How Much Will it Cost to Charge Your Electric Car in Public?

By · December 09, 2010

Coulomb Technologies CT 500 Networked Charge Station

Regardless of whether or not you buy into the idea that public charging stations are critical for the widespread acceptance of electric cars to combat "range anxiety," there is currently a huge push in this country and around the world to get public stations installed in a hurry to prepare for the first wave of plug-ins.

Programs like the EV Project, as well as some state- and locally-funded initiatives, are using a combination of taxpayer and private resources to put charge stations in key locations—the EV Project alone seeks to put in more than 15,000 of them by the end of next year. In addition, several privately-held organizations seeking to become major players in the charging network world have announced plans to create their own networks, including Coulomb Technologies, ECOtality (also the managers of the EV Project) and NRG Energy.

But as much talk as there is about installing public charging stations, the question of what kind of pay-per-usage model will work for them is largely unanswered. According to an article over at BNET by the widely know next generation automotive blogger, Jim Motavalli, most public charging, at least initially, will cost an incredibly high $3.50 per hour of charging.

Explaining that this is a result of two factors—one, that current laws typically preclude anybody but utilities from selling electricity by the kilowatt hour; and, two, that any charge station operator who wants to make some money off the deal has to plan for the worst case usage scenario—Motavalli finds out from the Florida-based "Car Charging Group" that they plan on billing charge station users about 50 cents per kilowatt hour at their privately-owned stations—roughly four times the national residential average of 12 cents per kilowatt hour. Because the Car Charging Group can't charge by the kilowatt hour in most states, they have to resort to charging in one-hour increments.

This strategy ends up being unfair because not all cars charge at the same rate due to differences in on-board equipment—as points of reference, on a Level 2 charge station the Chevy Volt can add 2.2 kilowatts per hour, the Nissan LEAF can add 3.3 kilowatts, the Coda Sedan can add 6.6 kilowatts and the Tesla Roadster a whopping 7.2 kilowatts. The Car Charging Group has adjusted their hourly rates to the worst case scenario—the Roadster—resulting in a cost of $3.50 (7 kW X $.50) per hour to all users regardless of vehicle type. For a LEAF—likely the most common of vehicles to use these chargers in the first years—that means you'd be paying $3.50 for roughly 13 miles of range... if you charge for a full hour... which just seems like highway robbery. It is interesting to note that the Car Charging Group seems to be cooperating with Coulomb and all the stations they install will operate on Coulomb's ChargePoint network.

Although this represents one company's vision of how a charging station network will operate, I certainly don't think it means you should expect to pay $3.50 per hour of charge on most stations. In fact, I'd hazard to guess that the companies that choose this ludicrous method will quickly find they have no customers.

Other organizations such as NRG Energy in Houston are operating on a flat fee model where users get to fill up with unlimited amounts of juice at all networked charge stations—even at home—for a set monthly price. This model can work for people who drive over a certain amount but may not work for those that don't drive that much and who will probably opt for simply charging at home.

In addition there will likely be a large number of charge stations that are offered for free as part of a customer using some other service the charge station operator is providing (hotels, coffee shops, mini marts, wineries, parking garages, etc.). Because the price of electricity is, literally, pennies, and most of these places can't resell the electricity anyways, the charge station will simply become another marketing tool—a means to brand the business in a certain way and attract customers at the same time. Not only will charge stations allow business to attract actual EV drivers—a relatively small group for a long time to come—the largest benefit these businesses will likely see is increased traffic from people who support electric cars due to marketing and press coverage.

So there is certainly an impetus for businesses to install the station and give away the electricity as a side benefit for being a patron—at least during the first few years. Where I live in Central Washington State there is a movement to brand the region as an "EV tourist" destination—where many of the local tourist spots and destinations including ski resorts, hotels, wineries, and mini marts are planning on attracting tourists from Seattle with just that strategy. And in Connecticut, where Motavalli points out the Car Charging Group is planning on installing some of their own stations that charge the ridiculous prices, other parking garages are planning on installing charge stations which will then be provided free of charge for those that pay to park.

Clearly the wild west world of charging networks and public charging has a lot of maturing to do relatively quickly, but to say that most people should expect to pay $3.50 an hour for public charging I think misses the bigger picture that many ideas are being thrown at the wall right now and only some will stick. Somehow I just don't see paying $3.50 for 12 miles of range delivered in an hour as the winning combination.

Comments

· Kevin Sharpe (not verified) · 3 years ago

I don't think anyone will pay... they will just stop at the nearest restaurant or other parking spot where it's free to charge. Electricity is cheap and adding complex systems to monitor it's use just drives up the cost to the end user.

· · 3 years ago

I might pay $3.50 for an occasional DC fast charge, but not for an hour of Level 2 charging. Municipalities should offer weather tight 120v outlets on parking meters so you could at least trickle charge while you are running around. They could perhaps collect a small additional premium for that convenience.

