Here's How Far Electrify America's Charging Network Has Come
Electrify America is one of the newest public charging networks in the United States, and they were formed in early 2017 based on a judgment against VW Group for the #dieselgate scandal. After a little over a year of planning, Electrify America opened their first public DC fast charging site in July of 2018. Thanks to $2 billion in settlement funds, Electrify America stormed out of the gates, rapidly building a nationwide network of the fastest chargers deployed by any charging network.
Because of Electrify America's efforts, it is now possible for 200-mile electric vehicles to cross the United States using only DC fast chargers to recharge along the way. What is more, electric vehicle owners are not restricted to just one route. At this point, most major cross country corridors are populated with Electrify America charging sites, and many of the longer gaps between Electrify America charging sites are covered by other public charging networks.
It's been about a year and a half since Electrify America broke ground on their first DC fast charging site, so I feel it's time to take a quick look at how far they've come. In this story, I will describe the growth of the Electrify America charging network, and I will identify some of the areas where they still need to work and improve.
Electrify America's Current Progress
At this point, Electrify America has currently built and activated over 368 charging sites across the United States. To put that into perspective, in just a year and a half, Electrify America has built about half the total number of sites of the two largest charging networks in the United States: Tesla’s private Supercharger Network (738 sites) and EVgo’s public DC fast charging network (over 750 sites). Tesla and EVgo are also expanding their networks, but Electrify America is growing just as rapidly with another 95 sites currently in various stages of planning and construction.
What is more, the sites that Electrify America is building are far more compelling than any of the public charging sites that preceded them. As a network, Electrify America is averaging over four individual DC fast chargers per site, so their 368 currently active sites represent 1,636 individual DC fast chargers.
In addition to the higher than average site concentration, the chargers that Electrify America is installing are the fastest currently deployed by any charging provider. On surface power ratings, Electrify America's typical sites include both 150 kW and 350 kW chargers. In practical use, those are powerful enough to support the fastest charging modern electric vehicle (the Porsche Taycan with 270 kW of peak charging capability). Likewise, if Tesla replaces their 50 kW CHAdeMO adapter with a higher power CCS adapter, Electrify America's sites could support 180 kW charging on Tesla's fastest charging vehicles, which is a faster charging speed than most of the currently deployed Tesla Superchargers can support.
Electrify America has also fostered partnerships with nationwide businesses such as Bank of America and Walmart, which has enabled them to build a broad network of charging sites that support communities across America while also enabling cross country travel.
Electrify America created a four-cycle plan, and Cycle One laid the groundwork for a basic nationwide fast charging network. As we close 2019, Electrify America has completed a majority of their Cycle One fast charging sites. Despite receiving $800 million of the total $2 billion settlement, California still has nearly 100 DC fast charging sites that still haven't gone online due to permitting, planning restrictions, and delays with public utilities.
In fact, Electrify America has already started to build DC fast charging sites defined in Cycle Two despite the fact that they still have not completed all of their Cycle One sites (primarily those located in California). Also, while the raw numbers on Electrify America's site state that 95 sites (as of the writing of this article) are currently under construction, thanks to PlugShare and regular electric vehicle scouting, we know that Electrify America is working on additional sites that are not listed on their website.
Getting to this point hasn’t gone smoothly for Electrify America, so while they have made huge strides in the last year and a half, they've also had their share of gaffes and hiccups.
Electrify America Reliability Issues
One of the biggest criticisms of the Electrify America charging network in the last year and a half has been their lack of reliability; however, the issue of Electrify America's charging network reliability is complicated. Unfortunately, I feel that a majority of the reporting that has been done on the topic has lacked nuance.
On one hand, a number of the stories published about Electrify America's poor reliability are shared by publications and journalists who disclose Tesla referral codes and heavy TSLA stock investment. This is concerning because, due to its speed and distribution, Electrify America's network represents a serious competitive threat to Tesla.
Given the fact that one of Tesla’s key selling points is that they are the only electric vehicle automaker offering a cohesive, reliable, nationwide charging network, a rival public charging network that offers a similar (and in some ways superior) service to non-Tesla electric vehicle owners could negatively affect Tesla’s sales. I believe that is why we’re starting to see an uptick in some of those media sites referring to Electrify America’s charging network as a “compliance network,” as though that somehow invalidates the effectiveness of the Electrify America network and the unmatched service it is currently providing to non-Tesla electric vehicle owners.
