While the rhetoric about U.S. dependency on foreign oil continues unabated, a counter development is quietly taking place. For years, environmentalists, big oil detractors and others have lamented the inability of the electric car to get a jump start in American markets. Now, what once may have been considered a pipe-dream is motoring closer to a new phase of widespread adoption.

In June, two competing projects, with the same ultimate goals, announced expansions and large infusions of cash from the federal government, which will help spread the reach of their endeavors on a national scale. Together, the projects could usher in an era of home-based charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs) across the country.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) gave its blessing for the expansion of the so-called EV project with an infusion of $30 million in stimulus funding grants. The funding will enable the program to widen its reach to include Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., and include home chargers for the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan LEAF electric cars.

The EV Project is described by the company that started it as “the largest deployment of electric vehicles and charge infrastructure in history.” The Phoenix-based ECOtality Inc. launched the project in 2009 with an initial DOE grant of $99.8 million. The goal of the project is to evaluate the use of electric vehicles and charging systems in diverse geographies and climates and apply that information toward adoption of electric vehicles nationwide. It will deploy nearly 15,000 charging stations in 16 cities in six states, including Arizona, California, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington, and the District of Columbia.
With the expansion, ECOtality will provide an additional 2,600 home chargers to owners of the Volt and 1,000 chargers to LEAF owners.

Meanwhile, electric-vehicle owners can also charge up at one of the 1,800 planned 240-volt charge stations being built through the ChargePoint America project. The DOE also awarded a $15 million grant to the project, which is sponsored by the Campbell, Calif.-based Coulomb Technologies. The $37 million project is expected to provide a total of 4,600 networked charging stations to homes and public locations by October 2011. Like the EV Project, Coulomb Technologies will gather and analyze data on vehicle use and charging patterns.

For more on this topic, see the feature article on the electric-vehicle market in next month’s ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR.