EV Update, Part 2: Public Car Charging Grows 25%

Research follows the tracks and trips of electric vehicle drivers

Samantha Oller, Senior Editor/Fuels, CSP

SAN FRANCISCO -- As the electric-vehicle (EV) market is poised for greater expansion, new research is helping illuminate the “fueling” behaviors of the EV driver.

San Francisco-based ECOtality Inc. oversees the Blink Network of residential, private and public smart-charging stations. The latter range from a Level 2 wall mount for parking garages to a Level 3 DC Fast Charger for sites such as gas stations. ECOtality’s retailer partners include BP, Best Buy, Ikea and Cracker Barrel.

In the third quarter of 2012, ECOtality saw a 25% jump in charging at public stations, just one of the many metrics tracked in its research initiative, The EV Project, which collects EV driver data in ECOtality’s Blink Network of more than 4,000 residential and 1,800 public Level 2 chargers, and 39 public Level 3 DC Fast Chargers. (For more, see www.theevproject.com/.)

ECOtality has nearly 7,800 charging units installed as part of the EV Project in 17 markets, including Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz.; Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; Oregon; Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville, Tenn.; Dallas/Ft. Worth and Houston; Washington state; and most recently, Chicago, Atlanta and Philadelphia.

Some interesting findings from latest quarter studied by The EV Project include:

  • At the public Level 2 chargers, users kept their vehicles connected for an average of 5 hours per charging event, with the peak being the noon hour during the weekday.
  • The percentage of home charging continues to decrease. For example, the typical Nissan Leaf owner charges up at home 80% of the time. In the third quarter 2012, this slipped to 70%.
  • The average mileage per quarter has grown to 2,275 miles, with drivers of the electric-gas hybrid Chevrolet Volt typically driving farther each day than 100% electric Nissan Leaf drivers. Interestingly, the average number of charge events was also slightly higher for Volt drivers, or 1.4 per day.

“Those types of customers, while they have the gas back-up generator, are still using the public infrastructure because they want to stay away from using [gasoline],” said Brian Koontz, director of strategic corporate development for ECOtality. “They want the comfort level of knowing they have additional fuel, but they don’t want to use it.”

EV drivers’ charging behavior depends on where and how they charge.

“For retailers and shopping centers, we’re seeing customers staying an hour, an hour and 15 minutes,” said Koontz. “They’re engaged in something called ‘trip-chaining.’ As they go between the office to a retail place to a grocery store to a restaurant, they are stopping for that amount of time to get that amount of range before they go to their primary fueling spot, which is home.”

At c-stores, Level 3 DC Fast Charge stations are the common setup.

“At standard fueling stations, their average customer stay is between 5 to 10 minutes depending on what they’re doing,” said Koontz, who noted that most of these sites have a restaurant on site or nearby. “Those are high-turnover places, usually areas close off of highways where it’s good to have a DC Fast Charge station, which can fuel up a vehicle 80% in 20 minutes.”

ECOtality’s research reveals that EV drivers are working public charging stations into their commutes and daily routines. “You may go shop at store X vs. store Y because they are now offering this convenience and the opportunity to plug in and charge your car, and it’s not that far out of your way,” said Koontz.

The exec noted, however, that retailers who offer public charging stations need to accept a couple fundamental truths about EV drivers.

“When people are talking about refueling electric cars, they’re not talking about filling up,” said Koontz. “It’s a whole different mind shift/change for individuals when you start talking about utilizing the commercial electric vehicle structure. Most of the time with these DC fast chargers, they’re only going to be used for 5 to 10 minutes because they only need enough range to get them back home.”

The vast majority of EV charging stations charge a fee, said Koontz. “The fee for use is generally for access to use the charging station. It doesn’t have anything tied to the electricity use for it,” he said, adding that $1.50 per hour for access seems to be the average. ECOtality offers EV drivers tiered levels of membership to its Blink Network of public charging sites, ranging from $1 to $2 per hour.

That being said, if you are trying to develop a quick return-on-investment based on the access fees—don’t.

“Whether you are a c-store or big box, you can’t look at this initiative today as working to get an ROI based upon access fees that are generated from the charging station,” said Koontz. “There needs to be a lot of other, much better reasons to do it: It’s part of your customer social responsibility, or part of your green initiative.”

There is ancillary revenue that is currently unquantifiable, he added, and unrealized revenue from trip chaining, new behavior patterns and other goods that are inside the stores that are drawing customers that has not yet been documented.