BWI-airport ChargePoint installation

ChargePoint’s host site sales pitch, and the charging station infrastructure that doesn’t quite serve us

With the recent embrace of DC Fast Charging, as well as Home Charging solutions, ChargePoint has positioned itself as a full service electric car charging station network.  Today, ChargePoint held a Webinar targeted at “property owners” who would be a charging station host site.  The goal of course is to persuade new host sites to join the ChargePoint network.

To the extent that ChargePoint is the leading charging station network operator, it’s worthwhile to think about CP’s sales pitch.  Is CP doing a good job or not of getting new host sites?  And how does ChargePoint assure us, the EV drivers, that the resulting network will “work” as the charging infrastructure we need for travels around town and beyond?

Why should a host site adopt ChargePoint’s solution?  Why not just install 120 volt outdoors-capable power outlets?  Why not go with cheaper dumb stations?  In other words, the ChargePoint approach is a networked station, with a variety of authentication methods, for which CP charges a yearly service fee.  I hear that some balk at the service fee.  The justification CP gave during the call included these points:

  • Networked charging station means:
    • Remote monitoring for both utilization reporting, and detecting outages
    • Over the air updates of software for new revisions
    • Several capabilities for the drivers which require data communication
  • Authentication and control of who can consume your electricity
  • The ability to charge for, and account for, electricity
    • Customizable fee structure to suit business purposes
    • Electricity consumed as vehicle fuel needs to be separated from other electricity consumption, so that businesses can properly document their green building credits
  • Driver services include:
    • Knowledge about station status before driving to station
    • Potential to reserve a charging station
    • Text messaging from the network operator – such as a warning when the charge cable was detached
  • Simple level 1 outlets are unsafe and insufficient
    • No control over usage
    • Charge rate is too low to be of use to drivers
    • No capability for power sharing between outlets
    • Safety hazard
  • ChargePoint is a mature charging station provider, with several well designed EVSE products

Over the last few months, ChargePoint has added both charging stations for Home and DC Fast Charging to its existing portfolio of level 2 charging stations.   These are welcome, and I’m eagerly awaiting DC Fast Charging installation in the West Coast and East Coast charging corridor’s which were promised almost a year ago.  That joint venture between CP, VW and BMW was a strong positive sign of cooperation between the DC Fast Charging camps.  ChargePoint brought on-board two types of DC Fast Charging equipment over the summer, one a 25 kW CCS station from BMW, and the other a 50 kW CCS/CHAdeMO station from Veefil.  And CP has promised me we’ll see significant progress on the two DC Fast Charging corridors over the next couple months.

I didn’t cover their Home charging station when it came out, but the unit is designed to be extremely easy to install.  It’s basically, get your electrician to install a NEMA 240 volt 50 amp outlet, bolt the thing to the wall, and plug it in.

Let’s go over some of the points above, because I have a quibble to discuss.

The value of Level 1 charging

Are simple level 1 (120 volt) power outlets as useless as ChargePoint suggested?  Remember that CP’s goal here was to get host sites to join the ChargePoint network.  That means presenting their solution as better than the alternatives.

I’ve used simple level 1 outlets for charging while away from home.  While they’re suboptimal, it’s better than no charging at all.  As the CP person said on the call, via level 1 your car gains about 4 miles of range per hour of charging, and on level 2 charging it gains about 20-25 miles range per hour of charging.  Generally speaking that makes level 2 or faster charging desirable in the public, but at the same time level 1 can play a significant role.

The key consideration is the “dwell time” at a given location.  Places with a short dwell time, like a grocery store, or highway rest stop, are very suitable fast charging.  Places with long dwell times are suitable for level 2 or even level 1 charging.  For example, charging during an 8 hour workday on a level 1 outlet gives 30-35 miles of range.  That’s more than enough for a typical commute.  Therefore a typical workplace could install a row of 120 volt outlets as their charging solution, offer many more charging points to employees than if they had 240 volt level 2 charging stations, at a lower cost, while avoiding the administrative overhead of managing complex charging stations, while giving their employees enough range to drive home.

The host site needs to decide for themselves what they want.   They might or might not care enough about the electricity cost to spend thousands of dollars on charging stations.  Certainly those who want to control all costs will want to control who can and cannot charge their cars.

The value of network-connected charging stations

If it’s cheaper to install dumb charging stations – no network connection, for simple low-cost hardware design – then why not encourage host sites to install those?  Clipper Creek is a fine maker of high quality reliable charging stations at a reasonable cost.

The value to EV drivers isn’t just having enough charging ports in the world.  It’s also knowing whether the station is available.  The last thing someone on their last electron wants it to spend that electron driving to a station that’s broken, occupied, or has even been removed.

Network-connected charging stations can report status to the network operator, who then displays that status on the smart phone app.  A quick check of the smart phone app is what EV drivers need.

What’s best for the drivers?

At the end of the day who is ChargePoint serving?  The EV drivers?  Or the host sites?  And, is the result what we need?

Since ChargePoint collects money from both EV drivers and host sites, in theory both camps are CP’s customer.  But I suspect the primary customer might be the host sites.  CP does need to satisfy the host sites so that they remain host sites, and not abandon CP for some other charging network.

The shape of ChargePoint’s charging network isn’t necessarily designed purposefully with the optimum spread of charging stations.  Instead, the locations are determined by the host sites who agree to install stations.

Therefore the resulting network is not optimal, which is readily seen any time we plan a trip involving public charging.  How many times have you been able to implement that golden combination of destinations with public charging?  For example, I’m contemplating a trip to the grocery store later today, and there’s no convenient charging anywhere near any nearby grocery much less the one I want to visit.

While I’ve focused on ChargePoint, the same issue exists for the other charging station network operators.  Except for Tesla Motors, none of them are purposefully planning the network but are instead dependent on which host sites to pop up.

 

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.

3 Comments

  1. Can the ChargePoint EVSEs, directly of through back-office communications, be set so that each knows what the others are doing in a facility, and can ratchet up or down the KW going to each? In other words, if no one is charging, then the 1 used EVSE will give full power (say, 10KW), but if there are 4 EVSEs on the same circuit box and it can only yield a limited amount of total power, then each EVSE will provide limited power (say, 2.5KW). For that matter, it would also be interesting if the EVSEs can be programmed to start charging when electricity is inexpensive, but allow the user to plug in and override that programming.

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