People who do not drive electric cars think we need charging stations anywhere and everywhere. People who have actually lived with an EV for more than five or six months know that we hardly ever NEED to use public charging when we can charge at home or at work. OK, it is helpful when there are good stations for those times we go out of our local use area.
The recent bankruptcy for Ecotality shows us that the business model is far from being profitable and that the industry needs to figure out how to make this work. Furthermore, with the average station actually charging vehicles for less than an hour a day it strongly suggests that they are not being put where they will be used most effectively.
What does it take for a public charging location to be successful? Like anything else in business, it will succeed when it gives the customers what they need and want.
The various studies do not seem to have pinned down the actual places that chargers are needed, as of yet. The EV Project has some of the best actual data about what EV drivers do. That study was done by Ecotality so they obviously were not able to use that data to make their business work. The academic research has yet to show us how to locate the charging stations beyond a very sweeping, broad brush view.
The customers are us, the current and future EV drivers. Here is the news flash – we know what we want and need, just ask us and we will tell you.
The Sustainable Transport Club did that recently with a survey taken at two Events for National Plug in Day. It provided a good down to earth idea about where chargers are needed in those areas. It also was a good reminder that EV drivers are really smart and cool people who know what is needed.
What EV drivers want is actually a short list. Conversations with dozens of EV drivers and a decade of vehicle charging have shown this. See if you agree that it comes down to these five key concerns:
1. We want the charge to cost us as much or less than what we would pay for gasoline. Even better if it costs as much or less than what we pay for electricity at home but we will pay more within reason.
2. We want to pay for the actual electricity we use at the same rate as any other customer for that charging station. This is our fuel and we buy fuel by the kWh not by the time spent at the fueling station. We pay for parking by the hour or minute, not so with fuel.
3. We want the stations in the places that we can use a charge. If people drive more miles to the charger, then that means more people would want to charge. If we drive less, we are not going to be too concerned about getting a charge – something around 15-20 miles driving being a minimum.
4. We want the charging to be conveniently located at places we want to spend time while our vehicles charge.
5. We will walk a little further than our usual parking spots but not too much further – after all, we hardly ever actually need a charge.
You might think that people would get the idea that chargers need to be a little convenient. Then again have you seen where some of these are located? So what does it actually mean for a location to be convenient and how far are we willing to walk?
My experience may be typical – or not. When I first got my Volt, I explored this question with enthusiasm. I wanted to drive in all-electric mode as much as possible and still do. I would park at a charging station and walk five or even seven blocks to my destination. At EVS 26 in downtown LA, I took Paul Scott up on the arrangement he made to let us charge at the downtown Nissan dealer and walked for about 20 minutes to the convention center. That showed me that was a bit too much.
These days my approach is a bit more pragmatic. Here is how that breaks down based on the time spent at a destination.
· One hour stay – up to five minute walk each way
· Two hour stay – up to ten minute walk each way
· Four hours or more – fifteen minutes each way maximum.
Less compulsive people would probably cut these times in half.
Please let us know how this basic framework would fit into your needs. If we can come up with a consensus at this level then we can turn that into a rating system for people interested in putting in public charging. It will help us to give guidance to the people who are doing the work. The article on charging at train stations will show you how that could be applied.