DC Rapid Charging for Electric Cars Proves More Popular Than Level 2, So Should Providers Just Focus on Rapid Charging?

Imagine the following scenario: you’re an electric car owner heading to your local organic ethical supermarket to do the weekly shop, and you discover a choice of two different charging stations in the parking lot. One is a high-power DC rapid charging station. The other is a lowly Level 2 charging station, most likely similar to the one you have at home.

The rapid charging station will refill your car from empty to 80 percent full in just under 30 minutes, but it will cost you anywhere between $5 and $11 to do so. The Level 2 charging station will cost you between $1.50 and $3 per hour and will add between 10 and 30 miles of range per hour.

Which charging station would you use? It depends.

Which charging station would you use? It depends.

Your car has rapid charging capabilities. Which one do you choose?

The answer, it seems, is rapid charging. At least, that’s according to data collected by electric car charging provider nrg eVgo.

As it explains in its latest press release (via GreenCarReports), the nrg eVgo collected charging use data from ten different Freedom Station sites located at Whole Foods Market stores across the San Francisco Bay area where both rapid DC charging and Level 2 charging was available for customers to use. While customers pay less to use the Level 2 charging station compared to the DC rapid charging station, nrg eVgo said customers still preferred the DC rapid charging stations to the slower Level 2 charging station by a factor of 12 to 1.

Your own experience and the location you're charging at will influence which charging station you pick.

Your own experience and the location you’re charging at will influence which charging station you pick.

So does this mean that rapid charging should be prioritised over lower-powered charging? Not necessarily.

Overall, charging station use at each of the ten Whole Foods Market locations have increased by 191 percent year on year, with the Whole Foods Market store in Fremont — which we note is seven miles down the road from Tesla Motors’ massive production facility — home to the most active DC rapid charging station in the whole of eVgo’s network. In September alone, that one location provided more than 1,452 DC rapid charging sessions, equating to around 45 charging sessions per day.

Depending on the charging plan chosen, customers choosing to use the DC rapid chargers at Freedom Station sites can choose to pay a monthly $14.95 flat fee to give them DC rapid charging from just $0.10 per minute, or a flat $4.95 one-time setup fee plus $4.95 (and an additional $0.20 per minute charging) per DC rapid charging session. Depending on the Level 2 plan chosen, charging costs from $1 per hour (with a monthly $5.95 service fee), or $1.50 per hour (with a $4.95 one-time setup fee).

It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that rapid charging is far more expensive to use that Level 2 charging. That cost difference is partly due to the fact that a Level 2 public charging station can be purchased and installed pretty much anywhere there’s a 240-volt, 30-amp power supply for well under a few thousand dollars. A rapid charging station can cost upwards of twenty times that. When its installation costs have been covered however, it can earn a charging provider far more income.

Customers with no time to spare and who need the charge will pay to rapid charge.

Customers with no time to spare and who need the charge will pay to rapid charge.

This data quite clearly that providers looking to monetize electric car charging should heavily prefer rapid charging over Level 2, focusing their attention on publicly-accessible rapid charging stations in locations where customers will want to spend between 20 and 45 minutes rather than an entire day. After all, if a charging provider can charge more for rapid charging, demand is high and the payback is far quicker than it would be for a Level 2, surely it makes sense to prioritise rapid charging over Level 2?

Not always.

You see, while nrg eVgo’s data does seem to suggest that rapid charging is preferred by customers even when it costs more, we suspect the location of the charging station influences its use, as well as the experience of the people using it.

First of all, location. With each of the ten sites located at grocery stores where customers will spend somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour shopping, rapid charging is an enticing proposition to those who arrive with a nearly-empty battery pack. This is especially true if they need to drive elsewhere in the same day after dropping their groceries home.

Indeed, if you need a charge and you need it in a hurry, paying for rapid charging makes sense. You’re paying for the convenience. But while the convenience of a rapid charging session can set you up for additional driving later in the day, any experienced electric car owner will forgo the cost of rapid charging if they know they can charge at home. The same is true of Level 2 charging: if you’re only going to be somewhere an hour, there’s little point plugging in and paying for the privilege if you can make it home and don’t need the additional range.

Unless it’s free, most people will ignore it.

If time isn't a problem, you'll happily use a free Level 2

If time isn’t a problem, you’ll happily use a free Level 2

Inexperienced electric car owners, whose limited experience and lack of faith in their car or their own driving capabilities means they suffer the most from range anxiety, are far more likely to pay for a rapid charging session. Even if they could make it home without a charge, inexperienced electric car drivers will often pay to charge as an insurance policy to ensure they don’t run flat. And in that case, the more powerful charging station (and the quicker speed at which it can add range) is quicker to alleviate range anxiety.

The increase in charging station use in the last year, which ties in nicely with the expansion of the plug-in market, suggests that’s exactly what has been happening.

Does this mean lower-power charging for electric cars should be ignored in preference to rapid charging? No.

There are points when lower-powered charging makes more sense, such as airport long-term parking garages, company parking lots or malls, where cars will be parked for hours at a time. In these situations, lower-cost, lower-power charging makes sense, especially if those using it will likely have a low or empty battery pack when they arrive.

