Charging an electric car at a public charging station is more-or-less exactly the same as using your home charging station. Some differences are:
- Finding the charging station locations
- Membership in charging networks
- Paying for the charging session
- Etiquette for sharing public charging stations with others
- The electric car charging process at a public charging station
Let's dive in and cover each of these.
Finding public electric car charging stations
Unfortunately finding a public charging station is not as easy as finding a gasoline station. Electric car charging stations aren't conveniently at prominent intersections and other places occupied by gasoline stations. In the future that may change as the public charging network becomes more prominent.
We already talked about finding public charging stations in: Step 2 – Know your local EV charging terrain.
The primary tool is an application like PlugShare, or the PlugShare website -- Smart-phone apps for finding electric car charging station networks. These apps maintain lists of public charging stations, and are an excellent resource.
You can also look for charging stations as you drive around. Not all are listed in these charging station map applications.
The last step may be the most important, which is to ask your employer to install a charging station. Employers give little perks to employees all the time, it's called employee retention. As electric cars become more popular more employees will be looking to charge their car while at the office. While charging at home is the most convenient place to refuel your car, charging at the office is the second most convenient place.
The naysayer story about electric car charging is it's inconvenient to wait 4 hours to recharge the car. When charging at home or charging at the office, your time is impacted by only the 30 seconds it takes to plug in to start charging. You then walk inside, and have your work day or your evening with the family. While it took 4 hours to recharge, your personal time is not impacted with 4 hours of time cost.
Membership in electric car charging networks
Most of the public charging stations are owned by charging networks. Each network owns or operates hundreds or thousands of charging stations across a region or country or continent. The charging networks usually require a membership (identification) card to use the charging stations.
We already talked about his in: Step 6 – Charging station network memberships and smart phone apps.
It is important to make a list of the charging networks in your area, and join each one.
Paying for electric car charging sessions
Joining the charging networks usually involves giving them credit card information so the network can collect money from you.
Some charging stations support directly taking a credit card rather than requiring a membership.
The listing in the charging station map application will describe which network (if any) own/operate that station, the fees (if any), and how to pay them.
We have talked about payments elsewhere: How do I pay for energy consumed in charging my electric vehicle?
Etiquette for sharing public charging stations with others
Public charging stations are a shared resource that must serve all electric car owners. All of us who drive an electric car need access to public charging stations. Therefore it is important that we all learn how to equitably share access to public charging stations with other electric car owners.
There is a selfish reason for this if you must have one: To ensure you have access to public charging stations, everyone else must also have access to electric car charging stations.
We have talked about etiquette elsewhere: Charging station etiquette - effectively sharing limited resources
The electric car charging process at a public charging station
Now that we've got this theory taken care of, let's look at how it's actually done. You have probably used a home charging station. The physical process is similar to what you do at home.
Authenticate: Some charging station networks require you authenticate yourself in order to start a charging session. This lets the network control access, charge fees, send notifications via text message to your cell phone, etc. Authentication methods include:
- Waving an RFID card over a reader
- Reading a QR-Code with a cell phone app
- Paying with credit card
Other charging networks do not require authentication. The charging station map applications usually tell you whether authentication is required, and if so which charging station network. Before you drive miles to a charging station, it's useful to know whether you're a member of the necessary charging network.
Plug in: If you're at a Level 2 station, this will be identical to what you do at home. However if you're at a fast charging station the charging plug will be different. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the plug.
Start the charging session: This may not be necessary, depending on the charging station design. In some cases you must press a button. For example some multi-cord stations require you to select the cord to use.
Inspect display or smart phone app: Most charging networks supply a smart phone app through which you can monitor the charging session, among other functions. In most cases you can monitor the session from any distance, thanks to modern data communications wizardry.
Portable electric car charging stations and informally charging your car
While electricity is available everywhere, we can't always find an electric car charging station. Since electric cars cannot be plugged directly into a regular power outlet, we need an adapter between the power outlet and the charging socket. Namely, we need a portable electric car charging station.
This is covered in: Can you drive an electric car away from charging network coverage areas?
For information on extension cords to use with electric cars see: Safely use Extension Cords when charging an electric car or electric motorcycle
Just as the charging station map applications list charging stations, they also list regular power outlets that are known to be available for electric car drivers. See Smart-phone apps for finding electric car charging station networks