environment. This project is part of a global effort to promote the sustainable transport of people."

IKEA may be new to electric vehicle charging technology, but it is not new to sustainability. The company has solar energy installations in eight locations and another 12 projects are under way. The company is also using a geothermal system at its store in Centennial, Colorado, and it has invested in wind power to boot.

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