Range Confidence: Charge Fast, Drive Far, with your Electric Car

By David Herron

Last Update: May 3, 2019

It's necessary to join several charging networks, due to the conditions electric car owners face while charging away from home. But it seems difficult to learn what charging networks exist in your area, and which ones you should join. And, there may even be confusion over just what a charging network is.

What's a Charging Network?

I've seen questions asking what other charging networks exist besides PlugShare. What's amusing is that PlugShare is not a charging network. PlugShare is a service aggregating charging station locations from all charging networks, providing a combined view of the entire charging infrastructure.

The definition of what a charging network is helps us to understand why PlugShare is not a charging network. A charging network at the minimum:

  • Coordinates access to charging stations by electric car drivers
  • Paints common branding to the customers on all stations in the network
  • Provides management services to keep charging stations running

PlugShare, and other charging station map smart phone apps, does none of those things. These apps simply inform the users charging station locations for several charging networks. These app makers need to cooperate with all charging network operators, and therefore cannot themselves act as a charging network.

By contrast services like Blink, ChargePoint, GreenLots, have membership programs for drivers, and are the gatekeeper for access to charging stations. Some charging networks own the whole business, while others work with host sites who own the stations and offers transaction processing services to hosts.

Hence, there are two kinds of services to know about:

  • Charging station maps showing stations from all charging networks
  • Charging networks

The charging networks usually distribute a smart phone app for charging station locations -- but only for their own charging stations. By contrast the charging station map applications, like PlugShare, have data from all charging networks.

How to locate electric vehicle charging station locations while driving around?

That's the question all electric car drivers have. Just as gasoline car drivers need to know gasoline station locations, electric car drivers need charging station locations.

It's not like charging stations are common enough we can just drive around until we find one. That's a recipe for getting stuck with an empty battery. The charging station maps exist to help us find charging stations.

For further resources see:

How to learn which charging networks exist in your area

Each of those services have their place. Most of us use PlugShare to find charging stations, and additionally maintain memberships in multiple charging networks. All the charging networks have their own charging station map app, but getting a complete view of all charging stations would then mean jumping between multiple map applications.

The best approach is to browse PlugShare for the area you're interested in, then tap on the markers on the map. PlugShare will show you which network (if any) owns that station, or whether the station is non-networked. Non-networked charging stations are simply owned by a company or a person, and are not owned by a charging network, and do not require charging network membership.

Since it's thought PlugShare is the best of the map applications, let's start there. We don't even need the app, just go to (plugshare.com) http://PlugShare.com and browse their map with the website.

The map will detect your current location. It's a normal online map, built on top of Google Maps. The stations are denoted with markers. The markers have different details indicating these attributes:

  • Whether it is currently in use
  • Fast charging, versus level 2 charging
  • Public station, versus one shared by an individual

What you must do is browse the map in the areas you frequently visit, especially focusing on the stations you're likely to use. Any time you make a trip to new area, it's wise to check the charging station maps first to acquaint yourself with charging in that area. Click on the markers and learn the specifics about each station:

  • Driving directions
  • Location within the site
  • Charging network and other access restrictions
    • Unfortunately PlugShare's data does not always make clear the affiliation of a given station
    • Some stations are not on any network. For example, Clipper Creek stations cannot be networked and are always open access.
  • Which fast charging protocols (if any) are supported

Now that you have a list of charging networks, it's time to visit their websites and get membership cards.

Tesla HPWC and Supercharger locations

Unless you own a Tesla Motors automobile, the Tesla-specific stations are useless. The charging station maps contain locations for those stations because of course those owners need to know that data.

The HPWC stations are capable of supplying up to 80 amps, and have a Tesla-specific plug on them. While the HPWC product is primarily sold for individuals at home, these stations to get installed for public access.

The Supercharger stations are Tesla's DC Fast Charging solution.

Search filters

The PlugShare app, and others, have "filters" that select which stations you want to see. I, as the owner of a car with a CHAdeMO fast charging port am primarily interested in CHAdeMO stations. Therefore, I've configured PlugShare to only show CHAdeMO, and then switch the filters if I can accommodate a level 2 charge in my schedule.

The configuration of search filters varies from app to app, so you'll have to learn this on your own.

What to look for in a Charging Network?

Curiously some gas car drivers are loyal to particular brands, and only buy from that company. Over time we may see brand loyalty develop for charging station networks. In the meantime let's consider a few practical reasons to choose one network over another:

  • Reliability We want that charging station to work all the time. Downtime puts our travel at risk.
  • Ubiquitous We want enough stations in public so we can travel freely. The stations don't have to be all in one network - just as gas car drivers often buy varying gasoline brands. At the same time it's desirable to have membership in as few networks as possible.
  • Cost The cost to charge should be high enough to make it financially worthwhile for network operators, so they'll be able operate a reliable ubiquitous service, but not so high that we're being shafted.
  • Responsibility The charging network operators are providing a valuable service to the electric vehicle owning community. Electric vehicle adoption serves a much higher goal for society than most other products. Ideally the network operators will act responsibly to benefit us all, versus being money-grubby opportunists.

Some of these attributes will be difficult to determine. There's no independent report, for example, of charging station reliability. Instead there's a lot of grumbling among electric vehicle owners.

The best tool we have is consulting the status checkin's on PlugShare. That is, PlugShare users can "check in" when using a station, and we can alert each other to broken stations. Otherwise it's possible to use your last electron getting to a station only to find it's broken.

Range Confidence is Copyright © 2016-17 by David Herron

About the Author(s)

David Herron : David Herron is a writer and software engineer focusing on the wise use of technology. He is especially interested in clean energy technologies like solar power, wind power, and electric cars. David worked for nearly 30 years in Silicon Valley on software ranging from electronic mail systems, to video streaming, to the Java programming language, and has published several books on Node.js programming and electric vehicles.
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