Are We on the Eve of the EV Era?

Or is it just an environmentalist's tailpipedream?

ATLANTA -- Public electric vehicle (EV) charging stations are popping up across the country, often backed by public-private partnerships or businesses trying to lure customers who are waiting for their cars to charge, said a CNN report.

They are also a lifeline for apartment and condo residents who want an electric car but have no way of charging them at home.

But relying on public charging stations can come with inconveniences. Instead of spending a few minutes filling up at a gas station, electric drivers running on empty must plug in for hours to get a full charge, although they can still "top off" an electric car by plugging in for a few minutes.

Those who have charging systems at home can simply leave their cars plugged in overnight. But for EV owners trying to get a full charge at a public station, the wait could be three or four hours, said the report. That's where the placement of public stations is vital--not just for drivers, but for businesses that can cash in by luring drivers to their stores.

Nissan Leaf owner Randy Stanley told the news outlet that although he now has a charging system at home, he prefers to plug in at Atlantic Station, a mixed-use development in Atlanta that has a grocery store, department stores, bars and restaurants.

"I'm usually here for three to four hours anyway," running errands or eating, he said.

Andy Wood, who said that he bought an EV to help the environment, makes a special effort to support businesses that provide him "free gas." He told CNN: "I go out of my way and plan my trips around public charging stations. You're helping me ... so I'm paying you back with my loyalty and spending my business there."

Drugstore chain Walgreens is the largest retail host of EV charging stations in the country, with more than 400 plug-in sites in 18 metropolitan areas, including Philadelphia; Baltimore; Chicago; Tampa, Fla.; and Portland, Ore.

The stations can cost between $3,000 and $15,000 to install, Suzanne Tamargo, a spokesperson for Car Charging, the provider for Walgreens' stations, told the news network.

But drivers say the network of public EV stations isn't nearly as extensive as it should be.

There are about 8,000 public sites across the United States, compared to the 150,000 gas stations in the country. About a quarter of the country's public charging stations are in California, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Costs to charge can range from free to a few dollars an hour, but it can take several hours to reach a full charge.

One public-private venture, the EV Project, has set up about 2,600 public charging stations in nine states and 21 cities. The project, funded jointly by U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grants and partner matches, collects data on the usage of EV infrastructure to analyze how best to deploy charging stations.

Colin Read, vice president of ECOtality, the manager of the EV Project, told CNN: "We're trying to make charging a very ubiquitous part of your life."

He said the EV Project is trying to deploy a total of 5,000 public stations and 8,000 residential chargers. The project also is testing different revenue systems for public stations, he said.