The Cost of EV Public Charging – The Untold Story

What if I told you that from now on, in order to fill up your gas tank you had to pay $5 to put the nozzle in, and then pay per minute to get some random flow of gas. You have no control over how fast or slowly the gas comes out of the nozzle, but when your time is up, if your tank is not full yet, you will have to put in another $5 to get more minutes of flow, and repeat until full. Sounds crazy, right?! Well, this is exactly what we have at the worst of the EV chargers. Over the summer we carefully logged our travels in our new e-Golf, and discovered that road-tripping costs at least as much in an EV as it does in a fossil. In fact, gas costs could actually be cheaper, depending on the chargers you use, and the time savings per fill-up are substantial.

How can that be true, you ask? Everyone knows it only costs a few dollars to plug into a public charger, where it costs $40 or $50 whenever you go to the gas pumps. Well, if you are like me, and amps and kilowatts are a foreign language, it’s easy to be fooled into a false sense of economy.

There is no standardization in the current charging infrastructure, so sometimes you can charge your car for free, sometimes you are quoted an hourly rate, sometimes a fixed fee, and sometimes a combination, such as a connection fee and a per minute rate. Is that confusing enough? It gets worse, because even if you could do the math to compare those rates, the big unknown is how much power the individual charger will put out (this is the technical part about amps – refer to Matthew’s recent post Ontario’s EV Program, a User’s Review” if you want a full explanation of that).

For our e-Golf’s efficiency rating of 17.4KWh/100kms, it takes over an hour, and costs more than double the price of gas to get enough KWh’s to drive 100kms! But I needed an app to do that calculation. If only charging was sold by the kWh – then all I would need to do is replace litres with kWh’s in the typical fuel efficiency equation of  “L/100kms” to make my comparison.

Time and Cost to add 100km range at a typical KSI DC Fast Charger

We did a calculation comparing the different charging networks encountered on our trips, and this is what we found when we compared apples to apples. Putting everything into the same units, the cost to travel 100 kilometres, and comparing that to the cost of the gas required to cover the same distance in an ICE vehicle, the costs are all over the place from free right up to “Ouch”.  Because of the wild west nature of EV charging, without careful planning and some inside knowledge  EV charging can cost way more per kilometre than gas!  And to add insult to injury, it takes a lot more time to fill up at a charger than at a gas pump.

To be clear, if you mainly charge at home, the amount added to your electricity bill is definitely way less than the cost of gas. And if you only take a few road trips a year, this is probably not really going to worry you that much. But for anyone who does not have access to a home charger, such as out-of-town travellers, and local condo and apartment dwellers, who must rely on public chargers, the economics of charging an EV are way out of line.

The Electric Vehicle Chargers Ontario (EVCO) program that is providing funds for Level 3 chargers across the province, failed to provide clear specifications for the output, so many of these are way more expensive than gas. The City of Ottawa’s proposed EV Charger Policy risks falling into the same category if it follows the same path. This is counter-productive to all their other programs aimed at promoting EV’s as a more environmentally sustainable mode of transportation. Never mind range anxiety, who would buy an EV if they knew that charging it while on the road might cost two or three times as much as gas, and add two or three hours to the trip?

It’s easy to see how consumers could misunderstand the cost of public charging, and I am afraid that the policy makers are no more clear on the concept than the rest of us. They need to identify their target markets, and provide reasonably priced charging options for each market segment in order to make EV ownership viable for all. The way things stand, city dwellers who do not have access to their own home charger, and tourists or long-distance travellers, both face a serious disincentive to EV ownership. And that is the untold story of EV public charging in Ontario. Who knew?

Something missing from all EV chargers

 

 

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EVs are Traffic Too

In the before time, when we still had a fossil car we had a rule, we did not take the car out for one errand. One errand was a walk or a cycle to the closest store, not perhaps the cheapest but we saved on gas to make up the difference. We tried hard to make sure we had at least three errands to do in the same end of town before we pushed another dinosaur out into the atmosphere. When we reached enlightenment with Electric Alice that rule went out the window. With no pollution, low costs and even lower guilt, we were freed to drive whenever we felt like it.

