Saturday, June 8, 2013

Improving Charging Options.

The announcement of Ecotality's flat $5 fast charge fee, the expected uproar from the EV community,  the lengthening lines at the chargers, the nearly empty L2's, AND the accelerating sales of the LEAF may not qualify as a "brick wall" to EV acceptance. But it is likely to be a hindrance rivaling the scale of inconvenience caused by the Skagit River Bridge collapse on I-5.

It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to see conspiracy theorists claiming Ecotality's announcement is a marketing move to get more L2 revenue from the disgruntled fast chargers wanting just a 10 minute blast while shortening the lines for people who actually need the full 30 minutes.

But on the eve of the start of the flat fee, Ecotality has barely acknowledged the discussion exists but one can only hope their minimal reply is a result of very active discussions at their corporate level.  Now they might want to think about their own conflicting business model. On the one hand, they charge a fee based on time for L2's but a flat fee for L3's.  If anything, this is backwards. I can only speak for my area but L2's outnumber L3's greater than 100 to one.  (actually its "infinity to one" since I don't have ANY Blink fast chargers in my area)  Now Ecotality's explanation for charging by time was to prevent ICE'ing by EVs. IOW, time plugged in after the charge has been completed.  I can agree with that, but then common sense seems to fall away or maybe I am missing something?  Does it make sense to charge by time to prevent camping for locations that number in the hundreds verses a flat fee which encourages camping for stations that can be counted on one hand?

A glaring example of wasting their resources is Capital Gateway Park on 14th and Jefferson in Olympia.  Here sits 8 Blink L2's that seem to never get used.  The reason is simple. They are situated away from the main area used by most state employees which makes it at least a 20 minute walk for many, IOW unplugging and moving during a break is out of the question.  Granted there is a couple buildings in the area but most are 5-6 blocks away or more.  During the time when they were still free, I saw a Volt plugged in nearly every day. Every once in a while, I would see a LEAF or two joining it meaning less than 50% capacity.  I am willing to bet if Blink set up a "bulk rate" of sorts like? say $5 (where did I get that figure from??) which would be good for up to 9 hours or so, that every station would be full.  Now, does that allow more people to charge? no, it would be limited to 8 people but would generate 40 hours of charging revenue or $40 daily for Ecotality.  Now, that is not the best long term solution but it would be more than I expect they are making now.  Now is this fair for people who might have appointments with the State and need a few hours of charge to get back home afterwards?  Well no, but there are several chargers scattered in 1-3 plug configurations all around the downtown Olympia and Capital area which might prove a better fit. Thursday afternoon, I did a drive by of more than a dozen Blinks in the area.  I only saw 3 in use. (only one was actually charging...)

All this brings up the real challenge that we will need to address and that is how to address every charging need and then determine locations and types of chargers. So then, what are the needs?

The "A's"
Obviously we have the commuter and they fall loosely into two categories; short distance and long distance.  By short distance, I mean ones who can comfortably make it to work on a charge but might need a boost to make it home in bad weather or for errands on the way home. This group would be looking at getting a charge nearly every day but could actually do without it but it would be a bit of an inconvenience.

The "B's" 
These are the road warriors whose commute is at or beyond the new LEAF range which means they need something enroute within a few years or less to make it. They almost always  "have" to charge away from home every day.

The "C's"
They have a very short commute easily making it on an 80% charge and will be fine for years even with future degradation. Charge almost always at home but does make the longer trips on weekends and may need a charge occasionally on the road. This charge can be a few hours on an convenient L2 or a 15 minute boost at a QC or even plugging into 120 volts at the Sister's house for the day.

The "D's"
These are the "C's on steroids" for lack of a better term. They frequently plan trips that may require a half dozen charging stops during the weekend

Ok, so there you have it and like any list that "forces random shapes to choose between circles or squares"  many of us are a combination of these. Now as an EV'er my solution has always been put a fast charger at every gas station in the country and call it good.  After all, is that not where America fuels up?? We EV'ers are Americans (for the most part) right?  But as we all know that line of thinking doesn't seem to penetrate much beyond the EV community so I guess we need to look at other options.

Now, the first problem we have is money. Everyone whines about costs (kinda hard to believe as we ignore the "herd of Elephants in the room AKA "Associated Oil Costs") being too much and that we EV'ers are somehow being pampered by the government dole? If anyone has a good explanation on that, I would be interested in hearing it because I feel kinda ignored. But it is a discussion between 50,000 EVers and 250 million Gassers, so it might be better to table the discussion until we can at least get better odds "up" to something doable like The Battle of Thermoplyae  and although LEAFs are really starting to take off, I think its still at least a year away.  And since we can put in like 10-15 L2's for every L3, then this really begs the question? how many L1's can we put in for the cost of every L2?

