Published on June 29th, 2019 | by Jennifer Sensiba0
Electrify America Is Ready for Primetime (& The Odd 3 AM Drift Competition)
June 29th, 2019 by Jennifer Sensiba
A couple weeks ago, Electrify America announced its new pricing, an app, and membership options. These changes addressed all of the concerns I wrote about previously, but instead of rushing in to write a short article, I wanted to take some more time to do some real testing to give a much more thorough look. Based on what I’ve seen, Electrify America stepped up in some big ways, and it is ready for EV drivers to depend on it for their charging needs.
New Tiered Pricing
For most drivers, this is going to be the biggest improvement. Even for guests, charging is usually cheaper than it was before.
The biggest improvement they made was speed-based tiered rates. Until now, they were charging all drivers the same per-minute rate, regardless of speed. In some ways this made sense, as many states have laws preventing anybody but electric utilities from charging for electricity by the kilowatt-hour (kWh), but this resulted in some drivers paying far more per kWh (and, by extension, per mile) than others. For example, a Chevy Bolt owner would be charging at around 50 kW speeds while a Jaguar I-PACE owner would get around 100 kW. If charging for a half hour, the Chevy driver would get about 25 kWh of electricity, while the Jaguar driver would get about 50 kWh.
This nearly doubled the cost to charge per mile for the Chevy driver.
Prices already varied by state and region, but guest pricing is about 30% cheaper than it was before for the 1-50 kW rate that my Nissan LEAF used in testing. When you consider that the 2018 LEAF often suffers from the #Rapidgate problem and charges well below 50 kW, this price break was a huge help in making Electrify America more affordable.
Electrify America is now offering three pricing tiers. In Texas and New Mexico (the stations I’ve tested), these rates are:
- Up to 75 kW for $.21/min
- Up to 150 kW for $.58/min
- Up to 350 kW for $.89/min
All rates start after an initial $1 fee to start the session.
These rates aren’t based on actual charging speeds, but the stated maximum speed that the manufacturer theoretically allows. Under certain conditions and states of charge, vehicle charging speeds can vary significantly, so they kept it simple by categorizing a vehicle based on the rated charging speed.
These new tiered rates solve the problem of wildly different actual costs to charge, allowing people with slower charging EVs (most every non-Tesla EV until very recently) to pay a reasonable price and not pay as much as an SUV would cost to fuel up.
They didn’t stop at just offering a good discount for slower charging vehicles. With their new memberships, they offer frequent customers even better deals.
For “Pass” members, pricing doesn’t change at all. The point of the basic membership level is to allow you to pay more easily, control charging sessions with the new app, and otherwise get more control over your charging experience. If you’re only charging once or twice a month (or less) at an EA station, it makes sense to stick with the basic tier.
But if you’re like me and use their stations more regularly, it makes sense to pony up the $4 monthly fee and go for the “Pass+” option. Right off the bat, you no longer have to pay the $1 session start fees, so you basically get the membership fee back once you’ve charged 4 times in the month.
After that, the awesome savings are just making a good deal sweeter. For example, where I usually charge, the fees are:
- Up to 75 kW for $.15/min
- Up to 150 kW for $.42/min
- Up to 350 kW for $.60/min
One word of warning: when you browse charging stations in the app or look at prices on the charger’s screen, it shows basic member and guest rates. Only once you start a session will it reflect your discount, but you do get the discount as promised.
Another huge plus to this is that by having a plan, you can prepay for your charging in an increment of your choosing on debit cards. In some ways it’s a minor inconvenience, but it saves users from having to endure days-long $50 holds on debit cards and keep long-distance trips affordable and pain-free.
How This Saves Money (While I Watch Hondas Drift)
To give Electrify America a thorough test (and to help fund a really cool CleanTech project I’ll be writing about soon), I decided to take the Nissan LEAF out for some night-time rideshare work in El Paso. With luggage space open in the back and a bucket ready to catch messes, I was ready to take people home from the airport and, later, the bars. Thankfully, the bucket didn’t see any action.
