Electric vehicles to get a coastal charge

Richard Sachen enjoys driving his electric Nissan Leaf from his home in Petaluma to the coast. The tech entrepreneur used to worry about having enough juice to make it home.

Not any more. Sachen recently installed an electric vehicle charger at Point Reyes Station to eliminate so-called "range anxiety."

Sunspeed Enterprises, the company Sachen founded in 2012, is developing a network of fast charging stations up and down the coast from Eureka to Malibu. Sachen calls it the "Pacific Coast Sun Trail."

EV advocates say the new network will fill an overlooked niche by adding charging infrastructure in rural areas that attract tourists while other companies have focused on installing charging stations in urban centers and along major highways.

"The idea is that every 20 miles there will be a charging station," Sachen said. "They will be at destination sites where drivers can rest and relax while their car is charging."

The chargers, made by EV infrastructure company Greenlots, include a Level 2 connection that can add about 24 miles of range to a Tesla or Chevy Volt in an hour, and a Level 3 "fast charger" that can fill up a Leaf in the time it takes to eat lunch at Cafe Reyes.

The first charging hub is located at 65 Third St. in Point Reyes Station, behind the old Livery Stable where Wells Fargo stagecoach horses once recharged with hay and oats.

"I thought that was rather poetic," Sachen said.

By March, Sachen hopes to have three more charging stations along Highway 1 in Sonoma County and another three in west Marin County. His goal is to have the whole California coast sewn up within two years.

"This is a good time to get in at the coast, to get in first," he said. "There's a lot of interest in the coast. If you are into driving an EV, you are probably into nature too and want to see the beauty of the California coast."

There are about 100 EV charging stations in Sonoma County, according to the online app PlugShare, and most are located in cities along Highway 101.

The new network of coastal chargers would give EV drivers charging options in a place where fewer people live but many enjoy visiting.

"(EV drivers) in Santa Rosa hesitate to go to Point Reyes," said Alan Soule, president of the North Bay Electric Auto Association. "To get there and back without a charge is questionable. Now, if you could stop for lunch and get a charge, it's no problem at all. I think they will be very popular."

Charging at the station is free until Sunday, when it will cost 39 cents per kilowatt-hour for a slow charge and 79 cents per kwh for a fast charge.

Eventually, Sachen said, any driver with a credit card can use the station. For now, drivers must set up a membership at greenlots.com.

Sachen, 50, said he has raised most of his capital through crowdfunding websites such as CrowdFunder, Gust and Indiegogo. He has made some pitches to angel investors in Silicon Valley, which he hopes will lead to an influx of startup capital.

"So far, it's been relatively small investors," he said.

Sachen did not disclose how much capital he has raised, but said he has enough to fund three more charging stations and is working on raising funds for the next three. Charging stations can cost between $30,000 and $150,000, he said.

Sunspeed Enterprises, based in Point Reyes Station, operates like a nimble startup. The company includes Sachen, architect Ken Coker, an intern and a few contractors to help with installation of the charging stations.

This is Sachen's second venture. He founded a computer hardware company, Lady Bug Electronics, in 2002. The company, which made dual monitor computer stands and sold about 100 to San Jose State University, folded in 2004 and Sachen went to work for Petaluma-based Xandex. He launched Sunspeed shortly after he was laid off from Xandex in December 2012.

Sachen said Sunspeed will make money from selling charging time to drivers and selling video ads that will run on the charging stations.