Attention Electric Car Owners: Here’s an Update on Choices for EV Public Charging Options
With the latest developments to enhance and improve the EV charging infrastructure, EV owners no longer have to be at the tender mercies of a charging station to just show up and hope there’s an available charger that works, is compatible, and no one is blocking the chargers. They don’t even really need an app anymore as there are other ways of finding charging availability. As it was 100 years ago when the gas station started to appear everywhere to begin its journey to alter its shape, function, and business model through the ensuing decades, so it is with the electric car charging station as well. The history has only started to be written, and here’s a comprehensive update:
- By the end of 2019, Volkswagen with have its Dieselgate settlement EV supercharger network Electrify America up and running with other partners.
- IONITY Network, with VW Group, BMW Group, Daimler AG, Ford, and GM as partners, continues its expansion with more stations in Europe, and with Electrify America expanding as a partner in America.
- ChargePoint, the world’s largest network, just acquired a separate network of about 10,000 stations from General Electric and plans to make a mega network for many types of chargers.
- Tesla has cut down on the free lifetime or unlimited charging from customer referrals to now fund its network by Tesla owners themselves as other startups seek partnership with their network.
- EV Charger Station Software Maker Startup Greenlots is working on alternative solutions to the problems charger networks face with things like payment and access.
- Volta Charging is a startup that is using public space advertising to cover the costs of consumer EV charging. Charging your EV should be free and across the country, as long as ads are shown at the station, if Volta gets its way.
In this video the narrator explains why there are so many Teslas and other electric cars in Norway, particularly in Oslo, the electric car hub central. Pay attention to the street chargers and the easy accessibility BEVs have in the city:
The Charging Station Landscape
Public charging an electric car is certainly not like gassing up a petro vehicle. It makes no difference if you’re in the country or in the city. Charging stations are usually not around the next corner like a gas station. Unlike at a gas station, even your credit card is useless at most public charging stations. Unless you have a familiar or favorite location, you usually need an app to find a nearest one, and check for its compatibility, accessibility, and reliability. Between the cities and the countrysides, public charging remains a hassle outside of cities with a critical mass of EVs. Most charging stations don’t have simple debit or credit cards swipe systems, so you need to use their proprietary access card for charger services. The chargers are often proprietary to certain car manufacturers or charging companies, many of them were installed years ago with outdated technology and slow charging rates.
Unlike a gas station you can just pull up into, with EV charging you have to find the nearest station, and determine if it’s compatible with your car. You also need to determine if it’s presently in use or if the charger is reliable. Since a lot of charging locations are in places like parking lots and garages, it wont hurt to find out if the venue is safe. This is why BEV charging is all about the phone app. In this video Brent for User Experience at ChargePoint shows you in a conference in Los Vegas how to use an app like ChargePoint to charge and keep track of your fuel and expenses:
The demand for better public charging stations with universal access to all kinds of electric vehicles is going the same way the second resurgence of the mass electric car market began back in 2008: money talks and moves markets for customer demands. At present globally there are about three million electric vehicles on the road, with an expected 220 million hybrid and battery electric vehicles (EV) expected to be on the world’s roads by 2030. By 2040 33% of all light duty vehicles on the road will be electric cars. Although in much smaller proportion, that was still the same ratio electric cars had to gas and steam engine cars 100 years ago. And from there electric cars went extinct! Battery prices will continue to drop as EVs will become cheaper to buy than a gasoline car somewhere between 2025-2029. Business forecasts say that 54% of global new car sales will be BEVs by 2040.
In this cute animated short and for those of you who don’t own a BEV yet, that some day whether you want one or not YOU WILL, ChargePoint, the world’s largest charger network, gives you a glimpse of what life is like on a typical electric road trip, starting with your phone’s charger app:
But as more consumers buy more electric cars, they are also facing the realities of the deficiencies of the public charger network, another industry in its infancy. Comparing fossil and electric refueling gives neither justice, but we often compare not necessarily for quality, but rather as a baseline of where we’ve been with one as opposed to where we might be with the other. At present, there are approximately 270 million petro vehicles in the US. There are approximately 150,000 gas stations of different kinds across the US, that have approximately 1.2 million pumps available to pump gas, diesel, or another fuel. There are about 1 million electric cars on US roads to date, and about 50,000 public charger stations across America. This does not include charger stations for residential or private or restricted use. For every petro vehicle in the US there are about 225 gas pumps available. For every electric vehicle in the US so far there are 16 chargers. So even with a lower ratio, electric car owners still have plenty more to complain about refueling issues at charger stations than their gas counterparts do at gas pumps.
