Public Charging Stations For Electric Cars: Who Leads The Way? Page 2

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Nissan Leaf electric car with eVgo quick charging station. [courtesy eVgo]

Nissan Leaf electric car with eVgo quick charging station. [courtesy eVgo]

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Automobile makers don't have to worry about where and how their customers buy gasoline, so I can understand why they're not enthusiastic about getting involved in the "refueling" process for their electric cars.

But at this point, I believe they have to get invovlved if they want any degree of success in this segment.

Some manufacturers seem to realize this though and have taken a first hand role in infrastructure deployment. Nissan has Level 2 chargers installed in all their dealerships that sell the Leaf, and most are outside and readily available.

However, who they're available to has been a topic of debate. Privately owned dealers can make their own decisions on charger accessibility, and some choose not the let the general public use them.

In my personal experience, I have never been denied the use of a charger at a Nissan dealer. I always go in and ask permission before plugging in and so far they have all been very accommodating, even though I'm driving a BMW.

I've read stories of other people being denied, though, so you can't depend on Nissan dealership charging stations being 100 percent available--but Nissan is definitely making an effort. It has also announced it will be installing DC quick chargers at many dealers, with the is to make them available 24/7 at most of the locations.

This is a big boost for the CHAdeMO contingency. One of the arguments SAE CCS supporters made was that there were so few CHAdeMO chargers installed in the US it wouldn't matter if a new standard was implemented. It seems Nissan realized the only way CHAdeMO had a chance for long term success in the US would be to get as many of them in the ground as they could before any CCS units (or cars that will use it) are available so recently they have begun an aggressive installation program. This battle is far from over. 

[Editor's Note: Privately, Nissan executives have said that the expensive part of quick-charging stations is getting the power to the location--so if other standards than CHAdeMO come to dominate, it's a relatively simple matter to put a new "head unit" with a different connector and software onto the same electrical service.]

Tesla Road Trip from MD to CT, Feb 2013 - Tesla Model S cars at Delaware SuperCharger location

Tesla Road Trip from MD to CT, Feb 2013 - Tesla Model S cars at Delaware SuperCharger location

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The only other manufacturer that has stepped up and invested in charging infrastructure is Tesla, with its Supercharger network. Kudos to Tesla for investing in the Supercharger network!

However, since Tesla engineered its own proprietary connector for the Model S and has such large battery packs, it really had to do something like this. It will be interesting to see how fast Tesla builds out the network and if it adds any unscheduled locations due to unexpected buying patterns.

Personally, I would prefer that Tesla also allow quick charging for non-Tesla plug-ins at their Supercharger locations--perhaps by using an adaptor, and charging people per use. The only issue might be a Tesla customer angry that the charger was unavailable to them because it was being used by a non-Tesla vehicle.

Still, I can certainly understand why doing that isn't in Tesla's interest--even though it would be good for the industry as a whole if it did.

That leaves the utilities and governments. These are the real wild cards, which could make electric-vehicle charging infrastructure as ubiquitous as gas stations if they really wanted to.

EV charging station at Costco

EV charging station at Costco

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In the end, it will likely take a combination of all the stakeholders listed here working together to spread pervasive charging infrastructure--as well as the public supporting the industry's efforts by buying electric cars to generate demand for those charging stations.

There is a bit of a chicken-and-egg issue right now, with some people holding off until there are more charger locations--and chargers not being installed because there isn't yet a huge demand for them.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on this. Who should be leading the way to install public infrastructure, and why?

Leave me your thoughts in the Comments below.

Tom Moloughney is a New Jersey electric-car advocate, restaurant owner, former MINI E driver, and current BMW ActiveE driver. This is his sixth article for Green Car Reports.


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Comments (16)
  1. Tom, good article. I've always seen public charging as a value add service. That was my 3 year experience with the EV1 in the 90s. There was penny of public charging in So Cal for the EV1. All free. At stores, my grocery store, Costco and at many parking lots and roadside spots. It seems now that all have amnesia when it comes to what we have learned about public charging from 15 years ago. People will pay for parking and charge. They will park and charge while they get other services. But mostly, they will charge at home and work and not really need public charging. Beyond that they will buy a PHEV to avoid any inconvenience that they may perceive when relying on a poor or financially oppressive for-profit charging infrastructure.

  2. "So I've gone in the other direction and offer free charging with the hope people will come and plug in and patronize my business--and so far it seems to be working."
    Ditto that, Tom. I have picked up 10 new patients as a direct result of my installation of a dual point EVSE in September 2012. I too allow anyone to plug in for free. As a result of my station I got 2 separate mentions, with pictures, in the local newspaper including a half page (FRONT page of the business section) article. That free advertising alone paid for the cost of installation! I drive a Volt and now have picked up several other Volt drivers and a PIP family. SOme other EV owners have plugged in and indicated that they will switch to me for their eyecare.

  3. If you install them, they will come!

  4. Confusion not only exists with different plug types (CHAdeMO & SAE Combo), but will rate of charge per hour EV stations can provide. e.g. Some Level 2 (J1772) stations can only deliver 3.3 kW/h while newer EVs (Fit EV, 2013 Leaf, & Focus EV) are able to charge at 6.6 kW/h. (2x as fast, or in 1/2 the time!)

