Ask most people what is holding back the electric car revolution and they will tell you it is a lack of EV charging infrastructure. Confusion about how charging stations work is a close second. Recently, Alex Davis wrote an long and sometimes amusing piece for Wired that focuses on the difficulties he encountered finding places to charge the Nissan LEAF he borrowed for week long test drive.
He begins by explaining why an EV is fundamentally different from a car with an internal combustion engine. It’s more like a smartphone. Use it, plug it in overnight, use it again the next day. He calls it the “grazing versus gorging” model. Which is all well and good if you have a place to plug your EV in overnight. Davis lives in an apartment building in San Francisco and so he was totally dependent on public chargers. That’s where his problems began.
When he needed to recharge, the navigation system directed him to a facility that was no longer functional. Precious miles were wasted driving to the closed location, which only made his need to find a working charger more critical. Next, he drove to a hospital parking lot, spent ten minutes driving around but could not locate the charger that was supposed to be there.
Ah hah! There’s a charger at a nearby mall according to his smartphone app. Except this charger is not part of the ChargePoint network that his borrowed LEAF is linked to. Frustrating minutes leak by while he struggles to set up an account so he can access the charger. Fortunately, it’s not raining. After establishing an account, he plugs in but the car won’t connect to the charger.
Davis spots a ChargePoint location on the other side of the mall, but both chargers are in use. He has to wait 20 minutes for one of them to become available, than another 30 minutes to get enough of a charge to get home. A trip that should have taken an hour took three. Plus, Davis’ nerves are seriously jangled as a result of his travails. That’s why many people want nothing to do with an electric car.
The Obama administration and several states are planning a major push to expand the EV charging infrastructure. Their plan is to create 48 national EV charging networks along 25,000 miles of roads in the US in 35 states. The project has the support of several utility companies, the major charging networks, and several car makers, including including General Motors, BMW, and Nissan.
Money is always a factor in projects like this. In July, the US Energy Department announced that charging facilities are now eligible for up to $4.5 billion in loan guarantees. However, no loans have been made as a result. The big question that needs answering is whether private companies can make money operating charging networks.
At the beginning of the automobile age, gas stations made money for their owners by dispensing gasoline and doing repairs. Today, gas stations rely on attached convenience stores for most of their income. EVs require 30 minutes to an hour of charging time but many are stuck out in the middle of nowhere. People have no access to rest rooms, restaurants, or other businesses to help them pass their time.
Tesla is the only company that seem to have this figured out. It works diligently to put its Supercharger locations where there are rest rooms and restaurants available. In fact, many savvy business people ask Tesla to consider their stores and restaurants when choosing Supercharger locations. Tesla also consciously selects locations where single women will feel comfortable charging at night.
Everybody talks about EV charging infrastructure but few people seem to be doing anything about it. In a world in which there is an app for ordering a pizza, there are few digital assistants with accurate information about where chargers are located, whether or not they are in service, and whether they are in use. They also do not allow a driver to reserve a charging time in advance.
The entire field of EV charging is haphazard, chaotic, confusing, and frustrating. Only Tesla is doing things right. Everyone else is running around chasing their tails. No one knows what the solution will be, but standardization of equipment and charging protocols would be a good start. Interoperability between charging networks will also be a critical feature.
Imagine if a driver pulled into a gas station and was told that he or she could not use the gas pumps for lack of a proper account with that station. That would be stupid, right? So why is it the norm when it comes to EV charging networks? Sometimes it appears Tesla is so successful not because it is so smart but rather because everyone else is so dumb.
Source: Automotive News