My 2¢ Worth
Mark D Larsen
February 7, 2015
After more than 34 months and 26,000 miles driving my Leaf, I have formed some definite opinions about public infrastructure —for whatever they're worth. I should probably state up front a disclaimer that here in southern Utah the EV infrastructure is practically non-existent. Besides a handful of RV parks with NEMA 14-50 outlets, the only other public charging facilities are at the local Nissan dealership, the recently opened Tesla SuperChargers, and the Best Western motels. Nonetheless, as an active EV advocate, I try to stay as informed as possible about the rollout of the infrastructure in states that have preceded Utah down the EV path —such as California, Oregon, and Washington. We can —and should— learn from our counterparts’ experience in those regions.
I get the impression from other advocates that, in reality, the biggest mistake so far is overkill. Part of the reason is because numerous entities are stepping on each others’ toes, especially among companies that hope to make a profit from public charging. Consequently, in some areas there are now more EVSEs than are actually used —or even needed. For example, take a look at this Plugshare map of the public charging stations in the greater Los Angeles area:
Click to enlarge:
I have a very hard time imagining that such a huge number of EVSEs are constantly in use. This, in turn, has created a backlash of resentment from other citizens who see the charging stations sitting idle most of the time, all-too-often in prime, coveted parking spots nearest the buildings.
What is most curious about public charging is that it seems to be more of a psychological need than a practical necessity. Nissan gathered data from LEAF owners and found that, surprisingly, more than 90% of charging is done at home. Indeed, I have tallied the stats with my own LEAF, and out of the 2,737 times that I have plugged it in to date, 2,696 of them (98.5%!) were in my own garage. Seldom do most drivers really and truly need to charge somewhere else, but they do want to know that they could plug in while away from home —just in case. In other words, in the vast majority of instances the public infrastructure merely functions like a placebo for range anxiety.
And that’s okay. If drivers need an emotional skyhook to transition to a cleaner, more efficient, better mode of transportation, so be it. But this does suggest that the number of public charging stations required is not as great as one might think. The key is to provide the charging —and the placebo— at the most logical and practical locations, and with the appropriate equipment for those particular sites.
Level 1 - 120V Outlets for Onboard Cordsets
All EVs come with 120V onboard cordsets for “emergencies,” but because they charge so slowly planners tend to overlook their usefulness in the public infrastructure. I deem this is a mistake. There are a few instances when trickle charging is the most advantageous and proper. A good example that comes to mind is in long-term parking lots at airports. Travelers often park there for at least a full day, if not longer, and a 120V charge will more than suffice to fill their battery by the time their return flight lands. It would thus prove much more useful —and far less expensive— to install numerous 120V outlets on walls and lightpoles in those areas instead of the full-fledged 240V EVSEs more appropriate for short-term parking. Through the EV grapevine I have heard of numerous complaints at airports like LAX, because an EV is occupying a Level 2 EVSE for days, even though its battery was fully charged an hour or two after the traveler first plugged in, thus prohibiting other drivers from also using the station. The epitome of egotistical selfishness!
The point is that, if people normally spend more than 6 hours at a given location, dedicated 120V outlets might be the best solution. Indeed, this is what I would encourage employers to do for their employees who work typical 8-hour shifts. Because the workers are on the premises for the full day, their cars can trickle charge in the parking lot during all that time, with minimal installation and equipment expenses for the company. As a matter of fact, it is actually in employers’ best interest to offer such a perk so that its employees will trade in their gas cars for EVs. Let me explain with an example.
Let’s say that an employee commutes 40 miles round trip, to-and-from work every day. The charge rate of a Leaf’s 120V onboard cordset would, in fact, suffice to restore that number of miles during an 8-hour workshift:120V charging at 5 miles per hour x 8 hours = 40 miles per day.
Now, let's project the outcome for a full year, minus the employee’s 2 week vacation:(40 miles per day x 5 days per week) x 50 weeks per year = 10,000 miles driven.
Next, let’s also assume that the worker’s current gasoline car gets the average MPG in the U.S., and the fuel cost is the current average price per gallon nationwide:(10,000 miles / 25.4 MPG) x $2.068 per gallon = $814 in fuel costs per year.
How does that compare with the fuel costs for an EV? Let's assume that the EV would achieve the same miles-per-kWh that the EPA reports for the Leaf, at the current average price per kWh nationwide:(10,000 miles / 3.3333 miles-per-kWh = 3,000 kWh) x 12.46¢ = $374 in fuel costs per year
That is less than half what the worker would otherwise pay for gasoline! Is it worth it to the business to provide such a benefit to the employee? It most certainly is!
Consider: the employer is in effect giving the worker an $816 “raise” in spendable income without either of them needing to pay one penny more in taxes! And speaking of taxes, the employer could deduct the installation of the wiring and outlet, as well as the $374 for electricity, as a company business expense.
With minimal investment, the employer has thus given the worker more disposable income to spend at home, all the while promoting the company’s “green” credentials: nationwide the greenhouse gases emitted from the worker’s commute have dropped from 9,642 to 4,189 pounds per year.