Another possible reason for Ecotality charging a flat $5 for a fast charge is that they realize most only charge for a short period of time and do so because they have no other choice. So by putting the screws to the "B's" they are increasing their revenue but at what cost?  I think Ecotality is getting desperate and are in a panic to solidify a revenue stream and they are going about it the wrong way.  What they should be looking at for a real cash cow is installing banks of 120 volt charging stations at major employers and billing a daily or monthly subscription fees.  This gives about a 40 mile boost for the average "8 hour a day" employee and prevents situations like being billed $50 for a 5 hour charge like an unfortunate airline traveler who plugged into a Blink L2 (read link above...)  This covers the "A's" and will also encourage a LOT more potential A's to go EV. For this I would bill 50 cents an hour, $3 a day or $55 a month.  This could also be used as an employee incentive. Free charging for Employee of the Month, 50% off for car poolers. Hey! great ideas breed greater ideas! This should make the A's plenty happy! Instead of paying an extra $8,000-18,000 for the range of a RAV 4 EV they can just get the range conveniently while parked at work for a very reasonable cost.

The next thing we need to look at is where is the best place to put the L2's?  Some feel that grocery stores are best for fast chargers but I have to disagree (remember you can post feedback here and I am sure that comment will bring up things to say!) and the biggest reason why is because I do not feel that fast chargers should be used for 30 minutes. In this hustle, bustle world we live in, time is important and 30 minutes at a fast charger is not in your best interests of time management  So I think that fast chargers should be located in areas where the stopping time is more along the line of 10-15 minutes which means a fast food stop (50 million fast food visits daily makes for a HUGE potential market), convenience stores or a waypoint for regional travel near major roads and freeways. And make it a per minute charge with tiered pricing for longer duration charges to encourage people to just get what the need and go.  Also allow dual head chargers to use one of their heads to charge intelligently!  There is no reason why the queued vehicle cannot start charging when the charging vehicle charging rate drops sufficiently to allow it.  All the Blinks I have seen have a 60 Kwh power available (per their screen) and the LEAF only charges at 48 kwh.  Even with a very low battery, the Blink should have the enough power to switch the queued vehicle on after about 18 minutes or so.  This will cover the D's  and get the B's in a "B"etter mood as well!

Shopping Malls and major retailers should be putting in the L2's for no other reason than to get a marketing edge on the competition. Sears, Target, and Walmart seem to be absent in this regards as least in this area. As major players  Walgreens has taken the lead in this area and with 8,077 locations nationwide we can only hope that they expand the current L2's from Semaconnect.  Now a lot of you might say that Walgreens is not a good location for L2 charging and for many that is right. A occasional fast charger positioned would be nice but considering the chargers Walgreens has installed up to now have been fully funded by Walgreens itself, I can only be grateful for the generosity and consideration they have given the EV community. They have most definitely won all my drugstore needs! And L2 can work in some situations.  Case in point; the last 2 times I picked up prescriptions were for my Son. The doctor's office phones them in and both times it was at the end of the day so had no other errands so I sent them to the Walgreens that had a charging station. I went there plugged in and went to pharmacy and as expected, the prescription was not ready yet.  This is something that really used to bother me because I have waited anywhere from 5 to 45 minutes. Never knowing when it was ready was irritating.  But in both situations, I was able to walk across the street, get some grocery shopping in (there is also several eateries available)  so got some fresh air, exercise, errands done and all while keeping my stress level low knowing I was adding range to my day!

Costco is another retailer that should be getting into the charging game.  My typical stops at Costco average an hour or so, sometimes longer. They could tailor the charge as free if you are a member (swipe your membership card!) and make it free if you are an executive or business member! But even with membership stores, one just does not have the occasion to be there that often so a time based fee is the only thing that makes sense so I guess Blinks Buck an Hour model is doable here and will cover the needs of all the letters above but more importantly of the C's who in their budget conscious thinking will have a day planned in the area to get the charge they need and the best part is that Costco just might be offering plugs again soon!

What this all boils down to is that charging per hour for L2's wont work when they are placed in locations that people normally park for extended periods. Unless you are in the habit of commuting by plane across town then the ideology of putting them in at airports really needs to be examined. Same for work locations. A few L2's would be nice to cover visitors and others who have the chance to move their car during a break or something but generally speaking, no... L1's providing 120 volts maybe slow but they are dirt cheap in comparison and is really all that most commuters need.  Any company that wants to earn a living charging EVs will need to realize that there is no part of the EV community that can be ignored. My charging needs change on a daily basis and I am betting so do many others here.  So Ecotality, lets get away from this "one fee structure fits all" ideology!

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