Now, even with my Nissan LEAF’s #Rapidgate problem, I’m not getting completely hosed. When I was paying Electrify America $.30/min and paying the $1 session start fee, the cost per mile was about like driving a 7-seat crossover getting 17 MPG in mixed city/highway driving. Coincidentally, there is an Acura MDX in my driveway that gets roughly that mileage, and using it would be more profitable, mostly because the rideshare companies pay you 50% more to carry more passengers or cargo as an XL driver.
The new tiered pricing helps drivers a LOT. Even with #Rapidgate, the cost was more like an economy car than an SUV. When I got 28 kW (lousy by Tesla standards, I know!), the cost came out to about $.33/kWh, and with my driving, that’s about $.0825/mile. At 23 kW, it comes out to about $.39/kWh, or $.0975/mile.
This still isn’t great. Getting speeds around 50 kW would be much better (about $.045/mile), and this is not Electrify America’s fault at all. Nissan is solely to blame for the piss-poor charging speeds. To see how this compares to similar gas vehicles, I decided to run the numbers on my Volkswagen Jetta with the 1.4L turbo engine and 6-speed auto (yes, slushboxes suck, but my partner mostly drives it).
In mixed city/highway driving with half-hearted hypermiling, I get about 35 MPG in the Jetta (full-on careful hypermiling is closer to 50 MPG city only). With gas at $2.50/gallon, that comes out to about $.071/mile.
So to sum this all up, the new rates make my gimpy #Rapidgate LEAF slightly more expensive to operate than a comparable economy car, which is much better than paying SUV fuel costs per mile. BUT, when I factor in home charging costs ($.11/kWh or $.0275/mile), and consider that the average Uber night is about half home charging and half DCFC, the total fuel cost is about $.0625/mile, or slightly below the Jetta.
Then, consider that the Jetta needs oil changes, tuneups, and all the other ICE maintenance headaches, and I’m far ahead of it on cost driving the LEAF. Then, consider that gasoline prices are highly variable and will not stay at $2.50 forever, and the LEAF will certainly shine brightly. For people living in California and other states with $4 gasoline, the contest isn’t even close.
About those Hondas…
Electrify America was really smart and partnered with Walmart to host many of its EV charging stations. This is great, because Walmarts are almost always open. You can grab a snack, get a drink, walk around indoors a bit, and, most importantly, use the restroom. When I was doing rideshare work in Arizona last year, most stations were at shopping malls and other places that were closed at night, making it tough to take care of personal needs while the car charged.
One of the other side benefits of being in a Walmart parking lot at 2-4 AM is the free entertainment. Sure, there’s the usual people watching (see peopleofwalmart.com), but also the car racing and other automotive shows.
Don’t tell the El Paso Police Department, but there’s usually a group of Honda enthusiasts who come through during those hours on the weekend to practice their handbrake drifting. Are they the best drifters I’ve ever seen? Definitely not. But, considering the entertainment value of watching these wannabe Ken Blocks (yes, some of them have Hoonigan stickers) and the low price of admission, I get more than I paid for.
This is especially true when some abuelo-type comes up and tries to chew them out for their “dangerous” driving (in a totally empty end of the parking lot in the middle of the night). That usually earns the old man a few minutes of more extreme drifting with more time spent on the rev limiter, sometimes with flames coming out. Me? Just more cheap entertainment. Keep it coming, abuelo!
Whether you like that sort of thing or not, it’s undeniable that boredom is the hardest thing to find in a Walmart lot at 3 AM. With Honda’s new retro EV coming out, they’ll probably be over at the EA station in a few years
Anyways, back to Electrify America…
The New App
The new app is good. There are no obvious flaws, no weird design/UI flaws, and everything just works (with one exception that’s probably not the app’s fault). Many companies have initial problems when they roll out a new app, but EA seems to have done its homework and testing, and didn’t expect us to be the beta testers.
