Both road tripping and apartment dwelling electric vehicle owners say we need fast charging NOW

I’m beginning to think the real future of electric vehicle charging has to switch to a filling station model.  Today most public electric vehicle charging uses a parking lot model, because the typical charging rate (Level 2 AC at 6 kilowatts) gives 20-25 miles of range per hour of charging.  That’s not fast enough for road trips (unless the driver is really dedicated), therefore it’s deployed as a parking service, and used for opportunity charging as people drive around town.

There’s two scenarios where this model doesn’t work well:-  a) road trippers, b) those who cannot charge at home.

The generic Road Trip involves driving for 4-5 hours at a stretch, pulling into a gasoline station, refueling the car while stretching your legs and taking a potty break, then hopping back in the car, with a hamburger or other fast food on the seat next to you to eat while you’re driving.   There’s a huge dependency on refueling infrastructure between cities, where clusters of fast food, gasoline and hotel joints spring up at highway exits in the middle of nowhere to support road trippers.

Electric vehicle refueling infrastructure is not (yet) this well developed.  Other than the Tesla Supercharger network, EV recharging between cities is largely unheard of.  The Supercharger network doesn’t even support a regular road trip – it takes an hour to recharge 265+ miles of range, rather than 5 minutes.  While a 265+ miles/hr charging rate is amazing, it doesn’t match the refueling rate for gasoline/diesel vehicles.

The intrepid few who do make EV road trips today carry portable high power EVSE’s, a bag full of adapter cables, and stop at RV parks or sometimes laundromats.  But they’re still limited by the charging rate of the on-board charger, which in most cases is limited to 6.6 kilowatts.  The rule of thumb for 6 kilowatt charging is that an electric car gains 20-25 miles of range per hour of charging.  The road trip scenario doesn’t work very well if every 80 miles you’re stopping for a 3-4 hour recharge cycle.

There are exceptions such as the West Coast Electric Highway that was supposed to spread from California to Washington, but is sadly only covering Oregon and Washington.  Leaf owners in those states routinely take longer trips because they have plenty of CHAdeMO fast charging stations – 60ish miles of range gained in 30 minutes.

There’s another segment of people not served well by the public charging infrastructure – those who cannot charge at home, such as apartment dwellers.  For the most part apartment dwellers simply do not buy plug-in cars because they immediately face a large headache recharging their car.  As I wrote the other day, I am living in exactly this situation and will do so for at least the next 11 months.  For example the other night I had to recharge the car, and stopped at a nearby public charging station for 1 1/2 hours.  Fortunately there was a public WiFi and I was able to use that time to write a blog post.  Unfortunately I had to cut the charging session short, leaving the car incompletely charged, because I had to use the bathroom and therefore had to go home.  Suboptimal.

If I were less dedicated to the cause, I’d be looking for a car with a gasoline engine.

What prompted this post is a long post on Facebook by a friend, Terry Hershner, who has logged more long distance electric vehicle trips than practically anyone.  His vehicle is a 2012 Zero S that’s been modified beyond belief to have a 24 kilowatt-hour battery pack, fast charging implemented via multiple on-board chargers for an 18 kilowatt charge rate, and an aerodynamic fairing Terry developed with famed motorcycle designer Craig Vetter.

He’s on his way to the Nevada/Utah border to participate in the latest Vetter Fuel Economy Challenge which is scheduled to take place this afternoon.  He’s hoping to win, which would be the first time an electric motorcycle wins that event.

Terry posted the picture above to demonstrate a flaw in the electric vehicle charging infrastructure.  Look carefully on the map and you see two large gaps – one in the shape of Nevada, the other in the shape of Montana.  Those gaps are areas which have zero ChargePoint charging stations.

Why?  Both Nevada and Montana are mostly empty of large cities, and therefore don’t have urban oriented charging infrastructure.  If you zoom in the map (go to ChargePoint.com) and browse around the country you’ll see that most rural areas have little charging infrastructure.

In other words, other than the more adventurous electric vehicle owners, we’re trapped within the bubble of public charging in large cities.

Terry had to cross Nevada today to get to the starting point of the race.  He’s crossed the country many times now, and is very familiar with the rituals of accessing power outlets at RV parks.

He writes that the manager of an RV park in Elko NV at first refused to allow Terry to plug in his bike at any of the 50 amp outlets scattered around the park.  A 50 amp outlet at 240 volts is nearly 10 kilowatts, and Terry was looking to use two of them, for an hour, consuming perhaps $1 worth of electricity.

RV parks are, in theory, an electric vehicle recharging infrastructure because they often have 50 amp 240 volt outlets in abundance.  But EV charging isn’t their line of business, people driving RV’s on vacation are.  In practice it’s up to the RV park manager to allow an EV driver to recharge at a power outlet, and as Terry learned today not all of them are enlightened enough to do so.  Fortunately for Terry he was able to sweet-talk her for a half hour after which she relented.

It would be better if, instead, there were a string of recharging stations whose business is providing electricity to EV owners.  I suppose in the due course of time they’ll be built.  And, in fact, they are being built, by Tesla Motors, but because of the proprietary charging plug their use is limited to owners of Tesla’s automobiles.  Those of us who cannot afford a $100,000 car are out of luck, trapped in the bubble of urban public charging stations.

Both the road tripper, and the apartment-dwelling EV owner, need the same thing – fast charging.  The faster the better.  The faster the charging rate the more it will resemble a stop at a refueling station rather than a parking lot.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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