At freeway rest stops and places where people will spend shorter periods of time — like supermarkets — rapid charging makes more sense, with a reasonable pricing structure that discourages  those who don’t really need the charge from using it but allows those who genuinely need the extra range to refuel for the right fee.

Do you think rapid charging is more important than lower-powered charging? Are you happy to pay to rapid charge even if it’s more expensive? Or do you think that care and consideration needs to be given to each charging station location to ensure that the correct charging infrastructure is put in according to the needs of the people who will visit it?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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  • Michael Thwaite

    I’ve seen the light! Well, I’ve been to CA and enjoyed traveling freely around in an 80 mile EV with open access to DCFC and it’s the biz. I’ve only needed and hence used L2 in the wild in NJ once in six years. So, in my limited experience, I’m going to say, yes, focus on DCFC because it’s the service that I’ll pay for and take advantage of.

    • Chris O

      The question may be: how much would you pay for it? Would it be enough to make a business case for building DCFC infrastructure considering the fact that each charger will probably end up serving less than 10 cars a day?

      • vdiv

        Exactly, between a site with one DCFC plug and 4 L2 I’d bet on the L2. DCFC stations are much more complex and unreliable and expensive.

        • Chris O

          Well…I don’t actually believe in any future for L2 charging as it just takes too long to get any additional range out of L2 chargers limiting their use to home, work and generally places where one intends to park for a longer period (while blocking them for others to use of course). I do think DCFC is the way to go but that doesn’t mean there is an obvious business case for except maybe the way Tesla does it: build the cost into the car and capitalize on the marketing value of the “free for life”slogan.

          • vdiv

            Remember that for the vast majority of the time cars sit parked doing nothing. L2 is perfect for that.

          • Michael Thwaite

            There’s clearly no magic bullet for charging – any solution from an array of DCFC units to a lamp cord hanging out of a window will find an application – someone somewhere can use that 🙂

            Question is, should we spend time and effort on L2 solutions? Well, yes, for home, office, destination charging, no for gas nozzle replacements on a highway. DCFC is the reverse of that.

            Without riffling through emails I did read that L2 is not economically viable when charged for – site upkeep, maintenance and space simply cost more than that collected. DCFC looks like, from most respondents to be “Worth the money” and so is able to cover the costs, even though the equipment is expensive. I’d happily pay the equivalent of $8/gallon for DCFC – the convenience is worth it… how often would I use it though?

          • vdiv

            Well, it depends on who is “We” 🙂

            If we are a retail business, yes. If we are an employer, yes. If we are a hospitality place, an apartment, or a condo association, yes. If we are a transportation hub, yes. If we are a municipal lot, yes. If we have relatives or friends driving a plugin (and would like to see them more often) yes 🙂 We have to be smart about it, but an ubiquitous charging network has done wonders, the lack of it has been called a desert.

            Also, let’s remember that half of the plugin vehicles out there do not have a DCFC charging capability and we do want these vehicles to be driving electric.

  • Rapid charging is key to adoption of EV’s to replace the primary vehicle for a family like we did with our Tesla Model S.

    Slow charging available at work parking sites may be an incentive for commuters in smaller range EV’s like my Smart ED, but frankly, most people commute within the winter range/distance of my car, and when talking to dozens of people at my work place, they are on the fence, even though all currently available EV’s could get them to work and back without issue.

    Public charging is great, and I’ve used it to “opportunity” charge, but rarely, but when it is available, it allows me to take my Smart ED (which I prefer to drive in the city over the larger, more expensive to repair Tesla).

  • Dennis Pascual

    I wonder if there was a bias on the sample. I seem to recall that NRG is one of the keystone providers under the Nissan “No charge to charge” and whatever the BMW i version of the program is. There is no “penalty” for participants in either program to use DCFC vs. Level 2 and therefore the cost to choose one or the other is the same.

    So, I wonder if the sample is corrupted by the current enticements.

  • Bruce Moore

    I would prefer more of each for charging, Lv2 and DC Fast Charging. Not only that but more than one of them. Rolling up to a charging site with as low battery and finding it in use is not pleasant. I know there are some apps and vendors that show the status of their chargers, but not all of them. Also entended parking like daily/weekly airport or train stations only need 110v outlets.

  • vdiv

    I’m more happy when using paid L2. I am also a big proponent of 80 amp and three phase AC charging, It rivals the current CHAdeMO/CCS options in charging rates and yet it is far more reliable and cheaper to install and operate.

    It’s Tesla vs. Edison and Tesla won that battle a century ago 🙂

  • RobSez

    First, NRG is the most expensive charging option in my part of the world. They only deploy DC-Fast Chargers here and the cost-per-mile is about 3 times what it would cost for the equivalent gasoline. I don’t use them at all for that reason. In fact, I have 2 that are near my home and I haven’t seen anyone using them in over a year. I have to wonder if there is a marketing angle here. There isn’t one form of charging more important than another. We need both, because not everyone has fast-charge capability and each method has it’s own advantages.

