The Ultimate Guide to Electric Car Charging Networks

By · March 06, 2014

Public EV Chargers

When it comes to refueling a car, drivers of gas- and diesel-powered vehicles have it easy. They roll up to any one of about 180,000 gas stations in the U.S., pump in liquid fuel in a matter of minutes, and pay either in cash or with a credit card. Unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated with public charging for electric vehicles—although remember that almost all EV charging takes place at home, which usually requires about 30 seconds to plug in each night.

For EV drivers who want to regularly charge in public, it’s important to know about the handful of charging networks offering access to electric fuel on the go. Each network works a little differently. It’s a good idea for EV owners to have a basic understanding of how they compare with one another. That’s why we put together this basic guide on EV charging networks. It’s a work-in-progress, and your input and feedback is encouraged.

Cost Considerations

The three primary approaches are: (1) pay-as-you-go, (2) monthly subscriptions, and (3) free. Obviously, if given the opportunity, it makes sense to grab a free charge, even for a relatively short period of time. But the pay models, depending on the cost for a charge, need to be studied to determine which network makes the most sense for you; if it’s best to collect a wallet-full of membership cards; or if proper planning will allow you to avoid public charging unless you’re running very low on charge.

There are a few gotchas. Keep in mind that the amount of range you add per hour depends on the power capabilities of your car’s onboard charger. As Marc Geller, a director at Plug In America, an EV advocacy organization, told me: “If the car comes with a smaller charger, the cost is relatively higher than if you have a faster charger. It’s a weird fact.” Other oddities include credit card transactions and costs associated with leaving a car plugged in, even if the battery if fully charged and the electrons have stopped flowing.

Networks, such as eVgo, operated by NRG Energy, avoid some of these issues by using an all-encompassing all-you-can-charge subscription service. That brings clarity, but usually at a higher overall cost. As of February 2013, most public chargers are still available for free (although not every system makes it absolutely clear how much EV drivers are paying to charge).

High-Level Recommendations

  • First, think about your regular routes and favorite destinations. Then use PlugShare or another station finding tool to see which charging networks are along the way. Be prepared to use any of them.
  • ChargePoint is the biggest charging network, so it’s a must for nearly all EV drivers.
  • If you live in Pacific Northwest, get a key fob from Aerovironment for its AV Subscription Network.
  • In Texas, it's generally better to pay as you go with ChargePoint and Blink, rather than opting for multi-year expensive contracts with eVgo—unless you want to splurge for the convenience of an all-you-can-charge plan and, at this time, the ability to access DC fast charging.
  • On the east coast, SemaConnect is the best backup to ChargePoint.
  • Who doesn't like free? There are about 2,000 stations, mostly free, not associated with any of the networks listed below. Use PlugShare or other tools to find these stations.

One last caveat: The terminology of ''station” can be confusing and misleading. Some services call each individual charger a station, when the term station usually refers to a single public site with the capability to charge more than one car at a time.

List of Top EV Charging Networks

AEROVIRONMENT

AV Fast Charger

Background: Aerovironment, known as AV, is a pioneer in the development of electric vehicle charging technologies. The company sells a range of Level 2 and Quick Charge equipment, but also operates its own network of chargers.

Approximate Number of Sites: 40

Coverage: AV’s chargers, many of which are DC Quick Chargers, are primarily located in Oregon, and to a lesser extent, in Washington State—as part of the “West Coast Electric Highway.” AV also has a handful of charging locations in Hawaii.

Access: Unlimited monthly access is provided for $19.99 per month. Subscribing to the AV network starts with calling 888-833-2148 or filling out a form on AV’s website. The company will send a key fob that activates the chargers. If you are a current subscriber there is no activation fee. If you are a new subscriber, there will be a one-time activation fee of $15.

Cost per charge: As an alternative to the flat monthly access fee, there is the option of paying per session: $7.50/session for DC Fast Charger; and $4.00/session for a Level 2 charging station. (Per session payment is only available by calling the Customer Service Support Line at 888-833-2148).

Website: http://evsolutions.avinc.com/services/subscriber_network

Tech Support: 24/7 support at 888-332-2148.