    @Tom makes good point via Nissan that DC Quick Charge *infrastructure* is substantial percentage of installation costs. 30kW/h-60kW/h stations require 3-phase 480V & an isolation transformer; while 20kW/h-30kW/h units use 240V 3-phase power (no transformer required). Despite appearing to be almost half the power; charging time is only fractionally longer with 20-30 kW/h units; 40 vs 30 min. This is because power drops as battery charges.

  5. Nearly all Level 2 EVSE installations are 6.2kW (@208V) or up to 7.2kW (@240V). Some residential chargers like the cheapo Voltec are only capable of 3.6kW @240V. The cars can all use any one of them, but may not be able to take advantage of their maximum charge rate. I had a Tesla plugged in, drawing 6.2kW, even though they CAN charge at 10 kW (or 20 with dual chargers)

  6. Brian, you are confusing terms. The power consumed is called kW .

    I think it's certainly fine to offer low powered (below 20kW) for free to the public, but I also recognize that for really expensive chargers over 20kW cannot be free. Also, for every nearby free over 20kW charger that exists, it inhibits any future nearby "for-profit" charger from being installed. Only subsidized ones.

    The J1772 plug used for single phase AC charging throughout the USA was originally conceived to use 30amps at 208-240 volts (about 7kW) maximum. However, Tesla was successful in persuading the non-government standards body (SAE) to increase that to 80 amps (19.2kW) to handle their then current Roadster (70 amps max) and soon to be Model S (40-80 amps max

  7. Tony,
    Actualy the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) J1772 connector for AC Level 2 is designed for loads up to 80 kW...see their specs.

  8. There is a restaurant 30 miles from our house. We like it and we would eat there more often if they had level II charging. Most places i go or want to go I would go more often if level II charging was available. Of course if there was a place that we had never been and they offered level II charging we would go there initially. Yes install it and they will come. I cannot wait to go to Missouri and visit Michael Murphy's eye care center and charge while I am there. A large number of the electric car owners are upscale and if I had a business they are the types of customers I would want to encourage....those with money. Take Care, TED

  9. Nice article, Tom. First of all, all new parking should have, say, 25% of space have the conduit laid. If this is done during construction, the added cost is very low. That way, EVSE's can be added later without the big impact of trenching, etc.

    Second, employers need to be incentivized to add EVSE's to their parking lots.

    Both of these require a degree of participation from local governments.

    I don't see government mandates beyond that which I've stated above. The rest should come from the private sector -- manufacturers and entrepreneurs.

  10. Tom;
    1)Regarding vandalism, you might install security cameras to monitor area .
    2)Another option for who should take the lead in expanding infrastructure is (hold on!) chain filling stations on a credit card basis. It has a few advantages recommending it: People know where they are. They are convenient. It would add a small additional revenue stream and wifi along with Starbucks. They have space in most places to put it in place. Level 2 or level 3 would be profitable in time and guarantee continuity for their existence. This is following the same path as the livery stable eventually put a gas pump out front and a repair bay in place of a couple of horse stalls.

  11. In Europe, Total filling stations already have a lot of quickchargers installed.

    AC quickchargers will work well for the new generation EV's that are coming out now. The first being the Renault Zoe ZE, which has a "chameleon" charger. Meaning that it can adapt to any charger to make optimal use from it (for instance, the new standard 11kW chargers will fill it up in about 2 hours). It also means the AC to DC converter is already in the car. The advantage being that a new type of quickcharger (AC only) can be produced now, which is about 3 times cheaper compared to a DC charger. Disadvantage: still rare and not usable for first gen EV like Leaf. Total's quickchargers fortunately are AC and DC. Very expensive though, 4 euro per 10 minutes.

  12. Congrats to Tom for the article. I agree with what has been said. I would add the following :
    Charging station distributions- Government could do its part by attaching to the Highway construction bill a certain percentage to divert toward construction of fast charging stations every 20-25 miles along the Interstates. In addition, convenience stores that sell gasoline fuels should install fast chargers at their stores. As more EV's are on the road the more incentive for such installations would be.

    Rate of charging: To charge per KWh + a certain percentage of total added to the bill. The bill could be payed by credit card. The charger could have a scanner to input the charge on the credit charge much like they do at gasoline stations.

  13. Back in the day it was Beta vs VHS - Beta was better, but VHS won.
    Now we have CHAdeMO vs SAE - the single receptacle is better, but will it win.
    Give me a 1000 mile range battery and let the charging issue FADE away!

  14. Marc;
    I agree with the 1,000 mile battery. In fact, there is one in the works by an Israeli company called Phinergy.

    Their solution is a range extender that supplements the onboard lithium ion battery pack and runs on distilled water and aluminum plates, using proprietary technology to resolve metal-air /co2 issues.

    They allege a contract with a "major EV manufacturer" to supply units in time for model year 2017.

    Could it be Tesla? Nissan ??

  15. @Leon: Here's our report on the Phinergy battery, including some video:

  16. Thanks John;
    One question bothers this old Vermont boy: What happens when that distilled water drops below 32F ??

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