One could think of the electric vehicle charging station at Westminster's College Square shopping center as a single point in a widening state-, region- and nation-wide grid.
The two plug-in devices, installed in January, have had very little use so far — literally just a few charges.
But advocates of the electric vehicle market believe that will change.
"The (two) charging stations are part of our overall sustainability and efficiency initiative," said Garrett Giusti, of Owings Mills-based Black Oak Associates, which owns and developed College Square.
"We do think it is significant that College Square in Westminster was the first charging station in the county," Guisti said.
"The more stations there are, the better it will be for electric car users and for the environment," he said.
"It is to be expected as word gets out that the charging stations are available for use," he said. "We expect usage to increase as a surge of the electric vehicles comes onto the market in the later parts of 2011 and additional (charging) infrastructure is put in place.
According to the Maryland Energy Administration, there will be more than 80 charging stations available at 40 different locations across the state by the end of this summer.
The stations either already are, or soon will be located all along the I-95 corridor, as well as in Charles and Frederick counties.
There are stations either already located or soon planned for at 14 sites in Baltimore City, three in Baltimore County, five in Anne Arundel County, four in Montgomery County, two in Prince George's County and one each in Carroll, Charles, Frederick, Harford and Howard counties.
Black Oak and SemaConnect Inc., the Annapolis-based company that sold and installed the College Park charging station, may be at the forefront of what some prognosticators say about a market that is likely to emerge in coming years.
A recent study commissioned by the philanthropic arm of Google and conducted by McKinsey & Co. projected that by 2030, the cost of electric vehicles is likely to drop below those of equivalent-sized internal combustion vehicles.
The McKinsey & Co. study also predicts that electric vehicles could capture 90 percent of the light vehicle market by 2030. If that's true, McKinsey said it would result in a nationwide 1.1 billion barrel-per-year reduction in oil consumption.
Even though 2030 is a long way off, SemaConnect is betting on that forecast.
Besides developing and marketing the charging stations, SemaConnect also has a program called SemaCharge that allows electric vehicle drivers to locate the nearest station, keep track of the costs of operating the vehicles and pay automatically for their charges.
"For the electric car drivers, they can call our 800-number or go on our website and create a driver software log-in," said Naly Yang, a marketing specialist with SemaConnect. "That enables drivers to see how much electricity they use, what they will be paying for it and also locate charging stations throughout the state.
"And the station owners, like Black Oak, now have the ability to monitor how much electricity they are using at their stations — and bill drivers who recharge their stations," Yang said.
"It's a quite sophisticated program in terms of the tracking information it offers."
Yang says SemaConnect eventually plans to have 50 or more charging stations scattered throughout the Maryland area, especially along the I-95 corridor.
The charging devices are basically nozzle-type plugs with long cords to reach the vehicle's port. The times needed to fully charge vary from three to eight hours, generally, depending on the car, battery type and other factors.
Costs can vary, too, but according to SeamaConnect's website, "As a guide, the fuel cost for a typical gasoline vehicle is approximately 12 cents per mile vs. 3 cents per mile for an electric vehicle."
When the two stations were installed in January in Westminster, Dixon Harvey, founder and chief executive of Black Oak Associates, noted that it was the first in a commercial shopping center in the entire mid-Atlantic region.
Harvey, whose company manages six shopping centers in this region — including Carrollton Center in Eldersburg — said the stations are part of Black Oak's overall "sustainability initiative" of reducing energy consumption at its centers by 20 percent over the next five years.
"Saving energy is not just a responsibility we all should share; it is also a better and more effective way of doing business," Harvey said in a statement.
At College Station, Black Oak has also installed an energy-saving lighting system as well as a waste management and recycling program.