Alone in the Dark with my Electric Car

I am an electric car driver. To be specific, I do not own my car but am leasing it. I am driving a fully electric Nissan Leaf base model with quick charge upgrade package. As of August I can no longer charge at my house, although since I signed my contract last fall I had bought a home charging unit and had been charging at my house. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that the EV charging network works efficiently for me. For the near year that I’ve had my car (and it’s my only car), I have never run out of juice because of careful planning and stress-driving. I mention stress-driving because I don’t always know if I will want or need to make an extra trip on the one ‘tank’ so I am usually driving carefully to conserve fuel consumption and constantly mildly anxious about whether I will have enough. I have had my car and my experiences with the car for a year and so feel I’ve built up enough experience using the EV infrastructure to provide a useful and honest bit of feedback on how it has worked over the past year.

My dealer was kind enough to give me my first membership card (which I still had to activate) and I was lulled into a sense of false confidence that I was ready to hit the networks. Fact: There is no one network/membership for EV charging. Fact: I am part of three networks currently in Washington State, of which all three operate independently of one another and if you do not have a membership activated and in some cases a card in hand you cannot charge or it is very very difficult to start a charging session (i.e. credit card over the phone with an automated voice system).

Blink seemed like a wonderful network. It has a catchy name. They seemed to be all over the state. They had several quickcharge stations, which I had paid about $1000 more total to have use of in my car and was told that I could get to a “70% charge in 20 minutes” (I’m quoting my dealer salesman here). Ah the beauty of the last minute save that only takes a bit longer than the gas station to get you the mileage you need. But alas, this is not the case, see previous blog post here. Almost immediately using this network I found out that Blink was going through some “bankruptcy problems” and was no longer servicing ANY of their stations and I ran into at least 2-3 ‘broken’ stations.

Here is what Blink says about their network: “The Blink Network is a rich infrastructure of over 4,000 charging stations plus a customizable online dashboard. As a member, EV drivers enjoy discounted fees at charging stations across the country and more. (Charging costs vary based on local equipment operating costs and level of membership.) Blink Memberships are free, have no annual fee, and your InCard is free too. Learn more on our Membership FAQ page. Anyone can charge their cars at Blink charging stations– membership is not required. However, becoming a Blink Member has terrific advantages. Join today.”

Cue the need for a home charger and the sanctity of mind that came with it.

Chargepoint was my next venture. When I found out that not all charging stations could be accessed with the handy Blink card I had been handed with my car, I ran out and got myself a free Chargepoint membership. Wonder of wonders the first charging station from Chargepoint I stopped at was FREE. My goodness how wonderful. Not only was it free, I was able to snag a parking spot in an already full parking lot. Thanks Chargepoint. But the happiness stopped there. That same charging station (there are two ports) has since been ‘broken’ three times, causing me undue levels of stress when I assumed I could charge and then came to find that they were unusable. Chargepoint requires membership for station activation even for the free ones, so it is a mild hassle to just try to stop in and start use but after membership is established and the 7-10 business days’ wait for your card to arrive you are good to go. Membership requires a $25 deposit.

Here’s what Chargepoint says about their network: “ChargePoint is the world’s largest and most open EV charging network with over 18,500 public level 2 and DC fast charging spots. We’re growing rapidly adding over 500 new charging ports every month. Our mission is to help people make the switch to EVs and to provide an open charging network so they can plug in wherever they go. ChargePoint is focused on providing a seamless charging experience for drivers, partners and station owners. With ChargePoint, you can plug-in wherever you go. We provide our real-time data to drivers on the web, our mobile app and in car navigation units. We drive policy to support EV adoption and educate the public on why EVs are better – they’re more reliable, cheaper to fuel and maintain, better for the environment and provide a more thrilling driving experience. Every 8 seconds, a driver connects to a ChargePoint station and by initiating over 5.8 million charging sessions, ChargePoint drivers have saved over 5 million gallons of gasoline, avoided 37.2 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions and driven over 120 million gas free miles.”

I despise Semacharge. If possible, avoid at all costs. They charge about the equivalent of gas and five times the hassle. The two I have used were inconveniently placed and difficult to use and costly. I only activated membership because I had to use a specific charger and it was not possible to use without a membership. I had to send them $20 and they sent me back (after 3-5 business days) a pre-loaded $20 card, so don’t lose it!

Here’s what Semacharge says about their network: “SemaConnect is a leading developer and producer of smart networked electric vehicle (EV) charging stations and sophisticated electric vehicle software for station owners and EV drivers. The company launched in 2008 with the first ChargePro™ 620 edition, and EV software called SemaCharge. SemaConnect has successfully deployed thousands of charging stations nationwide, and is the top choice among class A commercial real estate properties nationwide. Despite not receiving large government stimulus funds for producing EV stations, SemaConnect has tenaciously persevered with organic commercial sales that displays true testament to the growing EV charging market. SemaConnect’s aggressive product, technology and software development initiatives within the commercial industry has led them to become the EV charging company of choice for top companies such as Corporate Office Properties Trust, PMI Parking, The Bozzuto Group and many more. The company’s philosophy is to innovate, design and build high quality products and services that help their customers move to a cleaner, greener future. Much time and thought has been contributed to the overall design, usability, reliability and safety of the station. This has allowed SemaConnect to produce a high-tech product that is durable, smart, and interactive and yet is easy to install and leaves a small footprint on any property. SemaConnect is one of the top tier players in the EV Charging industry.”

 

Money spent using each network:

  Blink Chargepoint Semacharge
September 2013  0  Activated May 2014  Activated July 2014
October 2013  10  Activated May 2014  Activated July 2014
November 2013  0  Activated May 2014  Activated July 2014
December 2013  5  Activated May 2014  Activated July 2014
January 2014  5  Activated May 2014  Activated July 2014
February 2014 14  Activated May 2014  Activated July 2014
March 2014 2  Activated May 2014  Activated July 2014
April 2014 0  Activated May 2014  Activated July 2014
May 2014 1  1.51  Activated July 2014
June 2014 5  1.43  Activated July 2014
July 2014  0  7.21  15.11
August 2014  0  0  1.87
Totals: $43.00 $10.15 $16.98

Blink: Usage data not available

Semacharge/Semaconnect stats – total energy consumption: 43.316461 kWh

Chargepoint stats: 26 total chargeups, total energy consumption 91.507 kWh, 38.433 GHG savings (kg)

 

 

My rating of each network on the following:

On a 1-10 rating scale with 1 being on the low end/not good/poor and 10 being on the high end/good/great

   Blink  Chargepoint  Semacharge
 Network/Station Reliability  7  9  6
 Search-ability using online map/app  9  8  2
 Customer Service (availability/ease of use/usefulness)  5  5  1
 Ease of Use of Service (start-up, using charging port, etc)  8  6  1
 Useful Location  6  8  6
 Busyness (Available and not in use)  8  8  8

I have walked alone in the dark because I was charging my electric car at an inconvenient location. If you are a station owner, please place your charging station where no regular cars will want to park because If I cannot get to the charging port I cannot charge. If you are considering putting in a station, ask yourself: Would my potential customer spend 3-5 hours at this location? (so don’t put it outside a Walgreens).

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