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Published on July 20th, 2017 | by Zachary Shahan


Always Have 2–3 Options (For EV Charging)

July 20th, 2017 by  

Driving an electric car for a bit, I’ve learned what many an EV driver knows well: You should always have 3 — or at least 2 — charging options in mind. Also: Choose wisely. And get lucky.

One recent snafu also helped me to further love Go To-U’s system, which allows you to reserve a spot (as well as Tesla’s, of course, since Tesla Superchargers have so many stalls and are so reliable that you practically always have a spot to charge).

I recently had to pick up our Tesla from Łódź and bring it home to Wrocław. The navigation told me I’d arrive home with 16% charge. Based on previous experience with Tesla’s brilliant navigation system, I trusted I’d get there with no problem, but I was trying to be a little cautious and wanted to get to Wrocław with as much battery capacity as possible before heading into a meeting where we’d be showing someone the Tesla, so I decided to drive a little out of the way to an ABB fast charger located at an ABB factory just a bit off of my track — about 30 minutes northwest from my starting point, when I eventually wanted to head southwest. My cofounders and I had used this charging station before and I thought it would offer a nice buffer in this case for my trip back to Wrocław.

Unfortunately, when I got to the fast charger, I saw there was a Tesla parked there from Sweden. I couldn’t find the driver anywhere, and he had 26% charge remaining.

The ABB fast charger also had a Mennekes Type 2 charging port, which should allow me to charge up to 22 kW and would have been plenty adequate. Unfortunately, for some reason (maybe because the other car was fast charging?), I couldn’t get any electricity. The charging station’s timer started running as if it was charging, but there was no electricity going into my car (the station’s display showed 0 kWh and the Tesla also showed that nothing was happening). I tried restarting as well as unplugging and plugging back in several times, but it just kept restarting the timer on the charging station but not sending any electricity to my car.

Eventually, I decided to return to an area in Łódź (~30 mins back to where I started) where there was supposed to be another kind of charging station on the wall of a shopping mall — at least I could get some food and do a little necessary shopping before heading out. It took a while to find the charging station. I don’t think there were any signs guiding electric car drivers to it and it was in a gated area separate from the normal parking. But a helpful parking attendant did help me to get there. When I arrived, there was an ABB van and some guys working on a charging station on the wall. Apparently, they had just removed one charging station that wasn’t working and put a new one in. However, this one wasn’t going to be ready to work for a while. The guys seemed a bit confused and it wasn’t clear when the issue they were wrestling with would be resolved.

By chance, I noticed another charging port that hardly looked like a place to charge. The outlet looked like it was put in place 30 years ago and had a spider sitting on it (which never seemed interested in leaving), but the charging port did put out 11 kW (it’s a 6 pin outlet they call “siła” here in Poland) — not bad. I charged for an hour or so and returned to have plenty of battery capacity, which was nice since my estimated battery capacity at my destination, according to the intelligent Tesla navigation system, had changed from 16% to 9% after the 1 hour trip to the ABB fast charger and back — clearly, not an ideal delay!

When I returned to the car, one of the ABB guys was still there but had seemingly just gotten the station working, so we tested it out. It did work, but I was a bit confused because it was only providing 4 kW. I thought it was going to provide 22 kW. Speaking with him in a mixture of Polish and English for a bit, I was eventually informed that it had a max output of 4 kW. If that’s true, it’s sort of insane. The charging box looks nice and all, but 4 kW is almost no different from any normal electricity outlet, and the old-school siła outlet right next to the ABB charging station (with the spider sitting on it) offers 11 kW. It’s still nice to have more charging outlets, but come on! And, seriously, 4 kW would not be very useful if you really needed to charge up in the middle of some long drives.

The debacle seems rather innocuous now, but it was a royal PITA and left me with the conclusions at the top. In retrospect, while in the midst of the huge time sucker, I wished …

  • … I would have just tried to use the nearby and moderately powered siła outlet (or a 22 kW charger somewhere else in the city) first, rather than venturing out to the somewhat-out-of-the-way ABB fast charger.
  • … I would have checked PlugShare to see if someone was charging at the ABB fast charger before going out there (though, I’m not sure if the driver had already checked in or not).
  • … all charging stations were like Tesla’s charging stations, with several charging ports.
  • … all charging stations were like To-U’s charging stations, where you can reserve a spot and easily see if spots are free.
  • … I had more charging options so I didn’t have to drive 30 minutes from the fast charger before getting back to another charging station.

And, here are the big take-home points as an EV driver: Always have 2–3 options. Choose wisely.

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About the Author

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.

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