On the other hand, a large number of reported errors and failed charge sessions are due to vehicle compatibility issues and not Electrify America’s equipment or network. For instance, the Chevy Spark EV has compatibility issues with ABB's Terra HP chargers (regardless of the host network), and many Spark EV owners were blaming Electrify America for what is most likely a hardware or software issue on the automaker's side. Likewise, some Chevy Bolt EVs (and even BMW i3s) require the heavier, liquid-cooled cables to be supported during charger activation; otherwise, the charger can undergo a connection error that might require the charger to be fully rebooted. Essentially, these owners could effectively shut down an entire site simply by initiating an error in each of the chargers and leaving without calling Electrify America customer support to have them rebooted.
Additionally, when Electrify America was relying solely on Nayax payment readers to initiate charge sessions, customers reported a number of issues due to failed payments. For the most part, this was a legitimate criticism because, frankly, the Nayax payment readers were fraught with issues. Also, the Nayax displays showed a number of payment options that Electrify America had specifically listed on their website as unsupported payment methods, but after seeing those unsupported payment options displayed, customers sometimes attempted to pay with those unsupported methods. When the charger didn’t activate, they reported it as a failed charge session. Electrify America’s release of an app allowing customers to activate a charger using their phone (and paying through the app) significantly reduced the number failed charger activations that were reported.
In terms of perceived reliability, the Electrify America network was also hit with several failures on the part of their hardware providers. In the most notable case, Huber+Suhner encountered an issue with one of their prototype charger heads, and out of an abundance of caution, they asked that all DC fast chargers using these cords be powered down until they could ensure public safety. This affected a few of EVgo's charging sites; however, most of Electrify America's network was shut down because they relied almost exclusively on the Huber+Suhner CCS cables.
The other well known failure was with the Efacec chargers that Electrify America had installed at a number of their sites. It was determined that those Efacec units were having a cooling issue, and as a result, Electrify America shut down the sites that were using those chargers. They later reopened those sites at reduced, 50 kW charging rates while Efacec works to fix their hardware and design.
When it comes to actual, real-world reliability, though, the data doesn’t support the narrative that Electrify America is a highly unreliable network. Using PlugShare (a community driven app and website) to filter to only those Electrify America sites with a rating of 8 out of 10 or better (a near perfect reliability) will display 248 sites out of 368. In order to get a score of 8 or better requires the site to have almost no negative check ins, and the few that it has must be offset numerous positive check ins.
Applying the same filtering to the Tesla Supercharger network results in 569 sites listed out of well over 738 sites (sites from Canada cannot be filtered out of the 738 U.S. total).
Now, there are a couple of considerations about this data. First, PlugShare doesn’t always refresh all sites on a countrywide map view, so a few charging sites here or there might be dropped from the map. Second, many of Electrify America’s sites are so new that they don’t even have a rating, so they won't show up on a search even if they are 100% reliable. When taking into account the margin of error (and even without correcting for a number of cases resulting from specific vehicle issues and user error), nearly 70% of both Electrify America and Tesla Supercharger sites would be considered highly reliable (an 8 out of 10 or better). Essentially, from a data perspective, the Electrify America charging network is as reliable as the Tesla Supercharger Network.
From a personal perspective, Electrify America is the only public charging provider I have used extensively where I still have a 100% success rate on a site level. Essentially, I have never visited an active Electrify America site where I have been unable to activate and charge on at least one charger. After hundreds of DC fast charging sessions, no other public charging provider can make the same claim.
Electrify America Access Issues
Another concern that has been raised regarding Electrify America's charging network is access. These access issues typically stem from two problems: Charging standards and site configuration.
In their base site configuration, Electrify America decided to install only one CHAdeMO charger per site (they average more than four chargers per site), so for owners of electric vehicles using the CHAdeMO DC fast charging standard, Electrify America’s sites are very limited. At this point, the Nissan LEAF is the only all-electric vehicle sold in the United States that uses the CHAdeMO standard; however, Tesla vehicles (the most popular electric vehicles by sales in the United States) can only access public DC fast charging stations using a CHAdeMO to Tesla standard adapter.
(Photo credit: David Drives Electric)
Essentially, Electrify America’s sites only have one charger per site to support the largest pool of electric vehicles in the United States based on DC fast charging standard. However, while some people are still complaining about this, I do not think this is entirely a bad thing. Almost every new electric vehicle being offered in the United States will be equipped with the CCS standard, and while Tesla hasn’t made a CCS to Tesla adapter for North America yet, they have already done so in Europe. If Tesla releases a CCS adapter enabling their owners to charge at 125 kW to 180 kW on Electrify America’s CCS chargers, it will leave only a small population of electric vehicle owners attempting to use the one CHAdeMO connector.
