I recently crossed the country to start my Untold EV & Cleantech Stories project. One thing I was excited to cover were the small businesses and tourist sites offering EV charging. Even two years ago, many of these Level 2 (240 volt) stations were essential to my misguided 1200-mile trip in a Nissan LEAF. Today, though, things are different. The rural stations, which have grown in number, are not being used, and many of them are falling into disrepair.
In this article, I’m going to explore some of the reasons these stations are not being used, and in some cases, aren’t working at all. The reasons don’t all apply to every station, but they often work together to kill low-speed charging in rural areas.
Reason #1: They’re Becoming Obsolete For Many Travelers
A working Level 2 charging station can be very useful. While they’re not generally as useful as Level 3 DC fast charging stations, they still can add 10-50 miles of range per hour. If you’re sleeping at a hotel, eating a long lunch, or exploring a national park on foot, you could do anything from add a few extra miles of range to get a complete charge, depending on how long you’re staying.
The problem is that these stations just aren’t that essential now. Not only has Tesla’s Supercharging station network grown greatly, but other CCS and CHAdeMO stations are a lot more widely available than they used to be. What takes several hours at a Level 2 station can happen at the Electrify America, Chargepoint, or Tesla Level 3 station in just a few minutes.
The result? Unless plugging into one is very convenient and costs little or nothing, many drivers don’t want to waste any time or effort using them.
Reason #2: Hotels & Parks Often Charge A Fee For Using Them
This reason stacks on top of the last one pretty neatly. Instead of offering EV charging as a perk to get business, many station owners think they’re a way to bring in some more income.
Probably the worst example I’ve seen on this is a set of plugs installed at the Chevron station in Valle, AZ. The plugs are placed on the back of the gas station, right between the gas station’s gift shop and the Grand Canyon Inn. While not at the National Park itself, the gas station and hotel 20 miles out are a lot cheaper than the other options up the road in Tusayan or Grand Canyon Village itself. The whole time we were there (3 days), we didn’t see a single EV charge. Plugshare’s entry for the charging station also lacks anything but a comment by a person letting us all know that the Chevron station charges $9 per hour to charge.
The station at the Petrified Forest National Park was likewise not being used, and gets very few entries on Plugshare. They’re charging $2 per hour instead of $9, but new Electrify America stations in Gallup, New Mexico and Winslow, Arizona make it almost pointless for most drivers to charge there. Like at the Grand Canyon, the one working plug is located where people don’t spend that much time, and is far away from the main attractions most people go to the park to see. Plus, it doesn’t work well every time someone plugs in. At the south end of the park is a second station that has been out of order for years, with even the plastic bag that was covering it falling apart and coming loose.
I saw the theory in action in Holbrook, Arizona at the La Quinta Inn. One Model S driver backed into a space with Level 2 charging, pulled his J1772 adapter out of the back, plugged in, and then noticed that the station wanted to charge him a fee for the charging session.
“Seriously? A fee for this?” I heard him say, right before he parked elsewhere in the parking lot and took his suitcase up.
Bottom line: Nobody wants to pay for Level 2 charging now, so expect any station trying to do that to get very little actual use.
Reason #3: Location, Location, Location
These days, location isn’t what it once was. People can shop for underwear wearing nothing but their underwear. Many people working remote are living in vans now, and don’t want to go back to the prison of the office. EV charging is still one of the things where location is key, though.
Nowhere illustrated this better for me than the Grand Canyon. If the main parking lots had slow EV charging, people would use it. Unfortunately, the charging is all located in back lots, far from the edge of the canyon’s rim. Driving around Grand Canyon Village, I didn’t see any EVs charging at any of the stations in the park. They’re free to use in most cases, but they’re simply not located close enough to any of the park’s attractions to get anybody to want to park at them.
Every EV I saw in the park or on the roads leading to and from the park was a Tesla, and there’s a Supercharger station in Tusayan, just outside of the park. Why anyone would park far from the rim when they can quickly and conveniently charge up before coming in is beyond me.
Reason #4: Stations Falling Into Disrepair
I tried to look at this one from a station owner’s point of view, and it makes a lot of sense. Some salesperson comes around offering to put in a station. They make it sound like it’s a great way to bring in some extra money and attract wealthy people in expensive electric cars to come hang out. For a hotel, a gas station with a gift shop, or a vendor selling things at a national park, it sounds like a great deal. A real win-win.
But, for some reason the business owner doesn’t understand, nobody shows up to charge. They built it, but this isn’t the Field of Dreams. Nobody came, or almost nobody came. After years of a small trickle of people showing up to charge, one person comes in complaining about how the station doesn’t work. The owner calls the charging people up, and get told it’ll cost hundreds or more to repair it.
Given the lack of money the thing has been bringing in, and the apparent lack of high-dollar customers, they throw in the towel and stick a bag over the thing. It just didn’t live up to the expectations.
Bottom Line: Level 2 Charging Needs To Be Convenient, Free, & Reliable
If you’re a business or tourist attraction looking to provide Level 2 EV charging, the key is to be realistic. It’s not going to be a source of direct profit for your business, but it can bring in profits if you do it right.
Execution matters. If you offer free charging, make it convenient, and make sure it always works, people will choose your business over others. If you charge people for it, put it somewhere inconvenient, and it’s broken half the time, expect it to not be used.
When a person charging for an hour will only cost around $.60-$1.00 of electricity, it’s almost a no-brainer just to give it to them for free. You’ll make that money back selling them a meal or snacks, and then some. If you’re giving away an overnight charge, the cost for that is only $10-15 at most. For a hotel room, you can make that back easily or let a competitor do it.
The worst move a business can make is to do this wrong. With all of the costs and none of the upside, that’s worse than not putting in EV charging at all.
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