In the last couple of weeks and after driving 12,000 km since July, it has become clear to me that this freedom comes at a cost – traffic. Arriving late somewhere we, like most people say we were stuck in traffic, but this a lie, the honest way to phrase this is “we were traffic and traffic was slow”. EVs are great in traffic, quiet, easy to drive and with one foot driving being in traffic is far less taxing than a fossil car.

But we are traffic too, we might not pollute but we can contribute to congestion and by the same measure contribute to pollution indirectly.

With an EV, the personal cost of being in congestion is reduced.  An EV is easier in traffic, and more relaxed generally, so it is more tolerable to sit in a traffic jam. The personal cost gets less as the cars get smarter. Tesla, Nissan and VW all sell EVs that will just follow the car in front in a jam, taking over much of the driving task. If we take this to the extreme with autonomous cars (should this turn out to be possible, more on this point in a later post)  the personal cost of traffic congestion is almost completely removed. You could work, sleep, play just as you might on a train.  You have to wonder if autonomous cars are going to need a washroom and a club car to be really successful.  There is a real chance that the move to more automated EVs will mean more traffic. A lot of the rest of traffic will still be burning dinos, reducing the benefit of electrification through congestion.

Fleets of shared self-driving cars, such as Waymo and Uber are proposing would be catastrophic for traffic if they succeed as a large scale replacement for personal cars.  Each trip with passengers will require an extra trip for pick up.  50% of traffic from these services will be empty.  As a replacement or supplement to transit, the issue of traffic is even worse.

Widespread electrification could impact cities with congestion charges like London. With the current system, EVs are not charged to enter central London, but if significant percentage of all vehicles are electric there is quite the potential for gridlock. Policies will have to be adjusted to ensure traffic can flow and that the streets are not totally given up to cars and trucks, no matter how green they are.  Oslo, perhaps the most electrified city in the world will start to charge EVs to enter the city centre as of January.  The charge is small (€ 1.1 vs € 4.7 for a petrol car) but will rise again in 2020.

So, my plan is to try to go back to the three errand rule, at least when there is a lot of traffic. Walking and cycling are still better for the world, even if you drive an EV.

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Ontario’s Electric Vehicle Programs – A User Review

The Government of Ontario has a broad set of policies and programs aimed at promoting electrification in the province.  As a user of many of these programs I think a personal review might be of benefit to other users and the managers of the programs.

 

http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/vehicles/electric/index.shtml

Program Reviews

Electric Vehicle Incentive Program (EVIP)             B

The EVIP is designed to subsidise the purchase of EVs, based on factors such as battery capacity and number of seats, the EVIP delivers an incentive  of between $3000 and $14,000 depending on model.  We qualified for the full $14,000 and this was processed by the dealer when we bought the car.  The incentive brought the price of our car into a similar price range as a fossil car of the same make.  By removing the premium for EVs, it allowed us to consider an EV when we would likely not have been able to afford one without the EVIP.

As a way of seeding the market and ensuring demand this program has been very successful.  It has created long waiting lists for EVs in Ontario and has to be regarded as successful.  This has highlighted a lack of effective supply side policy, but I will come back to this later.

My personal take on the incentive is I have been paid $14,000 to be an ambassador, I am happy to help promote EVs and share my experiences.  But even if other beneficiaries of the program don’t share this view, just by being present on the road shows that EVs are now a normal choice of regular people.   

The only thing standing between EVIP and an A are the delayed payments.  The province did not have enough staff to process the payments quickly and there is a large backlog.  Most dealers will not process the incentive on behalf of their customers due to long delays in getting paid. This means that the customer has to pay the $14,000 out of pocket and wait months for the cheque from the province, this reduces the affordability of EVs.  I understand that more staff have been hired to process payments.  Hopefully this will improve quickly.

