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The DCFC Riddle

image credit: ID 134172714 © Akarat Phasura |

Why haven’t you bought an electric vehicle yet? If you’re like me, you simply can’t afford any car made in the last 10 years (I settled on a very nice 2000 Mercury Grand Marquis last year). However, it’s more likely that you’ve held off because of anxiety over charging times and a lack of charging stations. I don’t blame you. Even as ranges have increased to around 200-300 miles, the greenmobiles still take too long to reload and the stations are scarce, putting that road trip through Montana and the Dakotas out of the question. 

Well, in a few years there should be plenty of DC Fast Charging Stations (DCFC) … right? Maybe not. As it stands right now the really high-powered stations simply aren’t profitable due to demand charges. So, we have a classic chicken-egg problem: The public won’t buy electric cars until there are a lot of DCFC stations, but companies can’t make money off DCFC stations until there are a lot of electric cars. 

Of course, because DCFC stations are vital to the long-term future of electric cars and all the benefits they promise, utilities are on the hunt for solutions to this conundrum. Good old Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) proposed a subscription-like charging rate last year with the goal of spurring investment in stations and commercial fleets of e-vehicles. Xcel Energy put in place a demand limiter mechanism that caps billable kw quantity that’s used to figure out demand charges. 

I hope we find some way to spread DCFC Stations far and wide. An insane and every growing percentage of the world’s population lives in urban areas where air pollution exceeds healthy limits. As a consequence, many people die of related complications—6.5 million in 2012. That’s a lot of death, and a lot of lost money too.

Henry Craver's picture

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Sep 2, 2019 12:43 pm GMT

Henry, EVs may never work for road-trippers. Even with remote charging, there are two factors which limit the practicality of converting the 50,000 U.S. gas stations to recharge EVs: 1) refueling time will never be as fast as filling a tank with gasoline, and 2) there's no assurance a charging port will be available at recharging stations - requiring an additional, unpredictable wait.

For most urban drivers, however, they're ideal. Charging at night, driving during the day becomes routine, and it gets the job done. With no oil changes, tune-ups, mufflers, spark plugs, belts or filters, maintenance is mostly limited to refilling tires and wiper fluid. Electricity, as a fuel, is anywhere from five to ten times cheaper than gasoline.

We have both an EV and a hybrid, a combination which works well for families. Will DCFC stations ever be distributed far and wide? Because most EV drivers rarely charge away from home, I don't see it. In cities it hasn't hindered to EV adoption, and I think EVs will ultimately redefine the way we travel. Maybe fewer road trips, more cheap car rentals.

I'm not surprised good old PG&E wants to charge ratepayers a subscription rate to finance charging stations - what else would one expect from a good old unregulated utility monopoly? Personally, I wouldn't trust PG&E to shine my shoes, but that's another topic.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 3, 2019 12:45 pm GMT

One way I saw someone on my Twitter feed put it was pretty eye-opening. I was noting the same issues where consumers have range concern, but they pointed out that after adopting an EV it was actually the traditional ICE cars that seemed more inconvenient. It was more convenient, he noted, to know he's starting each morning with a full 'tank' and doesn't have to think about heading to a gas station before or after work, and that those trips now seem like the inconvenient ones. Just goes to show that a lot of the issue with the transportation transition is really about how these inconveniences are framed. People assume the gas station stops while doing errands is normal & that stopping for 30-40 minutes while on a long trip is a non-starter. But if we make sure those 30-40 minutes are spent in a spot for lunch or a must do shopping stop, all of a sudden the reframing isn't as hard. 

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