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Published on April 21st, 2019 | by Jennifer Sensiba

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My 1st Time Charging With Electrify America: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

April 21st, 2019 by  


While people have been charging at Electrify America sites for months in the eastern portions of the US, the Southwest deserts have been among the last places to get a station. I recently had my first chance to use one in Deming, New Mexico. I was very impressed with the station, but there’s definitely room for improvement when it comes to paying for a charge.


Some Updates

Before I cover my experience, I want to give a couple of updates for those who read my previous articles. Links here:

Electrify America reached out to me and let me know that missing stations on their map were the result of a technical issue that kept sites from being posted. I checked and they did have more “coming soon” stations added, but there were still a few locations missing. Any new undertaking as big as Electrify America is engaged in will have hiccups, but it’s good to see that they are aware of the issue and are working on fixing it up, and that they reached out to us to let us know.

As far as I can tell, it appears that either the I-70 or I-10 corridor will be the first that is completed coast to coast. Stations are coming up fast now, and new stations are proving to have fewer and fewer errors as Electrify America (EA) gains experience and climbs the learning curve. It’s a great thing to see.

The Good

43 kW charge rate.

All in all, I was very impressed with the charging experience. I put the CHAdeMO plug in my LEAF, inserted my card into the chip reader, pressed a couple buttons, and the charging began. It was a little faster getting started than an EVgo or Blink DC fast charging (DCFC) station, with the computer and charger starting power delivery to the car in just a few short seconds.

The cable was very thick and heavy compared to other CHAdeMO stations I’ve used with my LEAF. From what I can tell, it’s not liquid cooled like the 150 and 350 kW CCS stations, but it’s obviously built for higher power output than 50 kW. It’s clearly been future-proofed for vehicles like the LEAF Plus.

The stations themselves, their plugs and holsters, the cables, and everything else looked overbuilt compared to other stations I’ve been to. Nothing is cheap looking, there are no cheap/thin plastic parts, and it’s all very heavy. The cables never touch the ground, so even if somebody leaves one hanging, it’s not going to get out into traffic and get run over by passing cars. We are very likely to see these stations last a long time between repairs.

One other great thing is that the Electrify America stations tend to be put toward the middle or the back of parking lots. This helps because it reduces the temptation of gas car owners to take the spot and prevent EV owners from charging. When stations are too close to the door, it can be tough to get a charge in some places.

The Bad

My LEAF parked at the station just after charging. Note the position of the blue CHAdeMO connector.

One minor negative is that I had to back my LEAF in to get a charge. EA stations tend to come in two configurations: one where the chargers are at the front of the spaces, and one where the chargers are placed between slant-style spaces. The Deming station was the latter, and the CHAdeMO plug is on the outer one. I know it’s typical for Teslas and other EVs to have to back in, and I’m a skilled enough driver to back in, but the LEAF was designed to charge face-in, and that might make it hard for some drivers who aren’t used to it.

Another issue I encountered was that there is no signage telling people that the spaces are for EVs only. As I said earlier, the middle-to-back location in the lot helps with this, but one station was still blocked by a pickup truck when I arrived. I know at another station they’re building in El Paso that the parking lot is much busier, and this will be a problem.

To prevent EV drivers from being stranded, Electrify America needs to put up signs limiting use of the spaces to charging vehicles only, and they need to put the phone number for a local towing company on the signs so that offending vehicles can be removed quickly.

A bigger issue I have now that I’ve used a station is the price. My car only pulled 43 kW, partially because it was a warm day and my LEAF is one of the earlier “Rapidgate” models that Nissan stubbornly refuses to update software for. But, even at the perfect 50 kW that many existing EVs are limited to, the cost per kWh can still be well over $0.50.

I understand that EA needs to cover the cost of faster charging vehicles that will be pulling 150+ kW, especially with utility demand rates being as high as they are. I also understand that many states prohibit entities other than utilities from charging for electricity by the kWh. However, Electrify America could probably find another way to make the cost lower per minute for vehicles that don’t pull that much electricity during that minute.

Even for the newer vehicles, paying per minute can be problematic when you consider tapering. As a vehicle approaches full, charge rates lower to protect the battery from damage. Rate reductions come as early as 50–60%, so the cost for the second half of one’s charging session can be quite a bit higher than the first half.

My text message receipt.

Perhaps they could charge different rates for different ranges of charging speeds. Say, an under 50 kW tier, a 50–150 kW tier, and a 150–350 kW tier. This would make the faster-charging vehicles pay for the demand rates the rest of us aren’t responsible for running up.

Or, they could set a maximum charging fee (excluding idle fees) so that slower vehicles wouldn’t run up such a bill.

The Ugly

There was one big issue I came across that’s going to ruin some drivers’ road trip plans: the $50 debit card hold.

To be fair, I was warned about this before starting my charge, but this was only after I drove 50 miles to get to the charger. A message popped up asking if I’d accept the hold to start the charge, but it led me to believe that the hold was only short term, like one would see at a gas station. My total cost was under $9, but almost a day later my debit card still has a $50 hold on it and no sign of the charges being settled.

Even worse, it seems that your card gets a new hold for every charging session. For example, if one were to cross Texas from Texarkana to El Paso on Interstate 20 and Interstate 10, they’d have to use at least six EA stations, which would rack up $300 in holds. Depending on how many days a hold sits on your account, it could easily end up passing $1,000 in holds on a coast-to-coast trip!

For those of us who are more well heeled, this might not be a problem, but for the rest of us who are trying to go on a family vacation on a budget, this could keep you from paying for your hotel room or food and possibly even leave you stranded. I haven’t tested the stations with a credit card, so I don’t know if holds would stack up on those, but if they do, even people with credit cards could experience big problems on long trips, while far away from home.

I also don’t know what happens when you have less than $50 in your account, or are within $50 of your credit card’s limit. Will the station let you charge?

This is an issue Electrify America needs to address immediately. They could offer prepay options like ChargePoint, or see what gas stations are doing to deal with this without leaving holds behind on my card like this. At the very least, they could make the hold amount be in the same ballpark as what it costs to charge. At current rates, charging for an hour would only cost around $20. A hold in the amount of $10-20 would make far more sense in this case, and wouldn’t hold 30 extra dollars hostage for what may be days.

Final Thoughts

I don’t want to come off as someone who is against EA or who doesn’t like them. I’m very, very happy to see them doing what they’re doing. We need charging options for long-range travel, and I’m very happy to see it all coming together. I did reach out to Electrify America and asked about the cost and card hold issues, and I’m waiting to hear back from them. I’m hoping they have some workarounds in mind, or have some future plans to share with our readers.

Aside from the issues I identified, I was overall very impressed with the station. It was fast, convenient, and would do a great job on road trips. Once these other issues are addressed, the Electrify America network will do great things to help promote EV adoption in the US. 
 

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About the Author

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to explore the Southwest US with her partner, kids, and animals.



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