I wonder who will offer the first car cover with integrated flexible PV for charging EVs? I suppose you would need to have a low voltage DC connection to your battery pack, perhaps via the regen circuit.

· · 3 years ago

I can see some merits to each type of system.

For example, the pay-per-use is good for people who would mostly charge at home/work, but semi-rarely find themselves in a situation where range might be a concern. They can then pay a one-time premium to use a charging station. Would work well for quick-charging.

Subscription seems like a good model for someone who doesn't have access to home charging for whatever reason, or would routinely find themselves using public stations. As a bonus, subscription plans would allow charge station reservations. Also seems like a good option for fleet vehicles.

And of course having complimentary charging at businesses seems pretty obvious. For example, a few people on the mynissanleaf forum have been contacting their local Costco retailers to update their charging spots.

Personally, I think a good scheme would be to integrate L1/L2 charging with parking meters. They already have parking meters that accept credit cards so just add a few cents for EV charging as well!

· KeiJidosha (not verified) · 3 years ago

It is hard to know what it will be like as more charge sites and EVs hit the street. But if Alt Car Expo and the LA Auto show are a bellwether, the Coulomb model may have benefits.

Both locations had two J1772 EVSEs available for charging during the show. And both spaces were full, at both shows (where else could this happen), when I arrived. Not a problem at Alt Car, but the LA Convention Center is outside my round trip range. This required a one hour charge stop (and delay) on the way home to complete the trip.

Free is hard for a lot of people to pass up. If the price to charge is more than one would normally pay at home, It will encourage availability for those that need it. Until charge sites are ubiquitous, the pay model has merits.

· Paul Scott (not verified) · 3 years ago

Here in CA, the Public Utility Commission recently voted to allow EV charge stations to sell kWh. This is a very good thing since a business owner, or a condo's HOA, could install charge stations and set the rate at which they want to charge for the kWh. They could give it away, set a rate equal to what their costs are, or set the rate higher and make a profit. It would be easy to allow any number of options.

I suspect public pressure over time will encourage other states to allow this sensible and fair solution to their residents.

· · 3 years ago

PAUL! How's it going Mr. LEAF salesman? Thanks for the comments, and although I was aware of California's recent changes I didn't want to add them to the article as it already felt long... But yes, there are some other states that are honestly considering allowing electricity to be resold by retailers in regards to EVSE... I suspect it won't be too long before it becomes commonplace either.

· · 3 years ago

Well, when the alternative is calling a tow truck, $3.5 sounds like a real bargain.
And if fast charging actually lets LEAF owners extend their range for the occasional trip past 100 miles, then you might fairly ask how many fast charges can be bought for the price of an ICE extender ?

As an aside, I have never grasped how a private charging station is going to be profitable when most of its customers are charging at home. It just seems to fit into an emergency service type option, and pricing is going to reflect this. I wonder if mobile charging units are not a better business case.

· · 3 years ago

$3.50 for a fast charge to get you 100 miles seems pretty reasonable considering folks aren't going to use it very often. It's better than half the price of 100 miles worth of gasoline.
I agree with SageBrush though. It isn't clear how private charging stations are going to be a huge moneymaker. Maybe a few at strategic locations along major travel routes or scattered strategically around a metropolitan area to handle those occasional high mileage days. The competition with home charging (90%) and convenience charging subsidized by business trying to draw customers in will be very tough.

· Michael (not verified) · 3 years ago

This is a great topic!

I don't see very many businesses giving away free power in the future. You can't even get gas stations to offer free air for your tires. It's not only the power, but the maintenance of the charging station, which is outside, and readily vandalized and abused. People will hop in their cars, forget the cord is attached, and rip it right out of the charging station.

· · 3 years ago

Given a Nissan LEAF with a new battery pack, it appears that a fast charge might get you, at best, about 60 freeway miles. Remember that Nissan's 100 mile rating is for slower city/suburban driving, and that DC fast chargers will give the LEAF an 80%, not 100%, charge. Paying $3.50 for 60 miles and having to find something to do at a highway rest stop for half an hour (assuming the charger isn't occupied when you get there) doesn't seem all that attractive. In a pinch, sure. But on a regular basis, it'd be more practical to just use the LEAF for shorter trips, and drive something else if you want/need to go further. Maybe fast charging will become more attractive when it can get you further.

"Opportunity charging" at stores seems much more practical. Charging station maintenance shouldn't be too difficult. I know that the LEAF will not let you drive off if the cord is attached.

· · 3 years ago

@ Michael, Driving away with the cord still attached? I'm hoping that all EVs will not even start if the charge cords are attached. That seems simple enough for the automakers to implement.

· Jeff N (not verified) · 3 years ago

Nick Chambers writes: "on a Level 2 charge station the Chevy Volt can add 2.2 kilowatts per hour, the Nissan LEAF can add 3.3 kilowatts".

