Is a massive EV infrastructure necessary?

by Ernie Hernandez on September 23, 2011

Nissan DC Quick Charger

Nissan's DC Quick Charger

We think not

Nissan’s belief that an electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure must be in place before EVs are sold in scale is, we think, an incorrect assumption.

Let’s take a look at some current realities. The generation one Nissan LEAF has a real world range for most drivers of 60 miles to 90 miles per 100% charge. Yes, we are aware of some drivers going further, and there are likely some that haven’t even achieved these moderate distances. But the fact of the matter is this – for those consumers that have no desire to change their driving habits (which is likely a significant percentage of the population), they will not likely see anywhere near the Nissan rated 100 mile range. But the question then becomes – do you really need to drive further?

The lower end of our real world range stated above is 60 miles. Do the math. 60 miles times five days per week times 52 weeks per year equals 15,600 miles per year. Increase the daily range to 90 miles and you get 23,400 miles per year. This does not account for weekend driving which can vary dramatically from household to household. While some long distance commuters drive more than this in car-crazy Southern California (and in some other areas of the country as well), we would hazard a guess that there are significantly more that never reach these annual mileage numbers. In fact, we have government research numbers that say that most drivers never even come close to achieving the upper end of the LEAF range on an annual basis. Given that, why would anyone need to charge anywhere other than at home?

The Nissan LEAF has a 3.3 kilowatt hour on-board charger. When attached to a 240 volt electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) station, said LEAF will gain roughly ten miles for every hour plugged in. We simply do not see most people waiting an hour to add ten miles to their driving range. Unless they absolutely had to.

Yes, yes… we know. “What about opportunity charging?” Opportunity charging is exactly what it sounds like – taking advantage of the opportunity to charge whenever it presents itself. While currently much opportunity charging remains free, when organized commercial charge networks start becoming more prevalent and making their presence known, the cost needed to pay back the investment in the infrastructure will overwhelm the advantage of opportunity charging for many individuals. We have heard of some stations charging up to several dollars per hour to plug in to a Level 2, 240 volt charging dock. We don’t know of many that would use the facilities at that rate if charging at home is available for fractions of a dollar per hour.

If anyone is going to pay those rates, we would think the only worthwhile reason for doing so would be to add a significant charge back to the battery – such as that offered by the DC quick charger pictured at the top of this article. Even then, this would likely be the exception rather than the rule. In five months of ownership of our own LEAF, we have only once charged anywhere other than our garage. And when we did charge at a friends house that is also a LEAF owner it was more because we could rather than because we needed to.

In our view, LEAF owners will overwhelmingly charge their cars at home or at work where the car is parked for hours on end. While we do see cars plugged into free charging stations now, we are curious to see how many of these charge stations will be used once a payment structure is implemented at these same locations. Our guess is that we will see their use taper off significantly.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

indyflick September 24, 2011 at 9:03 am

The issue is that the EV later adopters feel a charging infrastructure is necessary, regardless if it is or not. There’s a lot of market research which shows this.

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Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) September 24, 2011 at 10:49 am

Which is exactly why we wrote this article! Later adopters don’t know what it’s like to wake up every morning to a “full tank”.

My dad once said something like “If I had one wish, it would be that I always had five dollars in my pocket.” It took me awhile to realize that if he always had five dollars in his pocket, he would never be broke. Take one out, another magically appears. While there is no magic to electrically charging your car every night, we still find it comforting that every morning we have the equivalent of five dollars in our pocket. Until that realization is absorbed, many will demand an expensive, and largely unnecessary, infrastructure.

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Tom K September 24, 2011 at 10:58 am

A charging infrastructure is definitely needed. I had the pleasure of charging on the DC quick charge unit at Mitsubishi HQ this last week in Cypress, CA. It’s fast. With an EVSE at my destination and Mitsu’s QC, I was able to drive my LEAF 180 miles that day. If there were more quick charge units in place, I have no doubt that my LEAF could travel distances approaching that of ice vehicles… Incidentally, my destination had the old legacy EVSE units and I was only able to take advantage of the AVCON because I carry an adapter with me…..

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Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) September 24, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Tom – thanks for that feedback. And it goes to support our thought that the DC quick charge will be the more useful equipment to the most drivers. In fact, you just gave me an idea for another article. Thanks!

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