BLINK NETWORK (Operated by CarCharging Group)

Blink Charger

Background: The assets of Blink Network were purchased by CarCharging Group in October 2013. Ecotality had received a $114.8 million federal stimulus grant to oversee The EV Project. The goal of The EV Project is to deploy 8,300 private and public chargers. There have been several reported problems associated with Blink chargers, and the Blink Network, such as insufficient customer support, and incompatibility of the equipment with certain vehicles.

Approximate Number of Sites: 1,260

Coverage: Blink Network chargers are located in approximately 24 states, with the largest concentration in California, Arizona, Oregon, Texas, Tennessee and Washington.

Access: Start by registering a credit card with a Blink account. There are no required annual or monthly membership fees, or minimum credit card balance. Members who register will receive an “InCard” and can initiate a charge using the card. Guests can initiate a charge with Blink’s mobile application.

Cost Per Charge: Blink fees are priced on an hourly basis. In its Blink Plus plan requiring a $30 annual fee (waived through 2013), charging is $1 per hour. Blink Basic, not requiring a fee, is charged at $1.50 per hour. Blink Guests pay $2 an hour. All of these rates are for Level 2 240-volt charging. Prices have not been established for DC Quick Charging on the Blink Network.

Website: http://www.blinknetwork.com

Technical Support: 24/7 technical support at 888-998-2546.


CHARGEPOINT

Chargepoint Charger

Background: Chargepoint, previously Coulomb Technologies, describes itself as the largest online network of independently owned EV charging stations operating in 14 countries. The company provides a turnkey EV charging solutions for property owners—who can determine the terms for offering charging to EV drivers.

Approximate Number of Sites: 2,918

Coverage: While one-quarter of ChargePoint stations are in California, the network is the most widely distributed with at least one station in more than 40 U.S. states.

Access: There is no cost to sign up and receive a ChargePoint card. After submitting your credit card information as part of the sign-up, you will be charged an initial deposit of $25 only when you first visit a charging station that requires a fee. (Many stations on the network are free.) Your account provides access to all public stations on ChargePoint. Charging stations are activated with the ChargePoint card, or a contactless credit card. The stations can also be activated by calling a toll-free customer service number on the ChargePoint station. Account balances automatically replenish when the balance gets low.

Cost Per Charge: Prices are determined by the property owner. Many ChargePoint stations are currently free.

Website: http://www.chargepoint.com

Technical Support: 24/7 customer support at 888-758-4389, with more robust technical support available 8 am to 5 pm eastern.


EVGO

eVgo Charger

Background: eVgo is subsidiary of NRG, a Fortune 300 and S&P 500 company. It’s one of the country’s largest power generation and retail electricity businesses, with power plants producing about 47,000 megawatts of generation capacity. eVgo is part of NRG’s clean energy portfolio, which includes solar, thermal, and carbon capture technology.

Approximate Number of Stations: 40, each with Level 2 and DC quick charging options.

Coverage: Currently, eVgo operates stations only in Texas, in the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth markets. The company is planning to expand to California and the greater Washington, DC area.

Access: NRG’s Texas network is only available to its monthly subscribers, but as its website states, the company “will always take care of an EV driver in need of a charge.”

Cost Per Charge: eVgo offers various plans based on the needs of an EV driver and the electric vehicle they have chosen. This is an overview of their three most popular all-you-can-charge plans. Starting at $19 a month, with a one-year service agreement, EV drivers have access to unlimited charging at the company’s so-called Freedom Station sites, which includes Level 2 and DC fast charging. The $49 a month Home plan, with a three-year service agreement, adds installation of your own home charging equipment—but not the cost of electricity that is separately metered. The Complete plan, also with a three-year service agreement, includes unlimited public charging, installation of the home equipment and also includes home electricity. The Complete plan is $89 a month.

Website: http://www.evgonetwork.com/

Technical Support: Contact support@evgonetwork.com.


SEMACONNECT

SemaConnect Charger

Background: Maryland-based SemaConnect offers Level 2 commercial grade EV charging station equipment and management software called SemaCharge. Their focus is on making charging as easy as possible for EV drivers and station owners. The company says it’s the fastest growing network on the east coast. SemaConnect is the third largest supplier of commercial grade Level 2 charging stations based on number of stations deployed.

Approximate Number of Sites: 300

Coverage: SemaConnect stations are located in 15 states, with the greatest concentration in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, DC, Georgia, California and the Pacific Northwest.

