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Sunday November 26, 2017 – Charger Infrastructure – This week I received an email from Chris Yoder via the RAV4-EV mail list which gave me some food for thought about charging infrastructure. Chris and his family had just returned from a trip they had taken from the LA area to the four corners region in a Tesla Model S. This trip had mostly been accomplished using the Tesla supercharger network with a couple of charges done outside the network.
One of the chargers was done at a campground on the route where they were able to get a level 2 charge, and the other was done using level 1 while in Boulder, CO. The second charge was done at level 1 because they had the time and didn't want to bother going to one of the level 2 chargers that are available in the Boulder area.
Just 20 years ago this sort of trip was almost unimaginable. Some people did manage to do long distance trips in the EV1 and the Honda EV+ but it took lots of planning to find places where a portableized charger could be plugged in. Now with the Tesla all Chris had to do was to hit Navigate followed by Home and the tesla would figure out a route that would take him home via available superchargers. Tesla really have got this right.
GM, Nissan, and Ford on the other hand have made a decision to rely on chargers provided by a group of companies like Chargepoint and EVGo to build out a network. The result is a mishmash of chargers that require different cards to activate and are not always situated in convenient places of along routes that make traveling long distances easy. It also doesn't help that there are two different charging standards while Tesla has its own proprietary standard.
Pricing for charging is also very variable but that is to be expected and as competition arises prices will begin to stabilize. Right now competition doesn't seem to be impacting pricing. Chargepoint allows pricing to be set by the site owner. Prices tend to vary from free to as much as $2.00 per hour. Blink also has some chargers around my area. These used to be set at $2 per hour but are now usage based at 59 cents per KWh for guest usage and 49 cents per KWh for members. EVGo has membership based pricing too, with the basic membership with no annual fee costing $1.50 per hour for charging at Level 2 and $4.95 plus 20 cents per minute for DC fast charging.
One problem with this is that to find a charging station in a location where you are travelling you need to look at the charger map for each of the different companies and pick the ones that work for you. This in itself makes travelling long distances by EV hard work. Plugshare attempts to solve this by maintaining a map of all the available charging points. Information about charging stations is often sent in to plug-share by EV drivers and their map is the most comprehensive map you can find. The only issues I have with plugshare is that they don't distinguish between level 1 and level 2 charging until you actually read the detailed description, and some of the level 1 charging they show is of dubious legality. I would also like to see them identify the different providers so if you don't use EVGo chargers, for example, you don't need to look at the details for the charger to know it's not a charger you want to use.
EVGo just installed a charger at Bristol Farms in West Hollywood but it doesn't appear to be powered on yet and does not appear on the EVGo charger map or on plugshare. I went over there to check it out on Thursday and when I got there the charger was iced by an Infinity SUV. Not content to ICE one space the driver had parked across the two spaces marked for "EV charging only", blocking both spaces. There is only one charger so having two spaces is a little overkill anyway but it does have a tendency to promote blocking the chargers as it gives the impression that these are EV parking spaces not EV charging spaces.
Blocking chargers is also rampant in Beverly Hills where they have some Chargepoint chargers that have a level 2 charger and a plug behind a door that can allow a driver to use the EVSE that came with the car to charge at level 1. The problem is that most people don't know about the level 1 outlet so think it is OK to park in the second space.
I have been having problems with Chargepoint recently. The parking structure near where I work had 2 of the chargepoint chargers with the level 1/level 2 set-up. These have recently been replaced by two of the dual head chargers that are set to charge at the full rate of 6.6 KW with one person plugged in and then drop the rate to 3.3 KW on each of the two charger cords when the second person plugs in. The problem is that while my car only pulls 2.3 KW the charge rate is still cut in half when someone else plugs in so I end up getting only 1.3 KW if the charger is shared. Worse still, the rate is dropped even when the person connects to the other physical charger. This typically means that my car is at the charger longer so it isn't available for other people to use.
Now that we have electric cars that are capable of travelling long distances we need to be more mindful of public charging. It needs to be both available and reliable. Imagine driving out in the middle of nowhere and pulling into the only gas station for miles only to find that the pumps were all blocked by a load of Teslas just parked there while the drivers went off to have a meal and do some sightseeing. ICE car drivers would be outraged.
So, here is what we need. First EV drivers should never park in a charging bay unless they actually want to charge. Second, rules about ICE cars parking in charging bays need to be enforced. I've repeated this many times but I will say it again, Beverly Hills has the best rules for using their public charging that I have ever seen but they are actually useless as they are never enforced. We have to start ticketing and/or towing cars that ICE public charging. We also really need a comprehensive way to find chargers without having to go to multiple web sites. Plugshare is a good start but it would be so much better if the various charging providers fed real time data from their charger networks to the site.
Driving electric is great but we need to make sure that charger infrastructure keeps up with the growth of electric cars so one day it will be no more of a challenge to take your Chevy Bolt or Nissan Leaf on a long distance road trip as it is to take my Prius. Happy charging.
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