The Biggest Obstacles for Seamless Electric Vehicle Charging in 2017

 In EV Charging

So you want to charge your electric vehicle… The easiest system involves EV drivers plugging in at home and never driving out of the car’s range in the course of a day’s travels. Most drivers actually do not travel over 50 miles per day, so this system works 90% of the time.

However, you cannot limit the scope of your life to your EV’s range. Plug-in drivers will need to charge in public at some point. If you plan to travel long distances in your electric car (as you should), you’ll need to find and use charging stations outside of your home frequently.

EV charging is much better than what it used to be, yet many EV drivers still face a number of challenges when they take to the open road. Anyone can find a gas station in seconds on a smartphone; finding a charging station is a different story. Even when you see a charging station is: open, operational, and compatible with your car it doesn’t mean you can use it. You may not have the right app or the money to pay for a pricey charge. These issues continue coming up and need solutions for EVs to take hold in North America. Here are the biggest obstacles to overcome on the charging front.

Accessible public charging infrastructure in major cities

Since North American cities continue growing rapidly, any plan to boost electric car adoption must include accessible charging stations for the public. By “accessible,” we mean free to access (without parking lot fees) and easy to find (as you would a gas station). To overcome this challenge, major cities have started cooperating with charging station providers and other stakeholders.

mandating EV chargers in every new public lot

Mandating EV chargers in every new public lot may not do a great deal to help. Drivers who only need to charge will avoid those chargers because of high parking fees. Chargers need to go in public places and in city centers.

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Some might argue public transportation is the future of cities, and that is true. However, it takes much less effort – and costs far less – to install a few chargers when compared to urban infrastructure like new subway lines. Furthermore, cars won’t be obsolete in cities anytime soon. Any municipality that needs to reduce emissions and improve transportation needs to overcome this obstacle.

Bring down the cost of charging infrastructure

Open the ChargePoint app and you can activate filters to see which stations are free and which cost you. Indeed, you will find many (more than half) the company’s 36,000 plugs are free to use. Many of these free stations are located in convenient places, including Level 2 chargers in Santa Monica municipal lots just steps from the beach. When you can pay regular prices for parking and not worry about charging costs, EV drivers get the best of both worlds.

Unfortunately, not every station operates like those Santa Monica stations. If you needed to fast-charge, for example, you would have to pay $10 for a 30-minute charge at an eVgo station nearby in Venice. Drivers of vehicles like Volkswagen e-Golf or Nissan Leaf would only get 65-80 miles for that $10.

The situation gets worse for EV drivers when a station charges high parking fees in addition to nominal fees for topping off your battery. The charge may be free, but if an hour of parking costs $20, the overall cost is far too high, thereby limiting the use of your EV.

Reliable Real-time Charger Information

EV manufacturers and charging network providers often describe plug-in vehicles as “the future,” part of a “connected” world in which gas stations seems like antiques. If that’s the case, why do so many charging stations read “No Status” when you pull up the app? Anyone who ever searched for a plug is familiar with this reading.

charging network providers often describe plug-in vehicles as “the future,” part of a “connected” world

This network failure leaves drivers who are running low in a tough situation. Do you risk it and use your remaining range to see if a station is really working? We’ve been in this situation and been pleasantly surprised to find many of them work despite the “No Status” reading. However, it’s unacceptable to claim some sort of technological superiority over gasoline cars when EV drivers can’t even tell if a station is operating. After all, you know the gas station has gas.

A Universal EV Charging Infrastructure

Running a network of EV charging stations is no simple operation. In the case of ChargePoint’s system, each station operator set pricing, so there could be a wildly fluctuating cost for someone using the same app (sometimes within a short distance of another station). Meanwhile, ChargePoint users cannot automatically use a Blink station, or vice versa. (To Blink’s credit, the company began offering a guest pass for drivers without an account.)

Running a network of EV charging stations is no simple operation

Still, EV drivers and the industry as a whole would be much better off if there were no restrictions on who could charge when and where. What if a single app could give plug-in drivers the ability to charge anywhere and bill the cost to a card on file? It would make charging on the road so much simpler.

Even More Public Outreach for Future EV Owners

Most FleetCarma blog readers know the ins and outs of charging at home and in public. (Please tell us about it in the comment section below.) However, consumers considering a plug-in vehicle have a hard time understanding where chargers are, how they work, how much they cost and when they are available.

ins and outs of charging at home and in public

Some municipalities are good about labeling public stations and directing drivers to them. Others do the work of installing stations and subsidizing the cost of electricity but do not tell drivers about them. As a result, you will see a driver of a gas-powered car parking in a spot reserved for EV charging, or an EV driver looking for a charge might drive right by a station because there was no sign calling attention to the plug.

Electric cars and the charging stations powering them continue to improve. To get to the next level, the industry needs to overcome these obstacles.

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  • Mats Tage Axelsson

    Thankfully, there are a number of manufacturers that make charging stations that fit into lamp posts! Rolec, Chr.gy, even BMW has projects going. In London, one big problem has been permit to set up a station along the road. Build in to the lamp posts without changing what the post looks like and the problem is solved. Add to that, they claim between 10-30 minutes install time.