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 actually seen a question asking what other charging networks exist besides PlugShare. What's amusing is that PlugShare is not a charging network. Further, it would be competitionally difficult for PlugShare to enter that business.
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
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. Instead we want one map showing all stations.
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 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.
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. We may puzzle over what drives brand loyalty, but it exists. Over time we'll 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.
- 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.