 

Electric Vehicle Charging Incentive Program        B+

This is a small program that provides a 50% incentive for both a home charger and the installation of the charger, up to $500 for each.  This program is small in value compared to the EVIP but it has some great features that will help grow the EV market.  Firstly the incentive is only available for chargers bought in Canada from a Canadian source.  Without the incentive I would have saved some money and imported a charger from the US.  With the incentive, I used a dealer in Ontario.  The Canadian distributors and manufacturers are helped to grow and this will ensure that EV chargers are sold and supported in Canada.  This is great choice by the province and means that you can go to Home Depot and pick up a charger just like any other appliance.  The program also requires an electrical inspection ensuring that the charger is safely installed.  

Once again, the only thing reducing my mark is the slow processing of payments, I have yet to receive my payment after 3 months.

Electric Vehicle Chargers Ontario (EVCO)                         D-

The EVCO grant program was intended to fund a large role out of Level 2 and Level 3 chargers with a completion date of March 2017.  Funding of $19,845,122 is intended to deliver 274 Level 2 chargers and 211 Level 3 chargers.  Level 2 chargers are slower chargers and are suitable for sites where users will spend 2-5 hours such as hotels, parking etc, Level 3 chargers are faster and suited to places where the stay is 40 minutes or less and along a travel corridor.

Without the EVCO program, long distance travel by EV (other than Tesla) would not be possible at all.  The program has problems but these have to examined remembering that there were next to no level 3 chargers on the highways of Ontario before this program.

Missing Chargers

At seven months after the target date of the promised over a third of the chargers have not been delivered.  Of the 274 promised Level 2 chargers, 50 are “coming soon”, with no plans for the final 42 and of the 211 Level 3 stations, 24 are “coming soon”, with the final 53 not planned .

I think this delay is understandable and forgivable, it is hard to plan a large project like at well over 200 sites, some delay is inevitable.  Perhaps less understandable is that 42 Level 2 and 53 Level 3 chargers are not accounted for.  It is unclear from the data available if these chargers are in process somewhere or if these are not going to happen.

Lack of Network Design

The design of the public network of level 3 chargers has favoured urban and suburban locations rather than the highway locations needed to enable long distance travel. There are significant gaps east and west of the GTA that are not yet filled.  There are currently no plans for fast chargers at any of the 400 series highway service centres.  

Low Power “Fast” Chargers

However, there are some more critical issues with the program.  A large number of the Level 3 chargers that are intended to charge at 50 kW are restricted to much lower power.  Koben Systems Inc (KSI) won over half of the available funding under the EVCO program with a promise of 152 level 2 chargers and 126 level 3.  Many of KSI’s level 3 chargers are limited to 50 amps, outputting about 20 kW.

The time taken to make a trip longer than the range of an EV is highly dependant on the time it takes to charge.  Using a charger rated at 50 kW, an EV will extend its range at about 250-280 kph.   A charger limited to 20 kW will give about 110-130 kph. Driving 500 km beyond the range of an EV will take about 2 hours longer using restricted chargers compared with chargers operating at full power.

The chargers that are limited share their power feed with the host site and this causes a problem with Ontario’s demand pricing for electricity.  Exceeding 50kW even once changes the class of an electrical service, increasing the overall cost of power significantly.

It appears that the vast majority of KSI stations are limited to 20 kW (50 amps) and as they are due to deliver 126 of the 211 the negative impact on the public charging network is extensive.

With so many of the chargers in the public network unable to deliver a truly fast charge, the prospects for long distance EV travel in Ontario are not good.    

KSI also has severe support issues.  Unlike any of the other charger network, the support line is not answered by someone able to do anything with the chargers.  They promise that “support will call back” but it is unclear if they ever do.

The Province failed to provide clear specifications for the level 3 chargers and support processes and as a result we are left with a mess, fast chargers that are slow and non-existent support for the majority of the charging stations.

