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Holiday Weekend Reveals Future Charging Needs (Part 2)

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In Part 1, I named several locations that had full stations at the beginning of Memorial Day weekend. Now, I’m going to name one more and get into some important things we can learn about future charging needs.

Ogallala, Nebraska

Another thing I noticed was that Ogallala’s Electrify America station was full. Given what I’ve said in Part 1, a quick look at a map should make it pretty obvious why I figure this one got congested: a place where two major highways meet.

In this case, it’s a little worse, because traffic from all over California, Utah, Nevada, Denver, and even parts of Arizona gets funneled into I-70 and I-80 if anyone’s headed to Chicago or New England. The geography of Idaho probably even funnels people in Oregon and Washington onto that route in many cases, and a bunch of people ended up needing that one station with four stalls.

So, as usual, what appears to be one station on one interstate highway ends up serving the needs of people who came in on a number of highways from several states, some of which have higher than average EV ownership rates. Ouch!

I Know I Didn’t Get Them All

In this article, I only focused on the western states because that’s what I’m the most familiar with. There were many other spots on the Electrify America map all over the United States and Canada, plus there are other charging networks that very likely experienced congestion as people hit the road for Memorial Day weekend today.

I don’t think the top brass at CleanTechnica wants a 10-part article series, and you’d likely get bored with this, too. By the time I reviewed four locations, many of the same things were starting to be seen over and over anyway. But feel free to find your own full stations next time there’s a holiday weekend and post them online, because there may be things I missed.

Some Things We Can Learn From These Congested Locations

The biggest thing I think charging providers need to recognize is that local knowledge is key. Making a simplistic plan like “put a charging station every 100 miles on the interstate” might make for theoretically passable routes for EVs that depend on the infrastructure, but we have to recognize that not all routes have the same traffic numbers and that smaller highways can be deceptively busy.

In the case of many of these stations that got full, the wise way to avoid congestion and a bad experience would have been to go to the local areas and ask around. Business owners will have some idea of where their customers were from and where they’re going. Tourist locations might even make for a good place to just survey people and collect data. State highway officials are another source of data, too.

Collecting that local knowledge isn’t cheap or easy. It probably involves sending people out to the places where stations are needed and figuring out what the actual traffic flows are on the ground. State departments of transportation already do the raw traffic counts, but getting into qualitative data from shop owners, tourist shops, restaurants, and hotels is key to understanding the traffic and not just knowing how much there is per day or per hour.

But it’s worth it to collect all of this data. Local knowledge means less future pain when planning the expansion and redundancy in a charging network. It means that new EV owners (there will be many in the coming years) have a good first impression with the network instead of feeling like it’s constantly overloaded and useless.

Another thing we can learn is that forks in the road are key. Like a literal fork on the pavement, you could get hurt if you don’t see it. Even if you don’t inquire locally to see where people are coming from, you can just look down the road to see where each branch of the highway system leads. When several of the branches have leaves in California’s largest cities, you can expect a lot of traffic to accumulate where these forks in the road come together.

That the biggest interchanges don’t have higher capacity stations nearby is somewhat baffling. That the newly combined traffic flows don’t have more redundancy along them to spread the pain out is also confusing. I get that companies are often just starting to get any stations at all along these routes, but we’re clearly already falling behind the adoption curve.

Why This Matters: Climbing The Adoption Curve

If you’ve read my articles, you probably know that as an early adopter, I was willing to put up with some pain. Given my income, I couldn’t early adopt a Tesla, and I’d do crazy stuff like travel 1,200 miles in a Nissan LEAF back before Electrify America put in stations along much of the region. Many readers here are probably the same way, but we need to keep our friends, family, and neighbors in mind here.

For example, when I was planning a trip recently, my mom kept saying things like “Oh, it’s only 9 hours to Austin, you should be able to make that in a day.” The idea that I’d have to stop and get some rest after only 500-600 miles in my Bolt EUV and make it a trip that takes a day and a half was just baffling to her. If I told her that on a holiday weekend I could probably expect to have wait times on top of that charging time, it would set back her future EV purchase by years.

So, it’s imperative that charging providers try to get the most bang for their bucks out of their expansion plans in the next few years. Blindly expanding stations without figuring out which ones will need more stalls first could end up creating a lot more waiting and pain for the owners that will be coming aboard now.

I know that at least some of them are probably thinking about this, but I’d like to see more from charging providers about how they make such decisions going forward. I’ve reached out to some of them, and I’ll let you know what they have to say in future articles.

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Written By

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 get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.


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