Most EV owners will do the majority of their charging at home, but it’s inevitable you’ll need to charge at some point while you’re out and about. And sometimes, you might just prefer to get a faster charge. A DC Fast Charging station can add 60 to 95 miles of charge to a Nissan Leaf in 30 minutes.
Taking the time to learn the basics of public charging—where to go, how to do it and how much it’ll cost—will save you potential headaches down the road. You don’t want to find yourself across town low on battery with no idea where to go to charge. Plus, public charging takes some initial legwork. The good news is public charging stations are prolific, and new stations are constantly being added.
Boulder, Colorado, for example, expects to double its EV charging stations in public parking lots by the end of summer 2017, and in Seattle, car-sharing company ReachNow recently unveiled the first of 20 new EV charging stations—each accommodates five cars—it plans to build across the city. In 2016, the most heavily-trafficked corridors on the East and West Coasts added 95 new DC Fast charging stations as part of the Express Charging Corridors Initiative—a collaboration between BMW, Volkswagen and ChargePoint, the world’s largest EV charging network. In 2016, the most heavily-trafficked corridors on the East and West Coasts added 95 new DC Fast charging stations
Once you have your EV, you’ll start noticing public charging stations are all around you. Many libraries, post offices and colleges offer free 110-volt charging or 240-volt faster charging. But most public charging stations are privately owned so you’ll have to pay.
Companies such as ChargePoint, EVgo and Blink build charging stations for businesses that are open to the public to charge, such as gas stations, department stories or big box stores like Target. These chargers are typically 240-volt Level 2 and 480-volt Level 3 “fast chargers.” A Level 3 charging unit—a gas pump-sized machine—can restore 80% of battery capacity in 30 minutes.
Most charging station providers don’t include competing brands on their station locator maps, which can make it hard when you’re looking for the closest station. Luckily, there are third-party providers that pool data to make all-inclusive maps. The three most common are PlugShare, ChargeHub, and CAA (Canada Only). Install one or two of these apps, and you are covered when looking for stations in your area.
Unlike your typical gas station, you can’t just pull up to a public charger and start “filling up.” For most stations, you’ll need to register online with the company that owns the charger, or download its app and register on your smart phone. You’ll be give a pin, membership number or a charge card to use each time you visit specific company’s station. Many EV owners find they end up maintaining several charging station provider accounts to adequately cover their charging needs.
The tricky part is there’s no guarantee a charging station will be free when you need it; you may have to wait. Station locator service PlugShare can help. It provides real-time information on the nearest stations, how many spots are open and the price. ChargePoint also started offering a waitlist program through which members can reserve a spot in line at a specific station.
Networks offer either a pay-as-you-go approach or monthly subscriptions. Pricing can be a bit confusing because some states permit fees by the kilowatt-hour, while others don’t, and their prices are based on an hourly rate.
Prices can also range widely based on factors such as where the charger is located, who maintains it, what level charger it is and whether you’re charging during a peak period. At one station, you might pay 34 cents per kWh and at another across town later in the day you might pay 50 cents per kWh. Don’t be surprised when rates on the same company’s equipment vary.
Subscription services also offer different options. Typically they include a base fee that might be $5 to $15. Then, each time you charge, you pay a certain amount for that charge based on your plan. It could per minute—for quick charging you might pay 10 cents a minute—and hourly, for Level 2 charging you might pay $1 to several dollars an hour.
Consider how much public charging you’ll actually be doing and whether it makes sense to commit to one provider or a few. Keep in mind that with some providers, you could still be charged if you’ve left your car plugged in even once your vehicle is fully charged. That’s one reason why an all-you-can-charge subscription service might make sense.
Also, keep an eye out for special deals.
Each network works a little differently. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the charger brands along your most traveled routes—to work and home and to any other locations you frequent. If 80% of them are ChargePoint, it makes sense to sign up with them. All providers have apps you can use to locate chargers and manage your account.
Blink Network operates more than 4,000 stations in about 25 states, with the biggest concentration in California, Arizona, Oregon, Texas, Tennessee and Washington. Drivers can use Blink units as a guest, but Blink members receive cheaper charging rates. In Maryland, for example, Blink Level 2 charging is 45 cents per kWh for members and 55 cents per kWh for non-members. For fast charging in Pennsylvania, it’s 49 cents per kWh for members and 59 cents per kWh for non-members. Blink users also receive a Blink Incard and can manage their account on the Blink app.
ChargePoint is the biggest charging network, with over 35,000 stations across nearly all of the 50 states, so it almost always makes sense for most EV drivers to join its network. Membership is free and users pay in $25 increments. Property owners or lessees set prices; you could see prices at $1 per hour to $5 an hour for Level 2 stations. Prices don’t include other possible extra costs, such as access to a parking facility. Some ChargePoint stations are free, though you may have to pay to enter the charge area. After signing up, you’ll receive a ChargePoint card you use to activate charging stations.
EVgo is the largest public fast charging network in the nation, with more than 1,000 public chargers. It offers a $15 a month basic plan; you sign a one-year contract. Use of its quick charger is an added cost of 10 cents a minute. Level 2 charging is $1 an hour. It also has a plan with no monthly fee and a plan for vehicles with small batteries.
Get familiar with the charging stations along your regular routes and your favorite destinations, and know where the free chargers are.
Take a charging station tour one day when you’re not in a rush to get to work or to get home after a long day. Scope out the locations and see what other fees might be involved, such as paying for parking in addition to charging. Then you can make an informed decision about which providers you want to sign up with. Maybe it’s all of them. Many EV drivers find that often makes the most sense for them.
New EV technologies and concepts are constantly developing, and it’s no different with charging. Keep tabs on the news to see what’s coming.
In the U.K., for example, Chargie is a bookable peer-to-peer electric vehicle charging service. So, if you lived in the U.K., in the middle of a road trip this summer, you could roll up to another EV owner’s home to charge up. Users call it the Airbnb of the EV charging community. In Israel, the Israeli government and start-up ElectRoad are testing the use of wireless charging roads for electric vehicles in Tel Aviv.
Public charging feels overwhelming at first, but once you sign up and try it a few times, you know the best stations along your route; it is as seamless as charging at home.
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