Global investors have so far spent billions of dollars investing to develop vehicle startups, energy sources, battery technology, vehicles, charging stations and networks, even on AI technology that depends on EV vehicles to deploy their driverless car software, so it isn’t the just the consumer who has a vested interest to bring about change. One of the main reasons the battery electric vehicle failed 100 years ago was that there was no infrastructure in place to support and refuel those vehicles. Add Henry Ford and indecisive then waning interest, the BEV suddenly disappeared by the early 1920’s. If the current industry is not careful the same kind of missteps made then can confront its survival now.
So there are major hurdles the charging industry faces, and the following are some of the problems.
The Problem With EV Charging
The major apprehension and fear of jumping from fossil fuel to electric vehicles is dealing with the charging station dynamic. This was once about “range anxiety” but the issue has become much more complex than that. If one is expecting an eventual similar dynamic of recharging an EV as the same as refueling a petro car at a gas station, forget it. This will not materialize until decades from now, if ever. Beyond a home charger if the EV owner also owns his own house, that same EV owner is really on their own elsewhere like everyone else who owns an electric car.
Another issue is that there is no ruling body or governing entity or leadership for that matter that is helping to police the process as electric cars and charging stations proliferate the landscape. Global car manufacturers are leaning toward the US EPA as the more reliable gold standard as to how fuel efficient an EV Car is and what their eMPG means, and relying less so on European standards of eMPG’s. But that seems it as far as government intervention.
So all the manufacturers are making their own kind of plugs for their own kind of vehicles, and with that, their own kind of proprietary chargers. For early adopters, learning about a new EV charging dynamic sometimes came the easy or hard way. Learning things like getting several charger cards for several networks, so that you have more charging options. Also by learning to get plug adapters to fit your vehicle for what are usually incompatible charger networks.
In this video you get to see how easy it is to use an adapter for your electric car. In this case this is a ChargePoint adapter for a Tesla. As you go along you’ll find adapters like this one in the owner’s glove box on places like eBay:
So with all these problems, this doesn’t mean that improvements can’t be made to the present EV refueling dynamic, and lots of help is on the way. Before going into details of specific companies, here are some solutions the industry is working on in general.
Some of the EV Solutions
The problem with EV refueling is that it is a mish mash of stations splattered all over the place in disarray, requiring you to carry all different kinds of keys, cards, or fobs for the many networks available. You can use the other’s apps for access, but if you want to take advantage of things like “free charging,” you need to do business on the host app. Moving from one network to another ain’t that easy, it isn’t like moving from Exxon to go to Shell instead.
Mega networks ChargePoint and their Canadian based counterpart FLO announced you can use either account with either as just one account. This is the first time networks joined together to allow this here.
In this video, ChargePoint shows you in a cute animated short how in the perfect world BEV charging is supposed to go while you’re out shopping. It can be a little scary when the largest charger network in the world puts a cute animation on YouTube. Imagine ExxonMobil trying to get away with this:
“Roaming:” this process is called roaming which allows the charging customer to move from station to station as easily as moving to and from gas stations. It cuts down on red tape and the extra cards, fobs, keys, blah blah blah you have to carry to charge up. Overall it just adds to the appeal and convenience of having an electric car by not having the drama that can come with it. If we can now get more networks to do this.
Another problem that you would think we should’ve learned our lesson a decade ago from the electronic device industry, car manufacturers also are now using their own plugs and charging equipment at their own charging station networks. Like we did with electronic devices ten years ago to unify and standardize electronic device plugging equipment for all to come to now eventually use USB-C, even Apple eventually too, green tech advocates say we need to do the same thing of standardizing electric refueling equipment with EV cars. Some say we also need to end propriety use in EV charging networks, so that all makes can use any network and by using the same plugs for all. This will free up a lot more chargers making some if not all available to other brands or networks, like never seen before.
