Back in September, I wrote an article about EVgo’s Autocharge+ rollout. While some GM vehicles had the ability to just plug in and charge (with payment details happening automatically behind the scenes), they were now going to roll it out to all EVs. At the time, I wasn’t aware that Autocharge+ wasn’t available to GM’s EVs, because they preferred you enroll in Plug and Charge via the manufacturer’s app (ex. myChevrolet). I also don’t live anywhere near any EVgo stations, so I couldn’t test it out.
But, last week, I was visiting the Houston metro area and finally had the opportunity to test Plug and Charge out.
In that last article, I briefly described the setup process for GM vehicles. You make sure your EVgo account is all set up and squared away, and then switch to the manufacturer’s app to link the EVgo account to your OnStar/GM account. Once the accounts are linked, an EVgo station is supposed to be able to know that the vehicle is yours when you plug it in, and just start charging (and know whose card is going to pay for it).
For my test, I pulled up to a Walgreens along I-69 in north Houston, out towards Humble. I pulled up next to “Dexter” (EVgo’s name for the station), got out, and plugged the CCS plug into my Bolt EUV.
What happened next was just downright boring. The car and the station communicated a bit, and then the car just started charging. I didn’t have to get an RFID card out. I didn’t have to open the EVgo or myChevrolet app. I didn’t have to bring up a website on my phone, swipe a credit card, or start a fire to send smoke signals to EVgo HQ. Unlike any other non-Tesla DCFC charging session I’ve ever started (at least paid ones), it really was just as simple as plug and charge.
My only gripe was that the charging session happened during peak hours, and I paid $14 for about 17 kWh. That’s about $.80/kWh, which is definitely on the expensive end compared to the $.12/minute I’d pay at Electrify America. But, it’s good to see that plug and charge is at least possible for non-Tesla EVs.
We Need More Of This
While it was great to see that it’s possible to just plug a car in like that, it’s not the reality for most DCFC sessions people do in non-Tesla EVs. In most cases, you’ve gotta do something to identify your car to the station, like swipe a card, scan an RFID card, or use an app to start the session.
On the one hand, it’s kind of silly to expect this last inch of convenience. While gas car drivers like to brag about the speed of filling up a car on road trips compared to even the fastest charging EVs in 2022, there’s no mechanism by which it’s even remotely possible for a gas pump to communicate with your car’s computers via the nozzle. You’ve got to do something to pay for your fuel before dispensing gas, so it’s not a giant inconvenience for an EV owner to need to pay the electron pump.
On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with being better than gas-powered cars. Charging (at least at home) is cheaper than gas, and the instant torque beats most gas cars. We could go on for a long series of articles about how the EV experience is better, so there’s no reason to not try to add one more thing that’s better.
Why This Isn’t Already The Norm
The designers of the CCS charging plugs (Type 1 and Type 2) did have the foresight to not only include networking capabilities (via HomePlug technology), but they also included plug and charge capability in the protocol.
Sadly, a number of things have to all have that protocol enabled for it to work. The car must support a plug and charge protocol. The charging station must also have it not only included in its software, but have it enabled (both of these things can be untrue). The car and the charging station must also have an internet connection to the charging provider’s servers to process payment, and these servers must be able to talk to the car and the station over the network. On top of all that, you’ve got to have your car registered with the network so it will know who to charge.
With Tesla, the single provider solution makes this easy. They own all of the Superchargers, they build all of the cars, and they sell all of the new ones. Plus, they have over-the-air updates. Because they control it all, they can make sure all of the stars for plug and charge are almost always aligned.
With everyone else, this isn’t nearly as easy. There are multiple vehicle manufacturers, multiple charging station providers, and thousands of independent dealers involved. There aren’t usually OTA updates, and when there are, they usually don’t have the depth of capability Tesla does (and doing that would be illegal in some states and countries). Everybody has to have plug and charge enabled and working the same, and that doesn’t usually happen.
Fortunately, it’s happening more and more. Vehicle manufacturers, charging providers, and customers are all wanting it to happen, so it’s starting to happen more and more. What would be really nice is if the different charging networks could get together to allow for just one registration instead of having to register a car with multiple networks.
Not A Dealbreaker, But It Matters
I’m not one of the Tesla religionists who will tell you that other automakers failure to do exactly what Tesla did is a road to certain doom. Plug and Charge capability is a luxury, and it’s not something that would get in the way of widespread EV adoption if it weren’t to happen. People have been paying at the pump for ages, and can pay at the charger.
But, EV charging is harder in one important respect: no universal form of payment. A major credit or debit card will work at just about any gas pump. You don’t need a Chevron card to charge at a Chevron station and a Valero card to charge at the Valero. This means a lot less extra work to get started with pumping gas, even if it requires some intervention at the pump.
Making the process of finding and charging at DCFC stations more universal would definitely lower the learning curve quite a bit for new drivers.
Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.
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