The other standard that Electrify America is missing from a majority of their sites is the universal J1772 AC charger. Most other public charging providers include these slower charging units at their sites; however, Electrify America has only been including them in their urban site configurations. While J1772 do not serve as a replacement for DC fast charging when you are traveling on quick highway trips, they are a nice backup option. In addition, they are the only true universal standard at this point, so any electric vehicle sold in the United States can use them.
Also, a number of Electrify America’s sites are located at or near hotels and motels, and when traveling, it’s more convenient for an electric vehicle owner to charge up on a Level 2 AC at the place they are spending the night than to use a DC fast charger at that location. These AC chargers replicate the ease and convenience of charging at home, and even if the electric vehicle was near empty on arrival, an EV owner will usually be greeted with a full battery in the morning when they are ready to check out and leave. I’m not convinced that Electrify America needs to install these AC chargers at all of their sites; however, a many of their site locations would benefit from having several AC hookups.
These AC chargers would also help for another access issue where Electrify America has been criticized, which is the frequency with which their sites are blocked by vehicles that are not charging. Electrify America has installed chargers at a number of retail locations, such as outlets. These are large shopping complexes where people tend to spend hours at a time, and parking is at a premium. When no laws or enforcement are in place, it’s easy to find DC fast chargers blocked by internal combustion vehicles and other electric vehicles that aren’t actually charging.
I do not think this is necessarily Electrify America’s fault, and I totally disagree with the victim shaming that I’ve heard from Tesla owners who were caught blocking DC fast chargers they couldn’t use, “Well, Electrify America shouldn’t have put their chargers in such a convenient location. Look at Tesla’s Superchargers. They’re the next aisle over.” In my opinion, DC fast charging is not ideal for retail shopping plazas simply based on typical dwell times, and I do feel that Level 2 AC would be better; however, that still doesn’t excuse people for blocking a resource that others rely on for traveling.
Electrify America also does need to do a better job configuring many of their sites, and the short, heavy liquid-cooled charging cables on their fastest DC chargers can make access difficult in the most basic sense. Because these sites are designed to serve every electric vehicle, certain vehicles do have access issues from time to time. Sometimes, the bump stop is too far from the charger, making it near impossible for the cord to reach, and other times, the chargers are crowded between two parking spots, and those configurations are often less than ideal for electric vehicles with front facing charging ports.
All in all, though, without a universal standard and layout, I think Electrify America has done decent job at making their chargers accessible to as many different electric vehicle configurations as possible.
Electrify America Pricing
Initially, Electrify America's pricing structure was quite high, and that's a stigma that they have had a hard time shaking. When they first opened their chargers, Electrify America was charging a $1 session fee plus 30 to 35 cents per minute, which for most electric vehicles was exorbitantly high. One DC fast charging session under that pricing model cost me $15.71 for 35.6 kWh of energy, which equates to about 11 cents per mile.
Later, when they released their app and membership program, Electrify America also introduced a new pricing structure that, for the most part, made charging much more reasonable. Full members (membership costs $4 per month) are not required to pay the $1 session fee, and per minute costs are now determined by charging speeds. For those vehicles charging at speeds under 75 kW, the rate is 18 cents per minute for members and 25 cents per minute for nonmembers. For 75 kW to 125 kW, the rate is 50 cents per minute for members and 69 cents per minute for nonmembers. And for rates up to 350 kW, the rate is 70 cents per minute for members and 99 cents per minute for nonmembers.
At this point, it costs me just over $20.00 to drive 500 miles (about 4 to 5 cents per mile) in my Chevy Bolt EV using only Electrify America's chargers. To put that into perspective, accounting for efficiency and cost to charge, it costs me the same amount to drive long distances in my Bolt EV using the Electrify America chargers as it costs a Tesla Model 3 (a more efficient car) owner to drive the same distance using the Supercharger Network (flat rate of 26 cents per kWh). So for owners of electric vehicles that charge at less than 75 kW, Electrify America is the cheapest public charging option by a very wide margin.
However, some electric vehicle owners have been negatively affected by these pricing changes. For those who own the Hyundai Kona Electric or Kia Niro EV, Electrify America might now be the most expensive public charging provider. The reason for this is, these electric vehicles ask the charger for 200 A of charging current, which tells the charger to place them in the Tier 2 fees of 50 cents per minute for members or 69 cents per minute for nonmembers. Under a best case scenario, a Kona or Niro owner might be paying as much as 10 cents per mile.
