EV Charging Needs To Be A Lot Simpler

Ev Charging Needs To Be A Lot Simpler

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During a recent trip across most of the US, I had a really fun opportunity: have some s’mores while the car charged! The Sam’s Club we were parked at was closed and the lot was pretty empty. It was also one of the few pull-through charging stations I’ve come across on my journeys, which was even better and easier.

We had really hit our stride on this trip. Earlier, we had struggled with overly-optimistic energy consumption estimates that left us barely rolling into several chargers and falling a little short of one. After that, we were showing up at chargers with extra juice, finding nice pull-through stations like this one, and were starting to actually have a good time. The rain had even quit. Having a little patch of grass and being able to have a picnic-style dessert while we charged was a bit of a victory dance.

But, in the middle of melting marshmallows, a man walked around the corner of the trailer and asked us, “Do you ladies know how to use these things?”

It turned out that he worked for an automotive dealer in the region and had been asked to move a vehicle from one dealer to another across two states. Normally, these kinds of transit trips were pretty easy for him in the past, but this time he had been tasked with picking up a Genesis GV60 and transporting it back to the dealer. This was his first EV rodeo and he had no idea what to do now that he had arrived at a charging station.

Sadly, the first station he tried wouldn’t work when he tried to use his credit card. He was an older guy who didn’t know how to install apps on his phone, so the card reader was his only way to start a charge up. The card reader on the second stall we tried worked, and he was able to start charging.

At this point, I had to explain a lot of things to him about how to make it to his destination. He was initially thinking he’d just charge to 100%, go until it got low, and then find another station. With his vehicle and the place he was headed, that might have actually worked out, but he was about to go across the Appalachian Mountains and could have easily wandered into a dead zone.

So, I had to first teach him about charging curves. It’s a good idea to only charge up to 80%, because after 80% (and sooner on some vehicles), charging speeds drop drastically. Sometimes you have to charge up to 100% to make a destination or for other unusual needs. But, the sooner you stop charging, the less time you’ll spend at each station and the better off you’ll be over the course of a long trip.

The next thing I did was help him install PlugShare. Knowing where the charging stations are was a big help. He had searched for a station using Google Maps and luckily found the Electrify America station before his vehicle had run down. This helped him come up with a plan to reach his destination.

Next, I showed him some of the EV trip planning apps. A Better Route Planner and Chargeway were soon on his phone.

Finally, I showed him that the Hyundai has some trip-planning capabilities. He had driven from the place he picked the car up to his home dealer a number of times and knew the way, but it didn’t occur to him that he needed to have a charging plan and consider things like weather, temperature, terrain, and speed.

How This Is Already Getting Better

One thing that’s already going to make this a lot better is the building out of more charging stations. The old “drive until it’s low and then find a station” approach to road trips that many people take works because there are so many gas stations. I’ve usually tried to use apps like GasBuddy to find cheaper gas and tank up at those stations instead of grabbing whatever fuel, but many people don’t bother with that.

While it would theoretically be easy to get people to use the car’s built-in software, use apps, or otherwise make some kind of plans, the fact is that most people just aren’t going to do that. Before pulling away, the dealer guy we helped out didn’t seem like he wanted to use the apps or make a plan. He was ready to replicate the gas car experience using the first EV he’d ever taken on a road trip. So, we definitely need to be seeing more charging stations so that people don’t need to make a plan.

Ways Things Won’t Get Better On Their Own

While things like charging curves are not going away, and thus people will need to learn, there are some things that could still improve to make life easier for people looking to get a charge.

First, the issue of payment is real, and there are two ways to approach it. One option would be to install card readers at all charging stations, but they need to not hit your card for $50 and keep the charge on longer than a few minutes. Those charges stack up on a card and can ruin people’s road trips if they don’t have enough balance to have all those sticky $50 authorizations.

Another option would be to get Plug&Charge to happen more widely. The Tesla experience is great in that drivers can simply pull up and plug in, and the rest gets handled automatically. But, when you’re dealing with multiple manufacturers and dozens of different charging companies, there needs to be a unified standard of some kind to keep people from needing to use credit/debit cards or apps to activate charging anywhere.

The charging buildout is also going to need some guidance to make sure that stations get built in the most difficult places, especially on steep inclines that drain an EV’s battery down unusually. Sadly, these often coincide with rural areas where states have sought exemptions for the 50-mile requirement instead of working to install stations in those difficult places. Without those stations, people will get into trouble when they’re using the “find a station when it gets low” approach in the future and find the vehicle getting low faster than expected!

Between all of these improvements, the experience could be made a lot easier for people like the guy we helped.

Images by Jennifer Sensiba.

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