With long charge times and charging stations few and far between, government agencies, Google, and others have gone to great lengths to maintain lists of every charging station in America and make it available via smart phones. But EV drivers have another story.
With different charging networks proliferating, some EV drivers we met this week at the 26th annual Electric Vehicle Symposium in Los Angeles (EVS26) say it’s hard to know which ones they can use. Different plug standards for DC fast-charging and chargers owned by private businesses (such as CR) whose chargers are listed, but not readily available to the public, compound the problem.
Naturally, charging networks install electric car chargers in people’s homes and in public places, such as parking lots and airports. For public chargers, they provide an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) key tag to customers to activate the charger and authenticate payment. Some charging network providers say it’s important to them to collect authentication information even if they’re providing free charging, because it helps them track where future chargers should go, what kind of electric car you have, and how to manage loads on the power grid.
Perhaps the most important reason for charging networks is to collect and aggregate payments. Unlike buying gas, when you charge up an electric car, the cost amounts to just a few dollars. Charging our Nissan Leaf test car at our test track in Connecticut, for example, cost less than $4.50. And that figure is a worst-case scenario. (Our area has among the highest electric rates in the continental United States, and that cost is based a completely drained battery, which ideally should never happen.)
At the modest energy costs for recharging, credit-card processing fees take a significant bite out of providers’ profit margins. Companies are exploring more creative approaches to ensure profitability, such as aggregating payments from different tenants in an apartment garage. This business model may evolve over time.