by Geoffrey Pohanka
There is a growing push in the U.S. and throughout much of the developed world to convert transportation from a primary reliance on fossil fuels to an almost-exclusive use of renewable energy (wind and solar). With this goal come promises of unlimited clean and free energy, the creation of millions of green jobs, and the benefit of helping save the planet from an imminent climate catastrophe.
Even if those promises are accurate, there are serious barriers to making such a transition, especially in our consumer-driven economy. To replace the current gasoline/diesel-powered fleets, consumers would expect electric-vehicle range, cost, and fueling times to be somewhat similar to what they now have. If consumers are disappointed with EV options, they will simply keep their older, more fuel-inefficient, less safe, and more polluting gasoline/diesel-powered vehicles, which today average over eleven years of age. Keeping their old cars would affect the economy, since millions of jobs are dependent on vehicle manufacturing and sales.
In my December article on EV charging times, I sampled Volkswagen’s Electrify America fast-charging network. Driving a 2021 Hyundai Kona Ultimate EV, with its 250 miles of fully charged range, I found that to achieve an 80% charge required over one hour’s time. With the 80 miles I drive on average every day, this would require a charge at least every other day, adding up to over 200 hours each year, assuming a charging station was both available and conveniently located. Fueling the gasoline-powered Hyundai Genesis that I normally drive requires less than five minutes, and the car has twice the range of my Kona EV. Charging would become a major inconvenience if I did not have access to a home charger.
I then decided to try another large public, non-Tesla, super-charging network – EVgo. Both EVgo and Electrify America have apps that provide various functions including station locations. Both provide membership discounts. Electrify America does a good job communicating via texts while you are charging, and EVgo’s app provides access to your complete charging history. I could use my credit card at the Electrify America charging station, but to use some EVgo chargers, one must first acquire a swipe card.
At the EVgo charging station at a major-area shopping center, I saw two charging towers with four cords. Two 50 kWh cords fit the Nissan Leaf and two cords fit my Hyundai Kona. I plugged my car in, swiped the card over the reader, and began charging. The charger screen said that with my 11% safety range that I drove in with, an 80% charge would require one hour and 17 minutes. I was prepared, though, and used this idle time to finish reading a book, watch part of a Netflix series, and even close my eyes for a few minutes. After a while, something did not seem right. Looking at the screen on the charger, I saw that my session had ended about 20 minutes earlier. My car had apparently not received its full 80% charge. Wanting to complete my charge, I simply started a new session and 25 minutes later drove back to the office. I wasn’t sure why I was unable to get the full 80% charge and decided to try the same charger again a few days later to see if that session would be any different.
The second time I visited the same EVgo 50kW charging station, the session ended after 45 minutes. My battery had achieved only a 65% charge with a 163-mile range (less if I need to use my vehicle’s heater). This is considerably less than the 250-mile maximum range of a fully charged battery or the approximately 200-mile range of an 80% charged battery. I then called the EZgo toll-free number on the charging station. EZgo cutely names each of its chargers, and mine was named Ladarius. The EVgo operator promptly answered, and I described my charging experience. I was not expecting to hear that the charging session is supposed to end at 45 minutes because charging for longer would damage my vehicle’s battery. “If you charge your car over 45 minutes, your battery will be worth nothing in a year.” I knew that this information was inaccurate; I thanked the operator and ended the call. This charging session required one hour and 53 minutes, including the 40-minute round trip between my office and the charging station.
Arriving back at work, I again called the EVgo 800 number. The operator this time said that the chargers were designed to provide only a 45-minute charge. I asked why. They responded that there might be people in line waiting to use the charger.
The EVgo website states that vehicles can be nearly fully charged (to 80%) in under 30 minutes using their fast chargers. This was not my experience. My 80% charge, if I could get one, would require one hour and 17 minutes, according to the EVgo screen. The EVgo website also explains that it provides only 45-minute charging sessions, though 60-minute sessions, from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., were available for a $7.99 monthly subscription.
If I had to solely rely on EVgo for charging my Hyundai Kona Ultimate EV with its 250-mile maximum range, and following the EVgo “etiquette,” I would have to operate with a 165-mile range and only 145 miles of that usable range, allowing for a 20-mile safety cushion. Driving a minimum of 80 miles each day back and forth to work, I could not even drive two round trips without having to recharge the battery.
I found the Electrify America charging network superior to EVgo. Electrify America provides a full 80% charge. EVgo charges 30 cents per minute, and the cost to charge my Kona per kWh was between 40 and 44 cents. With the $7.99 per-month membership, the cost is reduced 10%. A non-member using Electrify America pays 43 cents per kWh and 31 cents per kWh with a $4 monthly membership fee. Power costs might vary among states.
I have ordered the Volkswagen ID.4 EV 1st Edition model SUV and look forward to its delivery this spring. The ID.4 comes with three years of free charging using the Electrify America network, a 250-mile range, and a more rapid rate of charge. I believe that the ID.4 will be a winner, both from a cost and performance standpoint. I will put it to the test once I have it.
Unless battery-charging times are significantly reduced and the network of available charging stations is substantially increased, EV consumers will find it challenging to rely primarily on public fast-chargers. President Biden’s pledge to construct 500,000 additional fast-charging stations would provide greater access to rapid-charger locations but will not reduce charging times. Clearly at-home/at-work charging is vastly superior to the public fast-charging network. I can only imagine how many additional chargers the government would need to acquire to charge the 645,000 vehicles in the government fleet if it switched them all to EVs. Charging at home or work is the preferred method, and the same would hold true of the government fleet. Charging every third day, the government might have to install as many as 215,000 chargers, or more, just for its own vehicles.
– – –
Geoffrey Pohanka is a third-generation automobile dealer. He is chairman of the Pohanka Automotive Group in Capitol Heights, Maryland.
Photo “Electric Cars” by Felix Kramer (CalCars). CC BY-SA 2.0.