Access: To sign up, log on to the SemaConnect website, and open a new account with a $20 balance charged to a major credit card. You will receive a “SemaCharge Pass” RFID card that can be used to initiate charging at any SemaConnect location. If the balance drops below $0.00, the associated credit card will add another $20 to your account. SemaConnect also offers mobile payments via its smartphone application, toll-free number, or via a QR code scan.

Cost per charge: The cost varies, as determined by the property owner.

Website: http://www.semaconnect.com

Tech support: Available 9 am to 5 pm EST at 800-663-5633.


TESLA SUPERCHARGERS

Tesla Supercharger

Background: In fall 2012, Tesla Motors, the makers of the Model S sedan, rolled out its first so-called “Superchargers,” in order to make road trips available for free to owners of its sporty luxury sedan.

Approximate Number of Sites: As of February 2014, there are nearly 80 available Superchargers.

Coverage: Supercharger stations are situated throughout the United States.

Access: Tesla Superchargers do not require a card to initiate. Model S owners simply drive up and plug in. The chargers are available to owners of Model S models with the 85 kWh battery pack, or cars with the 60 kWh pack that have been configured to use Superchargers.

Cost Per Charge: Free. No sign up and no cost for electricity.

Website: http://www.teslamotors.com/supercharger

Technical Support: Available toll-free at 877-79-TESLA


Read next: Eight Rules of EV Charging Etiquette

Comments

· · 1 year ago

In Illinois they main company is ChargePoint. I have been driving EVs for just over a year. I am amazed how many ChargePoint chargers are broken. Most places have 2 chargers and so far I have never seen a case where both are actually working. Several charger have been broken for at least a year (as long as I owned an EV) even after reporting them several times as broken. Early in my EV driving another ChargePoint charger almost left me stranded (the handle was broken and it took me 15 minutes to get to disconnect from my car without it giving me any charge). I only just made it home but I sold my Leaf the next week because it is clear that if you live in a ChargePoint area a pure EV is not an option. I now drive a Volt and am no longer affected by the crumbling Chargepoint infrastructure.

I am wondering if other people have better experiences with their charging companies?

· · 1 year ago

Great article Brad. I wanted to let your readers know about another option for EV charging away from home. Adopt a Charger is a non profit organization that solicits sponsorship of EV charging at popular destination locations like parks, museums, and universities. The sponsor covers the cost of installation, maintenance, AND electrical usage. This allows the host site to offer the charge to users at no cost.

Adopt a Charger is moving to a “pay it forward” option where drivers can make a tax free donation to keep charging free at a particular location. For EV drivers who perform 90% of their charging at home, it does not make economic sense to join a subscription service for $20-30 per month when you rarely need public charging. For more information visit www.adoptacharger.org and please keep in touch with us on Facebook. Thanks - Kitty

· · 1 year ago

For the Southwest, Blink and ChargePoint are most common installed base. I would recommend Plugshare along with Recargo as charge site aggregators. And the proprietary apps from ChargePoint, Blink, and others can show you real time availability, as well as provide notifications of status change while charging.

· · 1 year ago

Well, its a good thing Pass & Seymour (who historically made excellent equipment --->> WHAT HAPPENED? (hehe) ) LeGrande , and also Schneider Electric don't have huge networks of their own, because Tesla Roadsters and Toyota Rav4EV's wont work with them. There are other cars and other brand charging docking stations which are also incompatible, but these mentioned are the ones with which I'm familiar.

· · 1 year ago

The number of Blink chargers is way off. If the author had just gone to the website that he listed himself, he would have seen there are far more than 1,240. The current listed number is 3,121 across the country.

· · 1 year ago

The problem with public charging networks is that nobody can tell how to make money by charging vehicles. You can make some profit selling and installing charging equipment, but income from charging itself hardly covers ongoing expenses and amortization of infrastructure investment.
Even if those companies have income but doesn't have profit from charging we can't expect good service.
That's another excellent idea from Elon's team - for Tesla supercharges are probably partially financed from marketing budget because good supercharger network helps sales.

· · 1 year ago

Not sure if its a mistake but on the lowes.com website, the Schneider Electric 30 amp deLuxe EV Link is now $199. Considering I bought mine for $735, that's pretty good pricing.

· · 1 year ago

Its apparently a mistake, they just changed the basic one to $699 and the DeLuxe one up to the normal DeLuxe price. I should have know it couldn't last.

