Fast Charging: For Some, It's a Way of Life

By · November 24, 2014

Karl's EV

Karl Boekelheide charges up on Oregon's AeroVironment network. (Karl Boekelheide photo)

For Demetri Spantidos, a Weston, Connecticut resident who works as a network engineer in nearby hedge fund-rich Greenwich, fast charging his Tesla Model S is now a way of life, made possible by convenient state-run public stations.

"I don't charge at home much anymore," Spantidos told me. "I was doing that, but the utility actually called me to point out that I was using $50 to $100 more in electricity than I did before. Now I stop at the Greenwich Superchargers on the highway every two days, and check email or surf the web while I'm waiting. I'm used to it; I even drove to Florida once on the Tesla network."

Not a bad deal for Tesla owners, especially since the multiple Supercharger locations in the state offer free electricity. Even if Spantidos (who likes Tesla so much he made a handsome sum investing in its stock) didn't drive a Tesla, he'd still be OK with a Nissan LEAF because most of those Connecticut stations also have free CHAdeMO fast chargers. Rick Hanley of the Connecticut Department of Transportation says the state isn't charging for the charge "so far," though it could eventually. The state's goal, Hanley said, is that EV owners will never be "less than half a tank (sic) away from a fast charge."

Fast charging networks are growing rapidly, with the prospect of half-hour plug-ins at 480 volts really capturing the attention of EV owners. Although it's too early for many EV drivers to use fast charging as their principal means of getting around, an increasing number are emboldened to use the networks for longer and longer trips. And in one case, it makes life easier for an EV owner who lives in a charger-free apartment.

Bernard David, a Delaware resident, serial entrepreneur and sometime teacher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, drives a Tesla Model S with the 85-kilowatt-hour battery pack. And I mean drives it, to locations all around the Northeast.

Tesla has, literally, gotten a lot of mileage out of its Supercharger network, but are people actually using it as intended? Yes, it appears so. David, for example, says, “Most of my charging is Supercharging.” He drives to New York fairly frequently, and for that trip he stops over at the Supercharger in Hamilton Township, New Jersey (near the Hamilton Marketplace) and then parks in a garage in midtown Manhattan.

Bernard's Tesla

Bernard David's Tesla Model S is a frequent visitor to Supercharger stations. (Bernard David photo)

David’s also a frequent visitor to a station along the way—four-stall Newark, Delaware (and that means a visit to the Delaware Welcome Center Travel Plaza). David adds that some superchargers haven’t gotten their solar power yet, and are still dependent on the grid. That said, a heavy grid load can slow down the charging process. Generally, a half hour at the Supercharger gets David around 150 miles of travel. If there’s a heavy load, he’s likely charging at a lower amperage.

Oregon's Fast Network

And Oregon also has a lot of fast charging users, thanks to its West Coast Electric Highway coastal network of 480-volt AeroVironment CHAdeMO chargers. Installed through the persistence of the state’s Chief EV Officer Ashley Horvat, the chargers are getting a lot of use.

Most of the fast users are Nissan LEAFs, because they're the most widespread CHAdeMO users, though some Mitsubishi i-MiEVs use the stations, too. An ideal situation would be to upgrade the network with both CHAdeMO and SAE "combo" wands.

Salem resident Mark Powell, a claims supervisor, is a pretty unusual Nissan LEAF owner—he lives in an apartment and doesn’t have access to home charging. “It may not be the ideal situation, but it’s all I have right now,” he says with some understatement.

Powell makes regular trips to Eugene, Portland and the coast, quick charging at “the Halsey/Brownsville and Corvallis/Lebanon exits on I-5, the Grande Ronde casino, Lincoln City, and the World Trade building in Portland.” He makes it into Washington State, too.

Powell had some minor trouble with one of the new AeroVironment chargers, “limping into Albany to a Level II charger there.” He says, “I usually only charge to 85 percent because the last 15 percent of the battery takes about 20 minutes to charge, which is about the same time as the first 85 percent.”

Power User

Alan Batie of Corvallis has put 30,000 miles on his LEAF, making trips to Eugene or Portland about once a month, and to the coast twice annually. He adds that all that driving has reduced his battery life 15 to 20 percent.

Alan's LEAF

Alan Batie is another Oregon power user. (Alan Batie photo)

“I’ve gone to Seattle with the LEAF twice, to Bend twice, to the coast a few times, and to the California border once,” Batie said. “Basically, fast charging doubles the trip time, but I like to read and it’s really nice not using gas. I’m looking forward to 200-mile freeway range in a few years, though.”

And Karl Boekelheide is now at 65,000 miles in his 2011 LEAF, using the quick charger on trips to Eugene, Seattle, Ashland and the coast. “I usually quick charge for 15 to 25 minutes at a time,” he said. “I think more short charges is faster overall—and better for the battery—than longer ones. I watch the temperatures very carefully, and use an app called LEAF-Spy that lets me know the battery’s state of health.”

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