There are charging network software companies believe it or not, that are working on things like improving ways and finding more methods to pay for charging or gaining access to a network so that you needn’t carry numerous charger cards to fumble your wallet to find the right card. Securing the charging plug to your car while it is charging, and thus, improving security of the charge itself while charging, to not have anyone during the process take the plug out and use it for themselves, is another issue engineers are working on. Some networks are better at security than others.
Although charging stations will not appear at least not yet like gas stations in communities, we will continue to find public chargers in parking lots, garages; mega stores, shopping centers, and malls; restaurants and hotels, car dealerships and car rental offices, tourist attractions like resorts and theme parks, at government facilities including state and national parks, and on the highway at rest stops and supercharging stations. Some networks like Tesla are opening local public charging stations with an anchor business to tend to customers while charging, like a restaurant, similar to the “hop-in” drive-in diners of the 1950’s.
Since help from the energy industry (big oil) and in the case of the US government a plea for help from the auto makers, was from both at best tepid, what most of the global major automakers did was helped a new industry along by putting a global infrastructure apparatus in place to ensure it keeps up with global EV demand and growth. They pooled their resources and formed charging network alliances globally, so that a separate industry can be birthed and can take off to meet the rapid developments and changes to EV technology and the BEV car industry. Some networks like Tesla the company, have also become like Tesla, the renewable energy resource company.
Although not all networks existing come from car companies, the result however, and at present, are about 14 major charging networks in the US and Canada and a mish mash of smaller networks scattered about therein. While these networks that were formed from car companies are independently operated apart from the auto industry, they do work closely with them to improve technology, maximize usage, and expand capability. These networks all vary in size, some serve only parts of the countries and in regions, the bigger ones are global networks.
As the charger network industry is still forming, there are some companies that have already gained dominance. According to the US Department of Energy’s Office of Efficiency & Renewable Energy, with the nearly 53,000-60,000 charger stations nationwide at date, over 60% of them belong to just four charger networks. The “Big Four” are in order: ChargePoint, Tesla, Blink, and SemaCharge. The charger network world breaks down their chargers into two categories, and those categories have major players as well. The biggest players in AC Level 2 are home and office chargers, or a public charger that charges at a rate that takes hours as opposed to minutes like DC fast chargers (some call it Level 3). Of those total nationwide chargers, about 20,000 are AC slow and 37% of those are connected by ChargePoint, 13% by Tesla, and Blink 8%. On the fast DC charger side, of the some 2,400 stations, EVgo has 31%, Tesla 17%, ChargePoint 15%, and Greenlots 10%. This sounds like there might be a new lobby in Congress!
These are some of the general things the industry is addressing, the following are some of the things specific companies are doing to enhance or improve the EV charging dynamic.
ChargePoint: From Just Big to Now Goliath
ChargePoint is now the largest worldwide EV charger network on the planet. Once a Silicon Valley startup, they are now part of an alliance with heavy European influence; Daimler, BMW Group, and Siemens being their largest Euro anchors. At present they have about 53,000 charger stations worldwide, they just acquired about 10,000 from General Electric, and by the time they’re done by 2025, they’ll have 2.5 million spots. During this mega network building process they intend to make their network as universally adaptable as possible.
What makes them incredible is that they don’t own most of the real estate the network sits on. That’s why they’re considered the Airbnb of the EV charger world. All they provide is charger hardware and software. They’ll help residential and commercial clients set up shop for charging. What also makes them unique is that to charge off their network you need to use their app and you must make an appointment to charge, which increases efficiency but promotes punctuality!
Char.gy and the Public Street Charging Solution
The most ideal way to own an electric car is to park it on a private residential driveway to a house or apartment building, or garage it in a private home and have it connected to a home charger. If daily driving is mostly local, a BEV owner will rarely have to worry about finding public charging stations or a supercharger station to refuel. One of the biggest obstacles to BEV ownership is ironically the urban apartment building setting, especially in older cities where the building infrastructure may not be capable of sustaining one or several or a universally shared home charger, building management is unwilling or unable to add chargers, or the building is not equipped with a garage that tenants just use street parking, solutions are coming to address this issue: street lamp charger stations on public streets. Char.gy has a charger box the size of an old fashioned police or fire call box officers used to use on city greets on patrol the last century. Attached to street lamps the charger draws energy from the city grid. The boxes are actually a network of their own so the boxes and each charge is secure, and the cords and plugs are secured against theft during the charging process. You need their app for that.
