Fast charging not living up to the potential?

by Ernie Hernandez on May 5, 2012

AeroVironment DC fast charger

Is the expense worth the convenience?

With the advent of the first DC fast chargers in the greater Chicago area, perhaps area LEAF owners and potential LEAF owners were calculating their newly possible range. Based on early experience, many of these same individuals may be wondering whether they will use these new facilities at all.

Cars.com checked out one of the new 350Green fast chargers in Chicago. Plugging in their LEAF with only one bar illuminated on the 12 bar battery gauge, they found at the end of a 30 minute charge session that the charge stopped with the car showing eight bars out of 12. For this, Cars.com paid $7.00. Mileage on the distance til empty meter read 13 at the start and 79 at the end. What does this tell us? The only thing that it tells us positively is that it cost $7.00 for a 30 minute charging session. We don’t know the style, temperature or terrain of the immediate previous driving experience that led to the 13 mile display with one bar standing, so the fact that it reads 79 miles at the end doesn’t tell us much either. We do find it interesting that the battery capacity display only rose to eight bars. Of course, we don’t know if it was one second or 5 minutes away from going to the ninth bar, so again, this doesn’t tell us a great deal. What would be useful is an electric meter on the charger showing us how much electricity was consumed. We think it highly unlikely that that will happen anytime soon, if ever.

Also of note – a Mitsubishi i was plugged in with about half of its battery capacity still available. As the i has a smaller battery, the session shut off after about 10 minutes, but Cars.com was still charged for a 30 minute session. 350Green has chosen to sell their time in 30 minute increments, so if you don’t use it all, you lose any remaining balance. And therein lies the issue with these early attempts at for-profit DC fast charge stations.

We are not aware of any states that allow any entity to sell electricity except the utility companies. What 350Green is doing is charging a convenience fee to use their equipment to access the grid. We find it highly unlikely that electric vehicle (EV) owners will opt to use these services on a daily, or perhaps even weekly, basis to extend their driving range. The primary usage would be for those trips that require a longer drive than normal and you would still prefer to use your electric car. And based on what we’ve learned, your drive would have to be such that when you arrived at the fast charge station, your battery would be just about depleted if you are frugal like us and would like to get your money’s worth.

The few stations deployed in California to date do not charge for their use. That will change as the state develops a new fast charge infrastructure. We are not suggesting that these fast chargers should be free to all users. But what we are thinking is that the developers of these early deployments have not carefully considered the effects of their early pricing plans. By placing such a high premium on convenience we feel that these early providers are, as the saying goes, cutting off their nose to spite their face. By pricing themselves at a point that few will use their services (except to show videos of how expensive they are), what will happen is that this provider will go bankrupt leaving the equipment in the hands of another.

We don’t claim to know what the answer is. Interestingly enough, there are entities clamoring to enter this business in hopes of being the first to establish a toehold. We expect to see many failures in the charging business, just as we have already seen failures in the electric car business. But, as always, someone will eventually get it right.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom K May 5, 2012 at 11:44 pm

I agree that there is no simple formula for QC station pricing… I sure could’ve used a QC charge today, running my LEAF around SoCal 110 miles ;-/

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Sasparilla May 7, 2012 at 8:30 am

I’d read previously the price for using these Chicago area quick chargers ends up being gasoline expensive or higher – with state electricity priced at a flat rate (not variable) below the national average of $0.12 kWh, its truly gouging level pricing. Who wants to be victim to that?

Of course nobody is going to want to use them unless they are in an emergency (even then I’d guess folks would look for Level 2’s if available just to spite these guys) – as you posited Ernie the best outcome here is for these guys to go out of business (if this is a big part of their business) and someone else buy the chargers up and price them to be used instead. Sad considering a network of fast chargers is in place in IL ready for use if the pricing wasn’t predatory.

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steve May 10, 2012 at 12:29 am

I can confirm for you that the QC will stop at 8 bars. Seen on the Blink unit here.

As to the pricing, I think its reasonable to price the QC service so that they recover their costs, but also price it such that people who use it are the ones who actually need it, as opposed to tying up very expensive equipment when others could be using it. If I were making a long distance trip, I would be willing to pay a slight premium for the QC especially if I could reserve a timeslot.

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Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) May 12, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Hi steve. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against a company making a profit while offering a product or service. What I disagree with is the methodology in this case. Pricing in 30 minute increments is ridiculous in my view. When buying gasoline, you don’t pay by the gallon increment, you pay by the amount actually purchased. In the case of electricity, until the regulatory bodies change their structure, electricity cannot be sold by other than a regulated energy provider. But a convenience fee can just as easily be structured by the minute as by the half hour. No one is going to hook up to a fast charger and only charge their electric car for a minute. In fact, most will not charge for just the 10 minutes profiled in this instance. Also, some may charge for more than 30 minutes as larger battery packs become available, but for less than 60 minutes. But if providers truly want to encourage the use of their networks, their payment plan must encourage the use of their equipment, rather than discourage it.

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