Cost of Charging

Currently, EV charging stations charge either based on time or a connection fee plus time.  This model incentivises lowering the power of a fast charger to increase the time connected and the fees paid for a charge.  

In my view, the fairest way to charge for level 3 charging is a small, fixed connection charge and then a per kWh rate that is published. EV charging stations need to be regulated in exactly the same way gas pumps are, from a consumer’s point of view there is no difference.

For KSI Level 3 chargers the combination of reduced power, their fee structure can push the cost of a charge to double the cost of gas for the same journey.

KSI fees at a power restricted Level 3 Charger

Charge Time Charge Cost 1 Range Added Equivalent

Gas Cost 2

20 minutes $          8.95 44 km $      3.47
30 minutes $        10.95 67 km $      5.20
40 minutes $        12.95 89 km $      6.93
50 minutes $        14.95 111 km $      8.67
60 minutes $        16.95 133 km $   10.40

1 Charging cost based on KSI rates ($4.95 connection fee and $0.20 per minute) on a charger limited to 50 amps.

2 Gas cost based on $1.20 per litre and consumption of 6.5 l/100km.

Families with a conventional car in addition to an EV are far less likely to undertake long journeys in their EV if it costs them more and takes them a lot longer due to KSI’s chargers.

The EVCO charging network requires regulation and policy changes to move EV long distance travel from possible to the best alternative.

Quebec’s network of Level 3 chargers consistently delivers fast charging at a much lower price.  A 30 minute charge will deliver 133 km and cost $6 on an Electric Circuit station, 64% cheaper and 100% faster than KSI delivers in Ontario.

EV Supply Management                                         F

At this time, the Province is not attempting to manage the supply of EVs in Ontario.  There a provision in the Electric Vehicle Incentive Program that each manufacturer must demonstrate a path to raise EV sales to 5% by 2020. However the only sanction is the loss of access to the EVIP, which, if you don’t plan to sell cars, is no sanction at all.

Today, EVs from Nissan, GM, Hyundai and Volkswagen are sold out until the middle of 2018, Tesla’s Model 3 first Canadian deliveries are not expected until late 2018. Finding a lower cost EV in Ontario is just about impossible.  In 2018 I expect this to get much worse as Quebec has introduced a quota system for EVs that starts in 2018 at 3.5% of all car sales, rising to 15.5% by 2025.  This quota has already removed the 2018 Ford Focus Electric from sale in the rest of Canada and it seems likely that Ontario will lose access to other models as the impact of Quebec’s quota system is felt.

As Quebec pushes forward there is a high likelihood that the shortage of EVs in Ontario will continue for many years, handicapping the Province’s EV programs.  There is little point in stimulating demand, as Ontario has done so successfully if there are no cars to buy.

Federal Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau has not indicated any desire to move forward with a national EV quota system, it is left to the Provinces to address this as Quebec already has.

 Overall Assessment                       D+

A Promising Start, Follow Through Lacking

The current programs have changed the landscape for the EV in Ontario.  By making EV ownership easier and long distance EV travel possible, the Province is to be congratulated.  

The lack of supply side policy has undermined these successes and in 2018 I expect to see the slow growth of EV sales to continue or perhaps fall back depending on how Nissan and Tesla address the Quebec market.

Urgent action is required to address the issues with EVCO and quotas if growth in EVs is to continue.

 

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The Gas Station of the Future

A few days ago, Canadian newspapers published an interesting, but slightly misguided article on the issues of moving gas stations to charging stations. You can read it here.

The summary of this article is that the transition from gas to electricity for inter-city travel is too hard and too expensive. The article missed the fact that the transition is going to take years and that there are other factors at play that make the conversion of a highway service stations a potential money spinner.

Timing: Even if Canada stopped buying fossil/ICE cars today and switched over to 100% battery electric vehicles, it would take 10 years or more to replace the current cars on the road. We buy just under 2 million cars per year and there are about 22 million cars on the road. Many cars now last 15-20 years so the time for total replacement will be much longer. Given current projections my guess is that it will take 20 years or more for the transition to run its course.