In this video Ubitricity shows how the street lamp conversion to EV car ports is going in the Westminster section of London to make it easier for EVs to park and plug:
Deployment has been well underway in the U.K. for the British startup. Char.gy plans to deploy in the states starting with urban metropolises shortly.
The Tesla and Porsche Business Models of EV Charging
It appears in the foreseeable future that the only charging network that will be identified as part of a car brand, is Tesla. This happened only because Tesla’s mission was to build electric cars to encourage car maker development, by spurring consumer interest. The only way Tesla could accomplishing this was to build their own charging network, particularly a supercharging network so that its cars can travel long distance and quickly recharge near a highway. Although they really didn’t have a choice, building a network is an expensive proposition and an expense other automakers would rather do without by themselves. As Tesla is and probably will be the only car branded charger network in a true sense, and not about a Goliath’s sub-brand, it set a trend of providing exclusive access to charger networks for other luxury brands, including for things like concierge services.
After years of offering new customers lifetime or free unlimited charging at Tesla sites with a present owner’s referral code, Tesla recently decided to end unlimited charging, for the most part, or did they? Building your own branded charger network from the ground up is an expensive proposition, it’s probably one of the reasons Tesla is so deeply in debt, so obviously to defray the costs of the network and although way less of an expense, don’t forget the free charging because those are two different and separate expenses, it needed to find another way to fund the network without factoring those costs in with each newly assembled car.
So moving forward it is now the Tesla customer who will eventually help fund the maintenance and improvements to the charger network. Free unlimited charging definitely still applies to original legacy Tesla owners in the S and X ranges who still own their cars and bought them before the deadline. Unlimited for them still means unlimited for life as long as you own the car. Although not generally offered to 3 owners, Tesla briefly availed free unlimited charging for the high end variants. Otherwise Tesla is doing what other makers are doing with their new electrics, and that’s giving new customers of high end models one year of free charging.
But they are still experimenting to see what works and what does not. Lately Tesla has been making adjustments to its free charging policies, for things like incentivizing new sales, to circumstances like customer service consolation compensation like when a customer is inconvenienced. Sometimes to extend the deadlines when the free charging is ending too! Regardless of how they ultimately fund their network, there are other car manufacturers, some of them startups, that are very interested in joining Tesla’s network. CEO Elon Musk once alluded that integration probably would be the network’s ultimate goal. Here, rugged terrain SUT startup Bollinger Motors, expressed interest in joining the Tesla network.
The only other car brand that might have a car branded charger network, or something close to it, is Porsche. Porsche is clearly positioning itself to become a direct toe to toe competitor with Tesla, and in doing so, sees the benefits of an electric luxury performance brand having its own charger network. Porsche wants to have one too, but how exactly they will go about executing one, they haven’t yet made clear. If they do go through as a stand alone car branded network, one thing they said they intend to do differently is to have their network support all brands with different plugs, including Tesla’s.
As a VW Group brand, Porsche has access to the IONITY network in Europe and Electrify America here in the US. Both networks have supercharging capabilities, but to help Porsche’s new electric lineup coming out as early as late next year, the brand will from now until showroom time, be installing 500 stations across the US, 189 of them at all their dealerships, the rest will be supercharging stations across the country near highways. The supercharging sites will have Porsche’s new high tech 800 volt charging system that will be a feature of its first two electric models. Their cars will be capable of supporting a 350 kW rate to recharge a pack to 80% in 15 minutes, compared to Tesla’s at 120 kW. Canada will get an additional and separate 20 stations nationwide, and Porsche has added both Type 2 and 3 chargers at its Porsche Center in Berlin, and at its North American headquarters in Atlanta.
What the European luxury brands are doing instead of car network branding, is working with their alliances to create exclusive access for the luxury and performance customers to make the charging process easier and more convenient. For example, aside from what they’ve done above to help roll out their upcoming electric vehicles, Porsche also created a “Porsche Charging Service” instead of just a “Porsche Charging Network.” If you are sick and tired of the charger app dynamic of trying to find a reliable viable charging station, then this service is for you. What’s great about it is that you don’t even have to be a Porsche owner, neither new or legacy. Anyone with any kind of car, hybrids and PHEVs too, can join. Instead of you going on an app to find the nearest charging station and get information on its viability, Porsche instead finds it for you, starting with their app.