I have read many times that the Volt and Leaf both charge at the same basic rate of around 3.3 kW on Level 2. What is the evidence that supports your claim that the Volt only charges at 2.2 kW?

Google "Chevrolet Volt 3.3 kW" and you find multiple sites including an article by you 14 weeks ago.
Google "Chevrolet Volt 2.2 kW" and you maybe find the story above on plugincars.com.

As recently as this Summer, GM engineers presented power point slides at a US Dept. of Energy meeting showing 220V @ 16A charging for a Volt in 4 hours at 3.3 kW (it would be a good trick to charge ~12.9 kWhs (EPA estimate) at 2.2 kW in 4 hours as you claim in your article).

See slide 20 from:

http://www1.eere.energy.gov/vehiclesandfuels/pdfs/merit_review_2010/veh_...

· Kevin Sharpe (not verified) · 3 years ago

@Michael: You cannot drive away an EV with the cord attached. As @dgpcolorado stated the cars have an interlock which prevents this from happening.

With regards to vandalism, I think this is easily solved by deploying very large numbers of ultra-low cost charge points. If your parking lot had 30 or so charge points then it's unlikely that they would all be out of action at the same time, and even if they were, then you'd have more in the next parking lot, or further up the street.

The problem with the current charge point hardware is that it's very expensive and complex. If we approached this problem like any other piece of street furniture design then we could come up with a robust and low cost solution for charge points everywhere.

This project has the capacity to create many thousands of US jobs.... imagine deploying charge points in every street in America.

· JJ (not verified) · 3 years ago

These stations also have to factor in municipal taxes for their lot and other overheads.
But it will be a good feature to attract customers if stores and restaurants have them.

· Kevin Sharpe (not verified) · 3 years ago

@JJ: what we have found in the UK is that we can generate more demand from restaurants and hotels than we can possibly meet. If you deliver an ultra low cost and simple charge point then everyone wants to install them because it gives them an edge over the competition and attracts customers.

· Steve C (not verified) · 3 years ago

My concern about public charging stations is vandalism. I would not be comfortable plugging my vehicle into a downtown parking meter and walking away for a couple hours.
I'd be worried that some foolish kids or worse a "real American" who believes it's his God given right to $2.00 a gallon gas and hates tree hugging lib-er-als like me will unplug it or cut my cord. No thanks. I know people who have had their Prius' vandalized by these
knuckledraggers. I'd love to own LEAF and if I ever do I will charge it at home in my locked garage.

My $.02
Steve

· · 3 years ago

@ Michael - "You can't even get gas stations to offer free air for your tires."

Hess stations have free air, which is funny because they don't even operate repair shops which would have an air compressor anyway. But the larger point is, offering $1-$2 in free electricity could result in $20-$30 in business for them, especially since you'll be sticking around while charging anyway.

@Steve C

Based on what I've seen on the Japanese website, It is at least an option for the Leaf to get a locking shackle for the J1772 connector. Add your own lock. There's also a cover available which conceals the charging port and connector, which might help since if people don't see the connector it might not even occur to them to try unplugging it.

Not much you can do to protect against cutting the cord, although I'd imagine that would be easier said than done. I know the charging units are required to have pilot relays so they shut off if the connection is broken, but I'd imagine a cutter would hit one or both of the main cables before severing the pilot wire - zap!

Or you could just put a surplus "McCain/Palin '08" bumper sticker on your car and hope to confuse the local yokels into inaction. :)

· · 3 years ago

"Real" Americans don't want to be slaves to Middle East oil barons! I was thinking of some sort of anti-terrorist bumper sticker.

· · 3 years ago

We had surprisingly little vandalism problems with California's EV charging infrastructure from the 90's. There certainly were problems but many sites are over 10 years old and still in working shape.
The new cars will tell you wirelessly if your car has been unplugged.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

It seems to defeat the purpose of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. If it costs me $4 to go 20 miles why should I pay $3.50 to go only 12. To get to my 20 mpg I would be using more energy (cost to produce electricty + sell for price) and this doesn't look any better than what we have now. It won't lessen the air quality except if you are going by air quality where YOU live only...

· · 2 years ago

Anonymous: It's not defeating the purpose at all. 95% of the time you charge at home, where you can drive about 30 miles for every dollar in electricity you pay. Once in a while, you may need to charge at a public charging station and in those rare instances you will pay more, but your overall fuel expense will probably be about 1/3 of what it currently is using gasoline.

· Tom (not verified) · 2 years ago

Wow, Figure in the $40,000 for the car and the cost of the fires and it gets pretty expensive.

· · 2 years ago

It's not that bad Tom. We get $7,500 of YOUR money to play with our expensive toys, at least before they burst into flames as they all eventually do. Thanks!

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