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Monday, April 3, 2017

EV Charging Experience - Only Tesla Has It Right

EV Advocate Chelsea Sexton plugs in a Nissan Leaf
Photo via Otago Daily Time by: Linda Robertson

If you drive an electric car for your everyday get-around-needs, then plugging in and charging up is a necessary part of your daily ritual. This means the experience you have while charging is an important part of your EV ownership satisfaction. When and where you charge, how long it takes, and the amenities available to you, while you wait are all vital components of this experience. The EV charging network membership, availability, and reliability are additional important factors in the satisfaction of the experience.

The Ideal State of Charge

Most EV charging is done at home, in your own garage, overnight. With this type of charging, there is no hurry, the car will be there for hours. This is the most convenient type of charging. There is no membership card. It's your personal parking spot with a dedicated charger. And you have all the amenities of hearth and home.

Other than the charging rate, this is the perfect charging experience; as good as it gets. When you are on an EV road trip, things are different. Unless you are stopping for the night, you don't want to wait for hours while you recharge. Fast charging is a requirement. The faster, the better; especially as battery pack sizes increase, charging rates must also increase.

Other than charging speed, the mid-trek EV charging experience should be as much like home charging as possible.

Entr'acte Charging 

When you're traveling and you need to charge, you want a parking spot without waiting, you want to plug-in and charge without hassles, you want amenities. And you want this all without dealing with a membership card, fob, or app (especially if it's cold and/or rainy).

You want to pull-in, plug-in, charge up, and drive on. You want all this with minimal waiting, minimal hassle. WiFi, a cup of coffee, and a meal option would be nice too.

Membership Has Its Privileges Pains
Cardless is Priceless, For Everything Else, There's A Fob

With most EV charging networks you need to have a membership card, a fob, or an app to sign into the network before you can charge. This is at best a minor inconvenience and at worst a hurdle or point of failure. The card reader may not be working, your phone might not have a signal for a network connection that the app needs. These can prevent you from charging or at least slow you down while you swipe, tap, or scan QR codes to initiate a charging session.

Your Car Is You Card (the better way)

With Tesla's Supercharger network, the car is your membership card. When you plug in, the vehicle and the station communicate and authorize (or not authorize) the charging event. There's no membership card to swipe, no RFID to tap, nor QR code to scan. It just works and you can avoid the jungle of charging cards. This is how all the networks (fast charge or Level 2) should operate.

Today, Tesla is the only EV charge-provider that has the "It Just Works" formula for a great charging experience.

To implement a "your-car-is-your-card" system for other networks it would require the charging stations and vehicles to have an agreed communications protocol to exchange the car's unique id (such as a salted hash of the VIN) from the vehicle. The communication would need to be secure. You would not want someone to use a forged id and have their charging fees sent to another account. As far as I know, none of the standard charging standards (J1772, CHAdeMO, or CCS) support any such communication option.

Rather than revamping the existing standards, another option is for the automakers to adopt Tesla's charging scheme. This sounds like a good topic to cover in our next article.

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