2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier Scott Evans
Hose and nozzle, cord and plug. We’re prompted to think of EV charging like going to the gas station. But that’s where the similarity ends.
I can plug the Bolt in during either part of the day I won’t be using it for hours at a time: working or sleeping. Among today’s EV owners, this is common but will change as more people buy EVS. Which brings us to public charging.
Although it’s still cheaper than filling up with gas, I avoid public charging, as it’s more expensive and less convenient than charging at work or home. You’ll need at least 45 minutes to get a good charge. Level 2 charging, the sort you can get wired into your home, is OK if you’re going to be in the same place for several hours. If you don’t have a charger at home, you could get by on public Level 2 charging as long as you plugged in at every opportunity. It’s workable for city dwellers with short commutes but not ideal. Level 1 charging, from a standard wall outlet, is so slow it’s a last resort only.
Level 2 chargers, being the older technology, are by far the most common. It used to be they were nearly all free to use, a perk to entice customers with EVS, but those days are gone. This brings us to our next issue with public charging: paying for it.
I’ve used public chargers from several companies, but there are at least 15 providers operating in the U.S. Every single one of them would prefer you sign up for a membership and download their app, but every one I’ve tried also allows for guest use. Membership perks include better rates and quicker payment and activation at the charger, but the real benefit is not having to deal with guest access, which can be cumbersome and time-consuming. Some Evgo stations I’ve used have credit card readers, but most I’ve found haven’t worked. Prices vary wildly because the owner of the station sets the rates. Some charge a flat fee, some charge by total time or electricity used, and others do both.
The Bolt’s 238-mile range is great for everyday living and trips around the greater Los Angeles area. Getting somewhere farther than 120 miles, or half the Bolt’s range, requires pre-planning. Ideally, wherever I’m going there’ll be a public Level 2 charger nearby, and I’ll be there long enough to make it a nonissue. That’s hardly a given and rarely the case, though. A DC fast charger makes it a lot easier, but they’re far less ubiquitous than Level 2s and still add an hour or more to your drive.
“Public charging infrastructure can ease range anxiety in an EV, but it can introduce a host of other complications.”
That assumes the charger is unoccupied, of course. Most places have only one public charger, and most of those only have one plug. Although most have both the CHADEMO and SAE CCS plugs, many DC fast chargers can only charge one car at a time. On top of occupied chargers, you also have to worry about gasoline-powered vehicles parked at chargers, as it’s unfortunately not uncommon for people to treat them like normal parking spaces.
Finding an available charger can be a crap shoot, but most apps will tell you if the charger is in use. First, though, you have to find it. Some places put up signs to direct you, but often you have to go looking, and even the big DC fast chargers can hide behind a pillar or large SUV.
Here in Southern California, where EVS are popular and public chargers are common, public charging is workable if inconvenient. So far, the number of chargers has kept pace with the popularity of EVS, but we’re already seeing lines forming at Tesla Superchargers. As EVS become more popular, the public charging network is going to need to grow at the same or better pace to keep up, and whether that happens is anyone’s guess.