Porsche has aligned itself with several charging networks to give Taycan customers a one charger card type access to several. Porsche does this for their charger services customers too. There is no free charging with Porsche Charging Service, but what they do guarantee is one convenient monthly invoice and decent prices at reliable locations to take the hassle out of EV charging.
This is a major convenience in the EV car world. But there will not be a Mercedes or Audi or Bentley branded network, for example. As it was 100 years ago that car companies understandably did not want to get into the gas station business, neither do they now really want to get involved in BEV car charging. But like it was 100 years ago, they don’t want to see their billions of dollars invested in EVs go to extinction because there was no public infrastructure in place to support electric cars to see demand wane then. With the charging network alliances that definitely won’t happen now.
VW’s Electrify America Underway
VW Group, the parent company of Volkswagen the house and truck brand, as well as Audi, Porsche, Bugatti, Bentley, Lamborghini, SEAT, and Škoda, are part of the the mega alliance IONITY Charging Network. IONITY is a European infrastructure alliance with Daimler, BMW Group, VW Group, Ford, GM, and whoever else in the industry that wishes to join. The network uses universal equipment to fit most brands globally.
With an arrangement with IONITY and as part of a $14.7 billion settlement with the US EPA to resolve its diesel-cheating from the Dieselgate scandal, also plans to invest $2 billion of its own cash on vehicle-charging infrastructure. VW Group (VW) set up a $2 billion USD superfund to establish a separate network in the US, mostly about supercharging, but also helping promote, preserve, and protect the growing EV industry to eventually overshadow the deeds of Dieselgate.
That new American network is Electrify America (EA). As it is with IONITY that they are always seeking new partners to help them build out their network, so is the case with EA. Recently the EV startup Lucid announced it was joining the EA network. Although it will work closely with IONITY as that one is primarily for now a European oriented network, Electrify America will focus on the states, and try to help areas of the country were electrification presents more than average challenges.
Get to know this name: Electrify America; because it is becoming the fastest growing charging network in the world built for America, and with the blessing of a consolation I’m sorry gift from VW. This is about something good coming out of the horrible shame of Dieselgate:
Besides providing EV charging services, EA will also be finding ways to encourage and promote EV and energy resource awareness. It’s job is to find ways to get the EV Revolution going whether it is to debunk myths or outright spend cash to institute change. "Our goal to establish one of the largest, most technologically advanced and customer-friendly charging networks in the U.S. remains. We want to demystify what it means to own and drive electric vehicles by making chargers more visible, more convenient, and more a part of the everyday lives of Californians across the state," said Giovanni Palazzo, president and chief executive officer of Electrify America, in a statement announcing Cycle 2 to take place in California.
Each Electrify America station will feature four charging dispensers that offer 150 to 350 kilowatts (kW) of power. To gauge comparison Tesla supercharging stations charge with up to 135 kW of power distributed between two cars with a maximum of only 120 kW per car. The 350 kW chargers feature the first certified cooled-cable system in the US and can charge a vehicle at speeds up to 20 miles per minute—seven times faster than today’s most commonly used 50 kW fast chargers.
Of the $2 billion, $1.2 billion will go to 49 states, and in the 4 cycle plan, of which they are presently finishing phase 1 going into phase 2, Ohio was recently upgraded with what will be four EA supercharger stations across the Ohio Turnpike.
The other $200 million will go to California, which has the most strictest environmental standards in the country if not the world, and the most concentration of electric vehicles in the country, if not at one time in the world over the ensuing decades. California was at one time home to GM’s EV-1 program and Toyota RAV4’s electric program, both in the late 1990’s, as well. California is also home to the electric startups Tesla at first, then Lucid, and Faraday, as well other unsuccessful EV startups that folded or abandoned their vehicular plans.
In California EA will focus on electrification of the Golden State’s urban areas from as far north as the Bay Area to as far South to San Diego. These places will see a proliferation of these new high tech chargers. Part of the settlement entails spending money to spur public awareness and incentivizations. EA will incentivize building managers to install charging stations in apartment buildings, encourage BEV owners to connect at night to put power back into the grid for summer heavy usage for compensation.
