Are Public Electric Car Charging Points Needed? Not Necessarily

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MINI E at MTTS 2010 in Denver, Colo.

MINI E at MTTS 2010 in Denver, Colo.

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What comes first? The electric car or the charging point?

Of course it depends on who you ask. Generally if you’re an existing electric car owner the answer is likely to be the former. If you’re a government official, prospective electric car owner or automaker the answer is likely to be the latter.

Automakers believe this fact so much that electric car rollouts are often limited to areas with good electric car infrastructure and support.

It turns out that isn’t necessarily true, as data collected by BMW shows.

In its 14 month Mini-E test lease program, involving two groups of 40 drivers, two-thirds of participants only ever charged their two-seat all-electric mini at home.

While most of the participants in the trail had begun their short lease believing that public charge points were absolutely essential to the future success of electric cars most discovered that the 100 mile range per charge offered by the Mini-E was more than enough for daily use.

The participants did  acknowledge however, that some of their electric car charging behavior was formed by a lack of public charging infrastructure.

In other words, they wanted to charge more frequently, but a lack of facilities meant they couldn’t.

A lack of charging outside of the home didn’t cause Mini-E leasees to leave their cars at home though: drivers reported that despite having severe range anxiety at the start of the trail they soon discovered the Mini-E could provide enough charge for all but the most demanding of trips.

The results should make electric car advocates very happy. For years we’ve been told that 100 mile ranges are more than enough for 90% of the population.

BMW’s trail only validates that further

Has the trail banished range anxiety? No. Range anxiety is most often experienced by those who have never driven an electric car or who have just purchased their first electric car. Drive an electric car for a few months and all but the most paranoid drivers lose it.

While nice to have, level 2 charging infrastructure isn’t as necessary to the success of electric cars as ultra-fast direct current level 3 charging points.


Because at the end of the day, most people won’t need to charge while away from home unless they’re doing long-distance trips.

And for those, it’s the ultra-fast level 3 charging, not multi-hour level 2 charging, which is essential.


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Comments (17)
  1. Nikki,
    I did a post here almost a year ago on the same topic:
    Seems to me the people that claim that we need a extensive public charging infrastructure before we can have EV's are the people that have no EV experience. Sure public charging will make EV's more convenient, but we don't need nearly as many as some think. Just a few sprinkled here and there in shopping districts would be just fine for now. I think encouraging employers to install work place charging is actually more important that installing a public charger on every corner as some suggest is needed.

  2. The MINI E used a proprietary Charging plug that did not connect to the existing charging infrastructure here in California, so it is difficult to believe the lack of opportunity charging was a choice.
    I did not have that issue, and more than 10% of my trips, destinations, and 33k miles involved opportunity charging. I had placed an order for a LEAF, but the shorter range, slow L2 charger, and lack of QC infrastructure would have been an unacceptable step backwards, so I canceled the order.
    Once owners understand that opportunity charging increases the utility of their EV, slow chargers and a lack of infrastructure will not be acceptable.

  3. Seems that BMW stumbled upon a phenomenon Nissan could have explained to them a long time ago based on experience in Japan: the recharging infrastructure paradox. People demand a recharging infrastucture to be in place before they commit to electric driving but in practice they will rarely use it: almost all charging will be done at home. Turns out the need for a recharging network is a psychological rather than a physical thing. This phenomenon presents a real problem I think: the infrastructure is needed for EV acceptance but it might not necessarily be a very profitable proposition to invest in it. Maybe fastcharging is a different story though because it offers significant extra range in a short time, offering new possibilities for EV usage.

  4. Nikki:
    You finally got it right. We are on the verge of spending a LOT of public money on something totally unnecessary. Level II charging makes NO sense on the road, and for those that DO want that, it is easily available at thousands of RV parks across the country with a simple adapter.
    One of the key advantages to electric cars is that when you come out in the morning, your tank is already full. It's not a large tank, but over twice what most people actually drive in a day. And it's full again TOMORROW morning. Without the stop at the gas station.
    IF you actually did want to go long distance in an electric car, it's an endurance test with 6 hour charging every 100 miles. But a Level III charge - in 30 minutes, every 80 miles, would work very well. Long soda break every 90 minutes of driving.
    Jack Rickard

  5. It is a shame that companies like Ford and Nissan have such a poor understanding of EVs. Nissan even said that 80% of people would only ever charge at home then they come out with theie "We can't sell cars in your area because there is no infrastructure". The reason I can think of both Ford and Nissan to create range worries with this tactic is that they want people to see the cars charging in public for PR. You would think someone from the EV world with some pull would set these 2 misguided companies straight.