Signing up for a free or “plus” account is also very easy. Put in your information, answer a few simple questions, and you’re ready to charge. Once again, it just works like it’s supposed to.
The UI for the app is also very consistent with the UI the stations have had since release. Don’t get me wrong, I love EVgo, but their stations don’t all have the same displays, UI, or other things. Blink charging stations have been consistently awful for me. Electrify America has a very consistent look across the stations, website, and app. Yes, it’s just aesthetics, but it shows that they aren’t just putting in token stations to satisfy the terms of the #Dieselgate settlement.
In all of my testing (around a dozen sessions), I’ve only really seen two small issues and one big one that Electrify America worked hard to fix for me.
One very minor issue that’s probably just part of working with wide-area networking is that there’s a 30 second or so delay for the station’s information vs what appears on the phone app. The information you see on the display, especially state of charge and charging fees racked up so far, is usually behind just slightly on your phone. If you walk away from the station, keep that in mind. Considering that the data must first be passed onto the local network of the charging station, then onto the station’s internet provider (whoever that is), then onto the internet, then to your phone’s carrier, then to the local tower, then to your phone — this is probably something that can’t be changed.
Another small issue I’ve seen is the station and the app both have consistently failed to give an accurate time until the car reaches 85% SOC. This isn’t something that matters, and it’s pretty obvious that the station isn’t going to take over 3000 minutes to get my car to 85%, even from zero. But, if it’s a metric that matters to you as a user, it would be nice to fix that small issue.
The only important issue I’ve run into using Electrify America stations is that the station had a bad habit of forgetting it was charging my car. The screen would go back to what it shows before I arrived, and, on the plus side, billing stopped as well (I got several free or reduced price charges this way). This wouldn’t have mattered, but the charge continued and the CHAdeMO plug remained locked to the vehicle with no way to stop the session and get my car free. The app didn’t work, nor did any button on the station itself.
To get free, I’d have to call Electrify America’s support number and have them reboot the station, ending the charge and releasing the CHAdeMO lock. After several times of this, support had me stay on the line with them for a few so their developers could take a good look at what was going on. Since that phone call, I’ve experienced no problems with being stuck to a station. Only once since then has the station forgot I was charging, but the app was able to end the session and free my car.
Coast to Coast Without Level 2 is Now Possible for Some Cars
Another thing piece of exciting news is that 200+ mile electric vehicles (other than Teslas) now have their first path to travel from coast to coast without having to stop at level 2 chargers or at RV parks. One can now start in Los Angeles with a CCS or CHAdeMO car, travel along I-10 to Texas, then take I-20 to Dallas, I-30 to Memphis, TN, and I-40 the rest of the way to North Carolina. Once the Ozona, Texas station opens, I-10 will be passable from California to Florida.
Electrify America didn’t put in all of the stations that made this possible, but there are vast stretches, especially in Arkansas and Texas, where they’re the only operator available. Hopefully other companies will come along and provide drivers with some more redundancy, but it’s possible now.
With the new app, new pricing plans, and stations going in places where there never were any before, Electrify America is ready for primetime. They’ve proven a commitment to getting this right that goes far beyond the bare minimum VW was required to accomplish by the courts after #Dieselgate.
At this point, I’d only make two small suggestions:
Walmart should consider placing a trash can near the charging station. This would make stopping in for a quick charge more convenient, but would also help cut down on litter. A small recycling bin would probably be a good touch with the way electric vehicles typically draw in a more environmentally aware owner base.
It might also be a good idea for Electrify America to consider partnering with a company like Bird to put electric scooters available for rent at the stations. Being able to zip over to nearby stores for fast food or other things while the car charges would be a nice way to help ease the inconvenience of EV charging. Even on 350 kW charging, People will still be spending at least 10-15 minutes for a 100 kW battery and at least 20-30 minutes for a 200 kW battery (plus time for tapering), so such an option should still be useful for at least a decade.