Greenlot’s ala Carte Menu of Green EV Solutions
Greenlots, once another startup about charging EVs, is now a 13 country global vehicular electric energy solutions company based in Los Angeles. Its website gets into how they are about helping other businesses fund solutions for EV issues related to the technology, that they do, but they are also a charging network just like the rest of them, but provides unique and special services to help deliver EV energy where and when needed. The difference is that they are just more sophisticated about how they go about doing it.
And clever too. Greenlots is the company many energy providers use to deploy their charger delivery hardware, and many use their open sourced charger station or network software to help them with things like billing, usage, analytics, grid balancing, charging optimization options, and turnkey EV charging solutions.
Although this video is a bit outdated it’s still good in that it shows you what Greenlots can do for your property and/or business to generate revenue. And Greenlots does a pretty good job at it. Like a public access ATM machine in your business space where you too get a slice, Greenlots can help you set up charging stations on your property so that you too get a piece of the pie. This is what is called “turn-key” charging or solutions. You have the key and determine when to turn it on or off:
Since they’re already in the business of charging EVs, Greenlots has the wherewithal, the tools, and the equipment to get you going to set up and start your charger station, administer and manage it, troubleshoot it, invoice it, fix it, and collect the revenue from it, from the same people who’ll charge your EV while you’re out on the road somewhere else.
Electrify America recently selected Greenlots to help them from “end to end” and install EV charging infrastructure with their $2 billion USD superfund that’s VW’s own money related to Dieselgate. And since Greenlots is known for its charger network software, once that infrastructure is in place, the logical progression is that EA will use them to install and break in the software to run it.
The Free Business Model of Volta Charging
Looking at the unique business model of charging network startup Volta, if would’ve been nice if a similar business model was setup for gasoline years ago without big oil getting in the way to give us free gasoline while looking at 1960’s-1980’s commercials. In an alternate universe maybe.
But in this universe, this is to show you how cheap electric refueling is, and how it can be easily capitalized to make it under certain circumstances free to an EV owner needing to recharge their car. For some God forsaken reason unbeknownst to reasonable humanity, of the last venues not capitalized with advertising revenue by companies like Google, Facebook, and for a time Yahoo, is outdoor advertising. Volta seems to have found a way to capitalize on this, and they seem eager to buy real estate and infrastructure to make this happen. More power to them.
By putting up displays that show advertising while recharging your electric car at a charging station for free, Volta makes the advertiser, not the EV refeuler, pay for the charging. Volta has so far set up 500 charging stations with dual faced kiosks in the various places where charging stations are located, mostly on the west coast with this business model, and so far they seem to be succeeding.
With the almost $60 million Volta has raised thus far for infrastructure, and the $22 million they’ve given away to customers in free miles, they’re looking to build out their vehicle charging network. Volta is banking on one of the only slices of the advertising market that is growing, but not yet dominated by either Facebook or Google: outdoor advertising.
Volta’s 500 charging stations display video ads on both sides of a kiosk with the ability to plug in a variety of cars in public parking spaces, with advertising revenue that’s meant to offset the cost of providing free charing to customers. It plans to double the number of stations it has by the end of the year, and Volta says it has already given away more than 22 million free electric miles.
Most stations are in West Coast cities, although it’s expanding to Boston, Atlanta, and New York. Expect to see the chargers in valuable advertising locations such as stadiums and supermarkets.
Last Thought: Google
This is the last of the latest news updates and resources on EV public charging. Although it may not be ready for prime time, the day is soon coming when you won’t even need to open up your favorite charger map app to find a charging station. When more important charging station data starts to populate its searches, all you’ll eventually need to do is either open the Google Maps app or open a page on your phone’s browser and type “EV Charging” or “EV Charging Stations” to find the nearest ones on Google Maps. Using Google Maps will show you the nearest stations, info about the business where the station is located, the kinds of ports, the charging speed, amount of charging ports are available. No apps apparently or eventually actually, are needed.
But trying that experiment yourself it clearly shows that in some cases specific data was clearly missing and more people will have to use this feature for it to give more info to be useful. Google is Google, and eventually it will become the default go to site for charger shopping, but most still rave about PlugShare: go here for the iOS version. Like everything else in the EV world, just give it time!
And that’s our comprehensive report on the latest news updates on EV public charging technology. Please be patient, progress is just around the corner. What do you think? Let us know below!