Does Public Charging Network Confusion Hurt Electric-Car Use?

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Polar Network Charging Stations

Polar Network Charging Stations

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Ask most non-electric car drivers why they haven’t even considered an electric car, and the reason they give will undoubtedly involve some form of range anxiety: the idea that an electric car will run out of juice before it reaches its destination. 

On the other hand, as those who own an electric car will tell you, the average range per charge of electric cars offered for sale today is more than twice the distance the average U.S. car travels in a single day. As a consequence, electric cars can be used to satisfy 95 percent of all trips made in the U.S.

In short, most people charge their car at home and never visit a public charging station. But that hasn't stopped a burgeoning industry that has sprung up worldwide from offering a plethora of charging solutions designed to let electric cars make longer trips.

But is the infantile charging industry helping or hindering the image of the electric car? 

We think it might be the latter. Here's why.

Early charging stations unreliable

Charging Station Shares Handicapped Parking Space

Charging Station Shares Handicapped Parking Space

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In the past year, we’ve driven over 15,000 miles in a 2011 Nissan Leaf. The car is used daily, and a single overnight charge to 100 percent has been enough to satisfy most of our driving needs.

For longer trips however, we've had to use charging stations located at rest stops, shopping malls and dealers, often with limited success. 

In fact, during the past year, there have been at least 15 occasions when we've arrived with only a few miles left in our car to find a broken charging station. The causes have been everything from broken RFID readers to a blown fuse, vandalism and even a software fault on an expensive DC charging station.

In most circumstances, we’ve been able to find a regular wall outlet to at least provide a slow trickle-charge. On three occasions when alternative power hasn't been available, we have had to take more drastic action, calling for a tow.

Too many payment plans

Blink EV charging point at IKEA store

Blink EV charging point at IKEA store

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Although most electric car drivers don't use public charging stations all that often, it doesn't diminish the frustration of arriving at an electric car charging station to find out that it requires an RFID smart access card that you don’t have.

In fact, it's become a joke among electric car owners to see who has the largest number of different RFID smart access cards, including everything from free-to-join networks to those that charge expensive monthly fees.

If you’re lucky, another electric car owner helps out, you can then ring a number printed on the charging station to gain access remotely using a credit or debit card, or use cell-phone style ‘roaming’ between a charging network you are a member of and the station in question. 

Sadly however, it is often more fruitful to look for somewhere else to charge. 

Finding charging stations is tough

Because most electric car owners spend most of their time charging their car at home, they’re often unfamiliar with the location of public charging stations for the rare occasions when they really need them. 

Some cars, like the 2012 Nissan Leaf, can assist owners in finding a charging station using on-board satellite navigation, but we’ve found these lists are often inaccurate or outdated.

Worse still, each charging network has its own smartphone app and website listing the location of charging stations, making it hard to obtain a comprehensive list of charging stations in one place without hours of planning

Add to this the frustration that many charging station firms advertise charging stations that aren't fully operational yet, and things get rather messy.

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