-Don't let the newness of charging an EV hold you back: It really is a lot like filling up a gas tank, just without the fumes, although of course it can be more time-consuming.
-Payment can often be made via app or credit cards, and in some cases it's free.
-Most EVs can charge up at most stations, but Tesla is, as always, a bit different.
As we've been saying lately, the tipping point to electrification is pretty much here. There are dozens of EVs either currently for sale or coming in the next two years, so you may be wondering, how hard is it to make the transition to owning an EV in daily life?
In fact, shifting gears to an electric car is easier than most people realize, but it does take a bit of planning. It's really just a matter of getting used to plugs instead of gas pumps, and making a little extra time to plan the charging process. Once you've selected the EV you want to drive, checking out possible government incentives and zipping away from that first stop sign with all the torque available from your EV's motor in a near-silent blast, you'll have to figure out how and where to charge the car.
First things first: Although public charging stations are becoming more common in urban areas, almost all electric-vehicle charging in the United States actually happens at home. According to the Department of Energy, most plug-in drivers charge at home over 80 percent of the time. For some drivers, this could easily be 100 percent. But some people can't charge at home (or at work, where a lot of non-home EV charging happens), and so they rely on the country's growing public charging infrastructure to refuel their vehicles. Here's what's involved in public charging, whether you have a Tesla, a Chevy Bolt EV, a Nissan Leaf, or the upcoming Ford Mustang Mach-E. Or any EV, really, as they share the same basic principles.
Every electric vehicle on the road today is compatible with the U.S. standard Level 2 chargers, known in the industry as SAE J1772. That includes Tesla vehicles, which come with Tesla's proprietary Supercharger connector. A Tesla owner just needs to use the adapter that comes for free with every Tesla sold (extras cost $95 from Tesla) to connect to a J1772 plug.
For the non-Tesla driver, finding compatible basic public charging is easy. There are numerous apps and websites that allow you to find outlets—PlugShare, Open Charge Map, and ChargeHub, to name just three—and the best of the bunch will even tell you if the station is currently occupied or not. The handles and cables on Level 2 charging units are weatherproof, not too heavy, and issue a satisfying "click" when they lock into your car's charging port. Level 2 provides decent charging speeds, around 20 to 25 miles of range in an hour. These stations are easy to find, too, with the Department of Energy listing 17,760 Level 2 public stations on its website as of the end of November.
For a quicker charge of up to 80 percent of your battery's total capacity in around 30 minutes, you need to look for a DC fast charger. There are two standards in the U.S., not counting Tesla's Supercharger network, which offers similar performance but again only for Tesla's electric vehicles. The two non-Tesla standards are CHAdeMO and SAE Combo Combined Charging System (CCS). Only two companies, Nissan and Mitsubishi, use CHAdeMO, while all other non-Tesla brands use CCS. Purchasing an adapter that lets a Tesla work with CHAdeMO costs $450 (when they're not sold out, which the Tesla site says they currently are). The best way to determine which fast-charging station will work with your car is to download the Chargeway app, which eliminates all of those confusing names and replaces them with a color-coded number system that's basically foolproof.
The DOE says there are 2282 CHAdeMO, 2034 CCS, and 685 Tesla Supercharger public stations in the U.S. today, but those numbers don't tell the whole story. First, knowing there's a station doesn't mean you know how many plugs are available; some stations may have a dozen plugs while others will have just one or two. Second, vehicle connectivity is simply one aspect of public charging. After all, gas pumps will work with any car, but you still need to pay for the fuel. And that's where charging networks come in. The three biggest non-Tesla networks in the U.S. are operated by EVgo, ChargePoint, and Electrify America.
Electrify America is the newest entrant and the one with the most interesting history. This ambitious undertaking was forced into existence after Volkswagen's emissions-cheating scandal. As part of the settlement for Dieselgate, Volkswagen has to spend $2 billion through Electrify America on electric-vehicle infrastructure and awareness over 10 years. The project started in 2017 and will consist of four cycles through 2027. Electrify America will spend $800 million on EV efforts in California and $1.2 billion in the rest of the United States.
