My first experience of charging an electric vehicle at public stations was an eye-opener. I had already heard, read and written about charging stations, different types of chargers and other information about charging electric vehicles. Still, there’s often a learning curve when trying something new with your own hands in the real world.
Read on to find out what I experienced when I first used electric car charging stations.
Finding Electric Vehicle Charger Locations
According to the US Department of Energy, more than 80% of electric vehicle owners charge at home. Some employers provide chargers in company parking lots. And a growing number of public charging stations are available to EV drivers when they’re on the go running errands or traveling away from home.
A few charging points are near my neighborhood in suburban Atlanta. I knew chargers in a few nearby mall parking lots. And a long time ago, I read that my electricity supplier offered public chargers at their office.
Before taking a 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EV for a test drive, I checked the searchable map of nearly 48,000 U.S. station locations on the DOE’s Alternative Fuels Data Center website. Turns out there are more charging options near me than I knew – and there are other apps to locate them.
Level 2 free charging can be good
My first charging stop was in a mall parking lot with a grocery store and other storefronts. It offers two level 2 charging units which are free, and both were available when I pulled into a parking spot.
Level 2 chargers offer the same voltage (220 to 240 volts) as a typical residential electric clothes dryer. The chargers charge at around 6 kilowatts (kW), adding around 20 to 25 miles of range to the Bolt.
The charging cord was heavier than a gas pump hose. The connector type was the common J1772 type. I opened the Bolt’s charging port door on the left front panel and put the connector in place. It wasn’t difficult, but the cord is stiffer than a gas hose, so my first try wasn’t as smooth as wielding a gas pump nozzle. The charging station’s digital display indicated it was working, as did the car’s information display. So I went to the grocery store to buy some stuff.
My quick shopping trip took about 15 minutes. The car’s lithium-ion battery gained 5 miles of range while I shopped inside the store.
Level 3 free charging is great
My next charging session was on a Level 3 charger. These fast chargers (DC fast chargers, or DCFCs) offer between 400 volts and 900 volts and charge at 50 kW or more. Many variables affect charging speeds. Chevy claims the Bolt will gain up to 100 miles in 30 minutes. using a Level 3 DC fast charger.
This station I visited is on the property of my electricity supplier. It uses a system of solar panels arranged like flower petals to generate power for the EV charger. Visitors to the solar flower garden can charge their electric car for free.
The Bolt’s battery received 11.7kWh to reach the recommended capacity of 80%. Charging added 35 miles to range in 25 minutes of fast charging – no charge. If I had brought lunch with me, I could have enjoyed the well maintained picnic area next to the solar flowers while I waited.
Important Lessons Learned About Electric Vehicle Charging
Here are some great lessons from an experienced electric car driver at this charging station. His assumption that this was my first time charging an EV wasn’t too far off. He thought I was a newbie in charging because I was standing near the charger and fiddling with my phone to install an app.
EV Charging Apps
I had previously had the mistaken impression that EV charging apps were for regular chargers, like the customer loyalty programs used by many retailers. This is not the case. Instead, different networks maintain charging stations, similar to gas stations of the same brand.
The Nissan Leaf driver who stopped at the station shortly after I arrived said the apps were needed for payment, not to earn benefits. ChargePoint, EVgo, and Electrify America are just a few of the leading networks in the electric vehicle charging space. These companies’ apps allow their users to wirelessly pay for the energy they receive from charging stations.
Even if there is no charge, as is the case with my electric company, apps are often required to initiate the charging session. Now I have four EV charging apps installed on my phone, which at least in theory allows me to use most charging stations in my area. The grocery station where I had my first EV charging experience was off-grid, so no app or registration was needed.
Charging do’s and don’ts
The enthusiastic EV driver of the Flower Garden Solar Charger shared a few more ideas. He informed me of charging etiquette – use common sense, be friendly, and don’t leave your car in a charging spot longer than necessary.
He also warned me to be “ICEd”. The slang term describes the situation where a car with an internal combustion engine uses the designated parking space for electric vehicle charging.
Paid fast charge
I stopped at another station the next day to try paid fast charging using another network. This charging session delivered 11.1 kWh in 21 minutes, at a cost of $6.63. The added range was 23 miles. The location was convenient. Coffee, pizza, fast food, ice cream and a bookstore were available a short walk from a parking lot.