After speaking with an Electrify America representative at the LA Auto Show, it appears that Electrify America is aware of the situation. Whether and how long it takes them to work out a solution with Hyundai and Kia remains to be seen. In the meantime, however, if you own a Hyundai Kona Electric or Kia Niro EV, Electrify America is one of the only options for quick, long-distance travel across the country at this point.
Current Gaps in the Electrify America Network
One of the biggest strengths of the Electrify America network is how it, unlike all of the public charging networks that preceded it, emphasized long-distance travel corridors. Previously, the best non-Tesla electric vehicle owners could hope for were small public charging sites located in towns that happened to be nearby reasonable travel corridors. In fact, had EVgo (under the NRG settlement) not been required to build chargers in under served communities such as those along Highway 99, long-distance travel in California would have been difficult at best even for a long range electric vehicle like the Bolt EV (with 238 miles of range).
Electrify America's Cycle One build out focused on retail locations just off of major travel corridors, including I-5,I-10, I-15, I-40, I-70, I-75, I-80, and I-95. While Electrify America's network provided the first, cohesive public charging network for traversing the country, it still has some significant gaps and problem areas. In some cases, those gaps are covered by other public charging providers (such as Baker California along I-15, which is also home to a six-charger EVgo site and a four-charger ChargePoint site).
To be fair to Electrify America, they do have a number of sites still in the contract, permitting, construction, and final approval stages; however, if I discount those, there are still a number of concerning gaps along their network. This is a short list of specific locations where Electrify America needs to build sites just to shore up their current travel corridors:
- Albert Lea, MN
- Bangor, ME
- Birmingham, AL
- Burlington, VT
- Charleston, WV
- Gila Bend, AZ
- Fort Wayne, IN
- Green River, UT
- Jackson, MS
- King City, CA
- Kingman, AZ
- Lubbock, TX
- Morgantown, WV
- Parkersburg, WV
- Shreveport, LA
- Soccorro, NM
- West Wendover, NV
In addition to those gaps that need to be addressed, Electrify America also needs to address several travel corridors that they currently either don't support or only partially support. A short list of unsupported travel corridors includes:
- Highway 395 north of Reno, NV
- I-29 north of Omaha, NE
- I-80 through Wyoming
- I-90 through Eastern Montana and South Dakota
- I-94 through Eastern Montana and North Dakota
Unfortunately, based again on my conversation with Electrify America representatives at the LA Auto Show, they seem to be stuck in the mentality that they need to prioritize building chargers where electric vehicle owners currently live. To me, that misses the fundamental point. We don't need chargers where electric vehicle owners are; we need chargers where electric vehicle owners want to go. Hopefully they come around to that viewpoint soon, so we can see at least a basic network covering all of the major U.S. interstates and highway corridors.
Overall, I think Electrify America is still doing a great job with their network, and they are offering services that no other public charging providers are offering. They still have a lot of work ahead of them, by they are just now entering their Cycle Two build out.
Many of the rumors about Electrify America’s reliability also seem to be primarily anecdotal. Yes, Electrify America has had to overcome hardware issues from vendors ranging from their payment systems to the actual DC fast chargers themselves; however, a majority of the failed charge sessions at this point appear to be the result of customers who are unfamiliar with the quirks of their particular electric vehicle. Also, Electrify America still needs to correct some issues related to pricing, site configurations, and gaps in their network; however, again, it is important to remember that they activated their first public DC fast charging site less than a year and a half ago.
In the meantime, Electrify America’s charging network is enabling non-Tesla electric vehicle owners to travel around the country quickly despite not having access to the Tesla Supercharger Network. That, in and of itself, represents a huge shift from three years ago when I first purchased Chevy Bolt EV, which at that time was only held back by the public charging infrastructure.
About The Author
Eric Way focuses on reporting expert opinion on GM brand electric vehicles at Torque News. Eric is also an instructional designer and technical writer with more than 15 years of writing experience. He also hosts the News Coulomb video blog, which focuses on electric vehicles, charging infrastructure, and renewable energy. Eric is an active member of the EV Advocates of Ventura County, a volunteer organization focused on increasing the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. You can follow Eric on News Coulomb Youtube, on Facebook at @NewsCoulomb as well as on Twitter at @eway1978.