While the VW Group's ambitious electric-vehicle rollout plans will naturally benefit from this infrastructure buildout, EA's network has to be brand neutral and help all automakers with electric vehicles, and the company's website says all its stations have both CCS and CHAdeMO connectors. Electrify America told Car and Driver that it currently has more than 340 live stations in the U.S., with another 130 or so constructed and waiting to be energized by utility companies. These stations will total more than 2000 ultrafast chargers. Electrify America said it expects to install or have under development approximately 800 total charging stations with about 3500 chargers by the end of 2021. The focus during the next two years will be on expanding services to 29 metro areas and 45 states, including two cross-country routes.
Paying for a charge at an EA station is possible using a credit card, just as you would at a gas station, or with EA's app and one of two subscription plans Electrify America offers.
The Electrify America Pass doesn't require a monthly fee, but it charges $1 plus a per-minute fee while you're charging. Electrify America Pass+, on the other hand, costs $4 a month, but offers a lower per-minute fee. The per-minute fees vary based on the charging stations - again, just like gas stations.
FordPass Charging Network
For some EV owners, though, part of the costs of public charging will be included in the price of the electric vehicle. Ford announced in October that it will partner with Electrify America to offer two years of complimentary access to the FordPass Charging Network, made up of EA and Ford charging stations for a total of 12,000 stations and more than 35,000 plugs. Ford EV drivers will still need to pay for the energy they use and can do this through the FordPass app or using the car's in-dash screen.
The Ford deal is not the only one that Electrify America has announced. It will work with Byton, a Chinese automaker, to provide some free charging at EA stations when Byton launches its EVs in the U.S. in 2021. Byton drivers will be able to get as many 30-minute fast charging and 60-minute Level 2 charging sessions as they desire for the first two years of ownership. Porsche Taycan buyers will receive three years of unlimited 30-minute charging at Electrify America locations, while Audi e-tron owners will receive 1000 kilowatt-hours of charging at EA sites over four years, and even electric motorcycles can feel the free charging love. Buyers of the Harley-Davidson LiveWire will get the equivalent of 500 kilowatt-hours of complimentary charging over two years through Electrify America stations.
Other automakers are working with other charging networks. Nissan, for example, just announced a partnership with EVgo to provide $250 of prepaid charging credits to new Leaf buyers in participating markets. EVgo was started in 2010 and currently has more than 750 fast-charging locations in 66 markets. Anyone who's signed up with EVgo can also benefit from a roaming access agreement with ChargePoint to pay for their energy using an account with either company. Deals with the Electrify America and EV Connect networks have also been announced.
Speaking of ChargePoint, that network was founded in 2007 and is currently made up of over 100,000 "places to charge" in North America, mostly in the U.S. ChargePoint has been working with automakers to give out introduction kits for new EV drivers in several new cars from brands like Chevrolet, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar and Mitsubishi. ChargePoint doesn't offer any package deals per se, since it operates stations for independent owners and does not set pricing nor offer a subscription service for drivers.
Tesla's Superchargers and Destination Chargers
Finally, let's discuss Tesla, the flashiest station operator out there. The company operates its own network of Superchargers (basically, DC fast chargers that only its own vehicles can use) and Destination Chargers (basically, Level 2 chargers) that the company has installed at hotels, restaurants, and shopping centers. Globally, Tesla says it has 1636 Supercharger stations with 14,497 Superchargers. The cost to use these chargers depends on your vehicle and the rules of the destination charger owner. Some Model S and X owners can charge up for free at Superchargers, and others, including Model 3 owners, have to pay. Tesla says the cost to charge up is approximately $0.28 per kilowatt hour today, or $23 for 300 miles in a Model S. Tesla owners can also earn 1000 miles of free Supercharging if they convince someone else to buy a Tesla and that person uses their referral code. The buyer will also get 1000 free miles to use at a Supercharger.
That last part is not what gas-station users are accustomed to, and there's a lot else that will change about the automotive landscape as more and more EVs fill the world's highways and are out looking for places to charge. It's certain to be interesting as the competing companies jostle for position, and probably to the consumer's benefit.