  6. "as ultra-fast direct current level 3 charging points"
    Ultra fast? Compared to what? If compared to a 120V plug, then yes, it's ultra fast.
    The public is used filling up for another 300-400 miles in less than 5 minutes. They won't consider charing in 20-30 minutes ultra-fast or even fast. They'll consider it very slow.

  7. I completely agree about Level 3 vs. Level 2 charging in most cases.
    One interesting exception is level 2 charging in workplace car parks, which makes an EV viable for commuters who don't have a garage or driveway at home.
    I live in London which is rolling out 25,000 charge points, 90% of which will be in workplace and supermarket car parks. The balance will be street charging.

  8. I agree that home charging is all that *most* people really need. However, I'd like to point out 3 reasons that the infrastructure is important:
    1) there is a psychological comfort in knowing that the charging stations are there if you need them.
    2) PHEVs with a short EV range (like the Volt and especially the Prius PHV or the rumored cheaper 20 mile 2013 Volt) can benefit greatly from convenience charging at work and business locations.
    3) the Mini-E did not have a smart phone app to pre-heat or pre-cool the cabin. this feature only works to retain range when the vehicle is plugged in. during the cold winter days, I am looking forward to having my car plugged in at work even if it is only for this reason.

  9. In Europe I think that deploying ultra-low cost Level 2 EVSE's makes sense in opportunity locations such as restaurants, hotels, pubs, etc.
    When based on the "Mennekes" socket the EVSE hardware cost will quickly fall to $100 if you avoid the cost adders of networking and centralised administration.
    In my personal experience, having access to a Level 2 EVSE at opportunity locations allows me to extend my journey when traveling at the limits of my range.
    However, I fully agree that Level 2 is inadequate when making long road trips for which you need DC fast charge at key road intersections.

  10. If the cost of added charging stations gets people over their perceived need, would it be an expense too far? It seems to me that the investment, whilst ultimately being little used is worthwhile, especially if it can be done on the cheap.
    There will of course be a chorus of decent from those who don't want EVs "See all the unused charging spots." but we can weather that.

  11. we dont need em - psychologically or otherwise.
    there are plenty of people who will buy them now. the price is the only big drawback. and that will come down when the supply reaches up to the demand.
    simple supply demand economics.
    as more and more people get them, there will be less and less "range anxiety".
    just let things go as they will. dont spend monies on recharging stations. and may i ask who is gonna pay for these recharging stations ? JUST A BIG, BIG WASTE.

  12. I went on a 300 mile round trip in my Volt this weekend. It would have been really nice to be able to charge it up over night. I even took the charger and an extension cord, but the hotel could/would not facilitate charging. Level 2 would have been great, but even simple 110v access at hotels would be a big plus. Maybe there is a way for gov't to incentivize that. It would save a lot of gallons a year IMHO.

  13. the only recharging network that will be helpful is to replace our truck stops. and in this same basic network, cars can stop by when they are traveling on vacations, etc.

  14. Charging infrastructure has wagged the EV dog going all the way back to EV1. It is a want not a need. The paradigm of gassing up (~10 MW energy xfer) is nothing like fueling an EV. Point is well made in the many comments here that ~100 mi/day range (every morning full charged from your convenient home socket) is just fine for what an EV IS. An EV just ISN'T the car to drive across the country. Public charging at level 1 or 2 is icing on the cake, but not crucial. And it must be in parking places where EVs can sit and marinate while owners are productively engaged doing what they need to do.

  15. Make the batteries demountable, not sold with the car but leased and re-charged ones available at filling stations. Then no need to litter the country with charging points. Charing can be all at night when there is surplus generating capacity. Simple!

  16. Make the batteries demountable, not sold with the car but leased and re-charged ones available at filling stations. Then no need to litter the country with charging points. Charing can be all at night when there is surplus generating capacity. Simple!

  17. charging points should be there at hotels,malls,and some important places, but if the batteries demountable it should have a capability for charging it at home, when you going to sleep charge the battery and when you are out rock on.

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