Thursday, May 30, 2013

Blink Fast Charge Rates

Guessing most of you are not surprised that this would be the next topic of conversation. So lets start with news that is not news any more since the announcement spread like wildfire thru-out the EV community. Ecotality, makers of Blink DC Fast charge stations announced a fee structure of $5 for members, $8 for guests.  Yes, the dreaded flat fee.  That means whether you are charging for 5 minutes or 55 minutes, you will pay the same.

As we are all well aware; the furor over this announcement has been quick, passionate and very one-sided.  Nearly all of us agree that $5 is very reasonable and not charging a per minute rate is a mistake. Portland Oregon's Electric Avenue Fast charge stations usage patterns show the average charge time to be just over 15 minutes with nearly half of the charging session at 10 minutes or less.  This allows many more people a shot at the very limited number of charging slots. IOW, OR EV'rs have learned the concept of sharing and working together.  "Get what you need, no more and move on!"

Yesterday, due to work needs. I had exhausted most of my range and errands used up the rest. Due to time constraints, charging at home was not an option. So, I picked up my Son from school to take him to his appointment but swung by the Tumwater DCFC (AV station) to get a charge. Pulled in with about 4 miles of range. I started my charge and Steve Marsh pulls in. He is also on empty and in a hurry but he got lucky in that he was behind me. You see, my average charge time is 10-12 minutes and mostly because of work constraints where I simply don't have the time to charge to 80%.  I charged as long as I could and got my 6.335 Kwh in 9 minutes and rushed off to my appointment.  Steve who works in Taylor Town which is 15 miles down the road and has a charger at work to use would only be charging for less than 10 minutes as well. So there you have it, two happy customers in less time than a single customer doing a 30 minute charge.

  Another thing to consider is new users. More than a few times I have shown new LEAFers that they did not have to wait until the charger stopped on their own. Once I ran into a lady who was furiously texting away on her phone when I pulled up. we talked a bit and she revealed she was concerned over making an appointment on time and whether her charge would be finished in time. well, I found out range was not an issue and walked over and hit the "stop" button and she was GRATEFUL!   A per minute fee structure intuitively gives them this knowledge.

So what is the reasoning behind Ecotality's decision here?  Is it get the $5 no matter what?  They have to know that most of us don't charge for 30 minutes.  Now in parts of California, the peak electricity rates are so high, they would be barely breaking even if the LEAFer was low and looking to get a full charge.  Which brings up another point; Is Ecotality charging the same rates nationwide? How is that making sense?

The prime goal of any business is an economic model that makes sense. Being able to pencil out the usage of their products and predicting revenue. In the case of charging stations; the revenue options are quite clear. You cant increase revenue unless you change your fee structure or put more chargers into the ground. Ecotality being buoyed by federal dollars has had the luxury of being able to experiment a bit with their business model but the money is running out. They have done a lot for the EV community but some of their actions has simply not been received well. I hesitate to say this (since I did not get one anyway...) but I have to think that I would have rather seen more effort put into getting more chargers put into the ground instead of handing out free home charging stations. (now if I had gotten one, I might have thought differently but since I charge at home about 89% of the time using a system I paid for, I actually don't...)

After all, Ecotality's role was to bolster EV adoption and they chose to do so by spending most of their fed dollars handing out free chargers. This resulted in  die hard early EV adopters being happy but did little to encourage fence-sitters to jump in.  Home chargers simply do not make a public impact.  Public chargers do. The huge amount of L2's installed around the region did make an impact to the general public because people saw them.  But Ecotality started charging for that access way too early in the game. The pattern of usage for the L2's had not been well established. Partly due to the slowness of the charge (we all did 3.3 kw back then) and partly due to questionable locations. But all that is a done deal. Not the best way to go but its history. We need to move on but looks like the path is not turning into the right direction.  Ecotality will alienate some of their clientele which cant be a good thing because many have already had several issues with reliability, mismanagement, slow charger rollouts, etc.

My charging fee structure will make Ecotality more money and is much less likely to create queuing issues at the stations itself.  What about a two tiered rate based on either time or charge/time combined?

1) Charge a one dollar connection fee. 15 cents a minute for the first 20 minutes, then 20 cents a minute afterwards.  This adds up to $6 for the first 30 minutes AND matches AV's rate of $2.50 (also a per charge session that although a GREAT deal is still wrong!) if charging for 10 minutes. 

2) charge by the Kwh.  Once again, a one dollar connection fee. Then 25 cents (this SHOULD be adjusted to local market rates. I am using this as the cheapest rate for people paying under 10 cents per kwh at home) per kwh plus 20 cents a minute after 20 minutes.

Both scenarios above are very reasonable for the drivers, provides greater revenue potential for Ecotality and will build brownie point for them which the really really need.

One final note; When you get down to it, $5 for a charge is very reasonable and if its an emergency, its a down right bargain. But the key thing to remember is that if Ecotality had come out and built the 22 fast charge stations as promised and they were rock solid reliable, then I really think the furor over this fee structure would have  been localized among a few die-hards because Ecotality would have built up a strong base of very loyal and grateful customers.  But that did not happen. Like any relationship gone bad, it has to be built back up. Ecotality has not done that and their recent press release blaming everyone but themselves over the slow roll out did not help matters either.

Ecotality; if you are listening take the advice of a good marriage counselor.  There are a lot of people who won the battle that are now living alone...

**EDIT**  If you think the per session charge of $5 is not the way to go, express your opinion here

****Public Service  Alert****
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