Electrical supply changes: In 2016 the US generated about 65% of its electricity from natural gas (33.8%) and coal (30.4%) plus a small amount of oil and other non-renewables, 19.7% came from nuclear and 14.9 percent from renewables, Hydro (6.5%) wind (5.6%), biomass (1.5%), solar (0.9%) geothermal (0.4%).

US solar and wind capacity will continue to grow, even in the current political environment.  As renewables grow, the issue becomes matching sunny and windy days to electrical demand. Storing electrical power for use later enables the power grid to make much better use of solar and wind reducing the use of fossil fuel. Tesla’s Powerwall is designed for a single home, but local, regional and grid energy storage systems are being deployed now.

As the installed base of renewables rises, grid storage becomes more and more attractive and important. By storing power in the grid or at the edge of the grid, renewable energy can be captured when excess is available and delivered back to customers when demand exceeds supply. If we are to move to 100% renewables, this will require a lot of power storage. Homes will have power walls and EVs connected to act as storage, neighbourhoods will have local storage and there will be lots of grid storage whether it is battery or other techologies.

How does this impact gas station conversion? Urban areas will not require as much public charging capacity as most EVs will be charged at home or work. Existing models of deploying Level 2 and 3 chargers will be extended, supermarkets, shopping centres, hotels and other destinations with parking will continue to deploy charges because they want to attract customers. Local gas stations will slowly disappear and are unlikely to be replaced directly.  As home EV charging has about the same impact as running central air-conditioning, the impact on the grid will be small and will be off-set by home solar and battery systems.

Along highways away from urban centres the story is very different; there is a real need for significant infrastructure to support long distance EV travel. A typical gas station delivers of the order of 200,000km of range per day to the vehicles it services. This is a huge amount of energy and is highly variable. On a holiday Friday evening, some gas stations deliver much more gas than the average day.

The move from gas to electric does not need a one for one replacement of capacity as behaviour and patterns change as we move from fueling to charging. Rather than leaving on a trip in your fossil car with whatever gas you happen to have in the tank, your EV will be fully charged before you leave home. Your car will have a range of 4-500km before you need to charge. This may serve to limit the number of times we need to stop as Ottawa-Toronto would not need a charging stop and Montreal-Toronto would only need one quick stop.

What does a highway service station of 2025 or 2030 look like?  The obvious change is that all the parking spots have high power EV chargers. A visit to the service station is just pull up, plug in and go find the coffee and the washroom. With a new generation of EVs charging at 150kW, 200km range added takes only a few minutes and you are on your way.  As there is no holding a fuel nozzle in the rain to fuel up, more time is available to relax and take a break from driving.

So this all seems great but how do we get there? The obvious answer is slowly, there is a huge investment required to make this all work but there is a less obvious way this can all work and be economic. The one key technology is local battery storage to smooth demand on the grid. Tesla is already deploying battery storage and solar at their Supercharger locations with the long term goal of disconnecting Superchargers from the grid completely.

The scale required to support a highway service area in a world where most vehicles are EVs brings us back to grid storage. By building large scale energy storage at service stations to allow them to deal with holiday weekends without overloading the local grid service stations have a huge and potentially profitable asset they can use as grid energy storage.  Grid storage works by charging when electricity supply exceeds demand when prices are low or even negative and then selling that power back to the grid when prices are high.  This technology reduces the need to have lots of backup generating capacity in the grid.

Because we all tend to hit the road on the holidays, there will be a huge difference between the typical usage of the chargers and the peak usage.  This means that the energy storage can be used by the grid most of the time, providing a significant revenue opportunity.

This model has the possibility to move service stations to an entirely sustainable future, both economically and environmentally. As service stations are largely rural, colocation of solar and wind farms is also attractive.

For highway service areas, the transition from selling gas to becoming a key part of the electricity supply system will not be easy, but it is achievable and potential profitable.

 

 

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