    The problem boils down to EV drivers learning to use charging stations more judiciously. Don’t charge unless you have to and only what you need. L-3 Fast chargers should be reserved as way-points for trips, not convenience charging. Just because there is a charger available, doesn’t mean you need to plug in to it. This is a huge problem with new EV drivers who still have serious range anxiety. Another mistake new EV drivers make is thinking every time they plug in they need a full charge when they almost never need more than 20-30 miles.

    When you run out to your local Whole Foods the question you ask yourself should be ‘do I need to charge?’ not ‘which charger is open so I can use it?’. If you’re going to be shopping for a week’s groceries you’re probably going to be in there at least an hour. If you need the extra 25 miles or so to get home, use the L-2 charger. Don’t block the L-3 charger that 2-4 other people could use while you’re picking out vegetables. Driving an EV requires realizing the world isn’t all about you and being considerate of other EV drivers. There just aren’t enough chargers to go around for everyone to have one for their own personal use whenever they want it. California? Are you listening? Most of us charge at home at night and don’t drive more than 70 miles in a day so we don’t need to plug in anywhere else, at all, most of the time. So, don’t unless you need to get to your next destination or home. Simple. When you do plug in, use the appropriate charger for the task. Why is this so hard for people to understand?

  • Surya

    I usually use public charging when doing road trips or going on vacation. In those case rapid charging is the only sensible option.
    L2 charging is a good option in long stay parking locations. At a grocery store I don’t spend that much time, so either I need the charge in which case L2 is probably too slow, or I don’t need the charge, so I don’t need any charging. So I can see why most people go for the rapid option.

  • Doug

    In my opinion, the sample is biased (early EV adopters in high income areas regularly willing to pay a significant premium for groceries by shopping at Whole Foods). I understand that that demographic usually brings a product/service/technology through its early stages, but if charging networks are going to prevail they need to figure out how to do this at significantly lower rates. My take as an EV enthusiast is that all network charging stations should charge by the kwh. By the hour makes no sense to me. As a driver of a Chevy Volt (the best automotive purchase I’ve ever made) I believe any charge over $0.35/kwh is overpricing (effectively that’s $3.50 for me to drive 35-40 miles). Even at that rate I can run my Volt on gas more economically than on electricity. I’d probably pay the $0.35/kwh, but that is the calculation I do everytime I choose to use a charging station or not. I’d acknowledge that pure EV drivers have to think about this differently and will likely pay a higher premium. Still, the rapid charging pricing seems, well, crazy.

  • vdiv

    My grandma lives on the fourth floor of a 6-story apartment building built in the early 60s, in the peak of communism. The building’s elevators required a 2-penny coin to operate. That didn’t really cover the cost of maintenance and operations, forget about the initial cost, but it allowed the building to have elevators and allowed for those that really “needed” them to use. There are stairs after all 🙂 Funny enough with the fall of communism the elevators became “free” with everyone living in the building having to chip in, wether they needed them, used them, or not. Now they are having a hard time collecting the money and keeping the elevators running, the social and arguably the moral responsibility for your fellow neighbors can go to hell.

    There is a parallel with public EV charging and maybe a lesson to be learned. Driving an EV is an admission that we have a responsibility for each other and have chosen to be less selfish and more willing to “chip in” for the common good, even if it is a few pennies at a time.

  • David Galvan

    As someone who has been driving a Nissan Leaf for the past 18 months in the Los Angeles area, where public charging stations are abundant, I have come to think that public charging stations should primarily be quick-charge stations (480V).

    Whenever I can see a trip is going to need a charge, I filter out all the level 2 stations and only look for quick charge stations. They allow me to charge for as little as 5-10 minutes and get back on the road. At least 4 times faster than a level 2 station.

    Level 2 stations (240V) are more appropriate for work-place charging stations. And I get that they are considerably less expensive to install than quick charge stations. So they have their uses. But I think the balance should still shift more toward 480V wherever it’s possible.

  • Janner

    On route, rapid charging is always preferable.

    At a destination such as restaurant, cinema, shops, etc, the important thing is to be able to plug in and stay connected, coming back to disconnect in the middle of a film or during a meal is no good so level 2 is preferable.

    For people working then again unplugging and reparking after three hours is no good; once plugged in and parked you want to stay all day – level 1 at 240v is ideal.

  • D. Harrower

    Given the choice, I will almost never choose Level 2 charging, even though it’s cheaper.

    I’m almost never in a single location for more than a couple hours and, in the rare case that I DO hang around, I’ll probably not be in a position to come unplug/move my car if it finishes charging. (I don’t really want to be the dick who hogs the spot all day, even though his car is done)

    The slow charging rate of Level 2 also limits them to a few partial charge cycles per day. Chances are that EVSE you were counting on is going to be occupied, possibly screwing up your plans for the rest of the day. Despite the ABC (Always Be Charging) rule of EV ownership, I don’t want to have to deal with plugging my car in at EVERY opportunity and then try to juggle getting from the charger location to my destination and back.

    For me, it’s DC or bust.

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