· · 1 year ago

I've gotta say that your quoted EVGO prices are way off. Currently, they are charging $39 per month for the On-the-Go mobile charging plan (plus an additional $19 activation fee). And the home plans start at $59 per month, plus activation. True, the initial banner states that the On-the-go plans "start" at $19 per month, but I can't find any evidence of a plan less than $39 per month. That's a pretty big bait-and-switch.

· · 1 year ago

@Blusueds - Thanks for your note. We received the pricing guidelines directly from eVgo, so I reached out to them with your comment. This was the reply, explaining the pricing structure that they outlined for PluginCars.com:

"I was outlining our most popular plans (not our only plans in Texas) and provided price ranges of those popular plans to keep the plans easy to recap for your article. eVgo has MANY plans based on the needs of an EV driver and the electric vehicle they have chosen.

"Your commenter makes a fair point as not all of our plans are available for reference on our website. Our goal is, after seeing the plan guidelines on our website, that customers can then determine the best plan for their EV driving needs by speaking with an eVgo representative.

"We do have a $19 On-The-Go plan. This On-The-Go plan is Level 2 only and is ideal for a Volt driver i.e. eVgo has plans for all types of EVs and looks to best serve an EV drivers needs. This plan is where the “starts at” reference comes from. What is true is that you can’t look that particular plan up on the website yet. We are currently in the process of updating and revising our website to better reflect our available plans."

Based on this feedback, we made a slight revision to eVgo's listing in this guide, to reflect that it offers many different pricing structure (frankly that still seem a bit murky).

· · 1 year ago

Suggestion: if you see a new public charging station in a useful place, like in a shopping mall you may use,
consider finding a way to let appropriate people know that it is a good idea.
I sent such a note to the management company of a mall, letting them know that I went there (and spent money there) solely because of the free chargers recently installed.

· · 1 year ago

Around me, some stations are free.

Other ones, like the two in front of the local Walmart, charge by the hour. [When I ran into this problem 6-9 months ago] I was told that there is a 30 second to 1 minute grace period and then you're charged for the full hour, irrespective of whether you pull 1 1/2 minutes or 59 1/2 minutes of power.

That suggests that you have to time your Walmart (or other shopping) trips to be exactly 1 hour (or two hours). Else you're paying for power you didn't actually receive.

· · 46 weeks ago

great article. i was looking at semaconnect and blink for my office but went with blink when i found out that semaconnect runs on the 350Green network, and the FBI is looking at 350Green...

· · 19 weeks ago

Have had great experiences with Chargepoint charging stations. Used them dozens of times and they always work correctly. Have used a variety of Blink stations and they were about 50% working/not working. It will be interesting to see what the new ownership does to improve consistency.

Looking forward to when they all accept credit cards instead of stupid network membership cards.

· · 6 weeks ago

Great article, Brad. Thank you! I was told by someone at ChargePoint that they had 16,000 stations across the US now. early 100% of them are level 2, although they networked a limited number of Nissan CHAdeMO quick chargers in a pilot project.

· · 6 weeks ago

@surfing I just updated the number of ChargePoint sites to nearly 3,000. You have to be careful when citing these numbers, because everybody uses something slightly different. We are trying to focus on the geographical locations, rather than the specific number of plugs and outlets. This appears to be the only way to create a level playing field. So, 16,000 would be an exaggeration.

Also, it's not that important to them individual driver how many overall stations a network has across the country. The important thing to know is where the stations are relative to where you drive. For that, PlugShare continues to be the go-to resource. PluginCars.com embeds the PlugShare map into our site, via the top navigation link for charging stations.

· · 6 weeks ago

Brad, yes, understood. Thanks for the comment. I just wanted to mention that for the sake completeness. Perhaps it would make sense to add the number of stations each manufacturer claims to have. I know for a fact that ChargePoint has over 500 unlisted stations at Google, and it's probably not fair to included them in this count. That said, based on my own observations, I'm fairly confident that they have more than 3,000 public stations in the US. I'm just not sure how to account for them. Perhaps via PlugShare?

· · 2 days ago

I guess the number of such charging stations across the city is still very low. If we really want to increase the electric car owners we need to put more such stations. As most of the people fear to get an electric car as charging them is still a big problem. But if such stations are built across the city that will encourage the people to opt for it. Looking forward for more such stations at least at all refueling stations across the state.
Audi Repair Campbell

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