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Public Charging Prices Are a Serious Issue†††††

Would you pay $8.00 a gallon for gasoline

I really like paying $1.30 per gallon equivalent for my Volt when I charge at home. I really like getting free fuel at the free chargers, even if it is only 70 cents worth from a two hour charge. I donít mind paying $2.00 a gallon equivalent from the chargers that have a 50 cent an hour rate.




Would you pay $8.00 a gallon for gasoline? That is what the equivalent is for a four hour charge on a Volt at a charging station with a pay rate of $2.00 per hour.† There are stations that charge this rate and higher.† 350 Green is rumored to be planning a rate of $0.04 a minute with a one hour minimum which comes to $2.40 an hour when they are bought out by the Car Charging Group.


What about subscribing to a charging network for a monthly fee? The NRG proposal wants to do just that. IF I knew I was going to use that network a minimum number of times a month and get sufficient charge from it to get affordable rates I might consider it. But how would I know that? I hate paying for something I do not receive so chances are I would not want to subscribe. How about you?


This becomes a serious issue for the success of the EV effort. If the public charging network does not provide a fuel savings for EV owners we will not get that many EV owners on the road. It will slow things down until people figure out that they can get by with charging at home and at work.


Furthermore the companies using these charging models are setting themselves up to fail. If they build a big network of chargers that are not used, that would have serious consequences for our efforts.† It would be a PR disaster. These companies are playing the venture capital and initial stock offering game. That means they are drawing private investors and Wall Street into the EV world with flawed business plans.


Are these really flawed business plans or do they know something I do not? The limited knowledge I have is as an EV driver and advocate for ten years and a Volt owner. There is a good bit of business knowledge floating around in my head but not enough to get excited about. Here is how it looks to me.


My volt takes 4 hours for a full charge. I get a minimum of 35 miles on that charge and as many as 48 miles.† For the sake of this discussion letís call a full charge the equivalent of a gallon of gas (35 to 48 mpg is pretty good). Paying $2.00 per hour goes to $8.00 per gallon pretty clearly with that set up.


The way a lithium battery pack charges comes into this picture. An empty pack charges really quickly at first and then slows down. If I charge an empty pack at level 2 for three hours, I get about 31 miles of charge. That would cost $6.00 a gallon equivalent more or less so that still sucks but I might do it once in a while.

If my pack is half full, then my charging would get me about 15 miles for $4.00. That is a top off opportunity charge that is now over $8.00 per gallon. Forget about it!


Things are a little better for a Tesla or a new LEAF and similar vehicles. First of all they are less likely to get to the slow finish charge stage than a Volt or a Plug in Toyota. Secondly they charge at a higher rate. A Volt charges at the rate of approximately 3 kW per hour while the Teslaís and 2013 LEAF charge at 6kW rates on most public level two chargers. That means the number used above would be cut in half. That is better but $4.00 per gallon just does not sound exciting. The earlier LEAFs are in a similar situation to my Volt with a 3 kW charger.


One thing that this highlights is the issue of charging by the hour. Why would a Volt driver pay the same amount as a Tesla driver who gets twice as much electricity in an hour? There has to be a better idea. Charging by the kilowatt is how the electric companies do it. I see nothing wrong with that and would be fine with paying two times as much at a public charger. That would pay for the charger and the maintenance. On my volt that would mean paying $2.60 for four hours. Even three times would be acceptable in high cost locations. That would be $3.90 for four hours or for a gallon equivalent of electricity. Any more than that and we are in trouble.


This is pretty serious stuff as the NRG project is about to spend $100 million of publicly allocated money on their network. State and federal incentives are being used to the tune of millions of dollars to help install other charging networks. Wall Street money is being added to the pot. IF we end up with EV fuel costs equal to or higher than gasoline costs what have we accomplished?


There are two systems that are working just fine right now. The Chargepoint Network card with a pay for what you get is just fine. The Pay by phone system with the keypad on the charger is a good idea. The Blink network has both a subscription and an hourly charge which is high priced and I am not very interested in that.


The bottom line on charging stations is that you are putting fuel into a vehicle. We know how that works. Choose a station with the right price. Put the fuel in and pay for what you get. Is there really any reason why EV charging needs to be any different than that?


There are some considerations that go with EV charging that are different than a gasoline fueling. These include needing to maintain and install a lot more chargers for the same number of miles driven. That means a maintenance expense. It means having a parking space used for that purpose. There is a concern about the demand charges with a given site that can increase the cost of the electricity. All of these are good reasons for the charging to cost more than our home charging costs. But if that means electricity costs more than gasoline per mile we have a very serious problem.


We need to sort out these costs and be clear about the right business model to pursue. There are probably several that would work. Some would work for government charging sites. Others would work for commercial sites. Whatever they are they need to make sense for both the charging station owners, the property owners and for the EV Driver.


The bottom line is that the fuel cost needs to be better than the price of gasoline or the whole thing will fail. And that we cannot afford on so many levels.
















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