The electric vehicle grand vision may flounder on something most drivers take for granted: a quick pit stop.
The inconvenient truth of electric vehicles is they are terribly inconvenient to own and operate. Most cars need a charge after 200 to 250 miles traveled.
Charging them requires finding a charging station, and then an open bay.
The New York Times reports L.A. to Vegas and Back by Electric Car: 8 Hours Driving; 5 More Plugged In.
The NYT author, Ivan Penn, drove a Chevrolet Bolt from LA to Las Vegas, a 540-mile round trip that many people make regularly.
Penn reports that in addition to eight hours on the road, he spent close to five and a half hours charging the car. That's about 41% charging time.
It could have been much worse. "We always found a charger available, though more than once we got the last one, and drivers arriving after us had to wait," said Penn.
Thus, what was 5.5 hours could easily have been 8 hours. All it would have taken was one nasty wait. Tesla owners have been known to wait an hour or more for a charger to open up. And Tesla owners can use either Tesla stations or public stations. The reverse is not true.
The United States has about 24,000 public charging stations, with an average of fewer than three charging posts. By comparison, there are about 150,000 gas stations, some with dozens of pumps.
Will the number of charging stations increase as fast as electric vehicles?
I don't know but the alleged saving over gasoline is not as good as reported.
Charging costs an average cost $10 for about 200 miles, depending on the car, That's about about half the typical cost of gasoline for that distance, according to AAA.
"Our experience was not as economical: We spent about $67 on electricity, perhaps $10 less than we might have on gas," says Penn. Of course, no one can predict with any reasonable degree of accuracy, future electric costs or future gasoline prices.
Is this really "green"?
Debates on environmental friendliness rage, but even if this is an environmentally friendly setup, it's ridiculously inconvenient to spend 8 hours or even 5.5 hours charging a car for an 8-hour trip.
There are no standards for plugs, fast chargers, or number of bays. Regulations have not caught up, but Mountlake Terrace, Washington, a Seattle suburb, is forcing developers to put up charging stations.
- Signage. Each charging station space shall be posted with signage indicating the space is only for electric vehicle charging purposes. Days and hours of operation shall be included if time limits or tow-away provisions are to be enforced.
- Clearance. Charging station equipment mounted on pedestals, light posts, bollards or other devices shall be a minimum of 24 inches clear from the face of curb.
- Charging Station Equipment. Charging station outlets and connector devices shall be no less than 36 inches or no higher than 48 inches from the top of surface where mounted, and shall contain a retraction device and/or a place to hang permanent cords and connectors sufficiently above the ground or paved surface.
- Charging Station Equipment Protection. When the electric vehicle charging station space is perpendicular or at an angle to curb face and charging equipment, adequate equipment protection, such as wheel stops or concrete-filled steel bollards shall be used.
- Maintenance. Charging station equipment shall be maintained in all respects, including the functioning of the charging equipment. A phone number or other contact information shall be provided on the charging station equipment for reporting when the equipment is not functioning or other problems are encountered.
Required Number of Stations
When Do EV Vehicles Make Sense?
- Currently, nowhere, from a cost standpoint. People buy EVs or hybrids on the questionable belief they are doing something for the environment.
- For those who very seldom drive at all and for those whom walking, public transportation, or Uber is a viable option, no car of any kind makes economic sense. However, for those who demand the convenience of having a car, the points made below apply.
- If and when the cost of an EV is no more than the cost of a gas-powered vehicle (factoring in gas, insurance, life of car, maintenance costs) EVs become practical for those who seldom if ever drive more than 150 mile or so before a known lengthy stop that also happens to have a charger. For most, the charging station needs to be home or work.
- Until batteries charge as fast or nearly as fast fueling a gas-powered vehicle or readily available battery swapping stations exist, EVs will not make sense for a big percentage of drivers.
Number 3 may happen soon, or not, but 3 likely precedes 4 by a lengthy period.
Those who live in a big metropolitan area who seldom if ever drive outside that area, who also demand the convenience of having their own car whether it makes economic sense might find EVs practical in the near future. Many millions of people meet this description.
In general, ownership and inconvenience costs need to drop before EV ownership takes off. For many, we are a decade away unless and until there are readily available super-fast charging or swapping stations.
For those living in cities, I expect outright ownership rates will drop as self-driving Uber and new rental opportunities catch on.
Mike "Mish" Shedlock