And the icing on the cake is that employees will henceforth be driving much better cars! What’s not to like? Everyone’s a winner! It’s a no-brainer.
Level 2 - 240V EVSEs
In my opinion, it makes little sense to install “default” charging stations where drivers stop for less than a full hour. For example, in my state there is a pharmacy chain that has installed pay-per-charge EVSEs at all 18 of its stores. As much as I appreciate the effort, I also have to question how useful those charging stations really are.
Consider: when you go to a pharmacy, how long are you typically in the store? In my case, about 10 minutes, perhaps 20 at most. If one plugs in for 20 minutes, that might put about 8 miles back into the battery if the EV has a 6.6 kW charger. I might be wrong, but my guess is that, for so few miles, most drivers just wouldn’t bother to pay the fee to plug in unless it were a real “turtle” emergency. Nonetheless, I do have to hand it to the pharmacy chain for at least providing an effective range anxiety placebo.
I purport that a good rule-of-thumb for public EVSEs is to install them at locations where people will spend at least one hour, and preferably two. Consequently, movie theaters are ideal spots: folks could put about 50 miles back into their packs while enjoying the show. Shopping malls, restaurants, parking terraces might also be good candidates, as would universities so that students could recharge while attending classes. Hospitals, clinics, sports facilities, public parks, and government offices likewise come to mind.
The point is that there should be a concerted effort to correlate the type of charging station to the length of time typically spent at its location. If people stop there for 20 minutes or less, the EVSE will likely sit idle most of the time and might be put to better use elsewhere. And again: public EVSEs are not as crucial as people think. It is thus essential to plan their placement at only the best locations to avoid overkill.
Level 3 - 480V DC QuickChargers
This is especially true for DC QuickChargers. It would be far too expensive and counterproductive to install them at mere businesses and malls. Yes, EV dealerships should have them, but beyond that they are the most essential along major interstates and highways —not city streets and at shopping centers. The instances when drivers need to “refuel” in less than 30 minutes is primarily on those infrequent days when they drive longer distances, and at faster freeway speeds, than their EVs’ normal range can handle. It seems to me, therefore, that rest stops, DOT commuter parking lots, and freeway fueling stations are the best candidates for such fast chargers.
Of course, living where I do, I wish there were QuickChargers all the way from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas along I-15, but I know that this probably won’t happen for years to come. Still, the eight QuickChargers currently in place in northern Utah along the Wasatch Front is a good start, and I would strongly suggest that expanding the rollout of such Level 3 units should take a higher priority than the 240V EVSEs above. Again, most charging is done at home overnight anyway, but on those rare occasions when we do drive beyond an EV’s range, DC QuickChargers are more a necessity than a convenience. I would thus rather see one Level 3 station installed on an interstate than four Level 2 EVSEs at... pharmacies.
There are three more points I would like to make. First, I can understand that third-party companies want to make profit from public charging by emulating the business model of gasoline stations. Nonetheless, I will also venture to predict that, in time, such a solution will fade, if not disappear altogether. The reason is that, as more and more theaters, malls, restaurants, etc., begin to compete with one another for EV customers, eventually they will offer such charging for free —similar to what we are even now witnessing with Wi-Fi internet connections. It will take time for the free-market to incite such price-wars among competitors, but I am confident that it will happen sooner or later. Think of it this way: would you stay at Zion Lodge that offers EV drivers free charging, or at a motel that tacks an additional fee onto your bill for that service? Time will tell if I am mistaken with this assumption.
Second, we need to bear in mind that, in the coming years, battery prices will continue to fall, their efficiency will improve, and the average range of EVs will subsequently increase. The need for public charging will thus diminish even further, and it would be a mistake to base future planning on the assumption that the infrastructure needs to accommodate merely 100-mile ranges henceforth and forevermore. Such is the case right now to lay the initial groundwork, true, but the current EV specifications should not determine what additional steps we envision taking two, five, ten years from now. It would be wasteful to install twice as many charging stations (for 100-mile ranges) as will be necessary in the future (for 200-mile ranges).
Finally, I have to vent about a growing pet peeve that I have complained about many times, i.e., the selfish, shortsighted, stubborn, stupid refusal of EV manufacturers to settle on a universal EV plug standard. Imagine if competing automakers insisted on putting incompatible fuel intakes on their vehicles, so that gas stations had to incorporate multiple hoses with different nozzles on each pump, and/or drivers had to have adapters to accommodate each separate type. This graphic from ev-institute.com shows just how ridiculous the current situation is worldwide:
Click to enlarge:
The incompatibilities have really struck a nerve with me lately. More and more frequently, passersby interested in my Leaf also ask about the new Tesla SuperChargers that they have seen on Bluff Street or at least read about in our local news. When I have to tell them that I cannot plug in at those stations, the look on their faces, with furled brow and jaw dropped, says it all: their interest in buying an EV... has just evaporated.
Clearly, the EV public infrastructure has a long road ahead, riddled with potholes. I confess that there are times when I conclude that those who are supposed to be building a new world are hell bent on clinging to the old world —in which business meant war.
Sigh... I’ve always got a couple of coins for the penny bowl, don’t I?