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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