The Charge Station Triangle

20120302_002_0You know the old fire (or combustion) triangle? The concept that for something to burn, it requires a spark, fuel and oxygen? I think for a successful charge station installation, you have a similar set of requirements. You need good hardware, a good management policy, and a good group of drivers.

The Site and Hardware

Once a week, I charge at a certain public station. The site is a parking lot which is surrounded by many tech company offices, and the number of plug-ins in the lot probably exceeds the average by quite a bit.

The site owner here has painted three spots as EV spots. The signage and markings on the ground are pretty permissive. It’s clear the spots are for charging, but there are no ominous time limits, or CA statutes listed. The owner has installed a Coulomb single port Level 2 and a Ecotality Blink single port Level 2. The third spot, in the middle, is painted, but has no charging station (yet.. see below).

Tom Saxton checked his EVI Infrastructure study data for me and found that the Coulomb averages 17% utilization (over a 24 hr period), which places it in the top 10th percentile of ChargePoint stations. The Blink averages 10.1% utilization, which is still pretty respectable compared to the EV Project average of 6%. This Blink was down from April 17th to 24th during the general Blink network outage.

20120423_00320120326_004In my times charging at this site, I’ve had two issues with the hardware. The Blink station locked up on me after reading my card, with an “Unable to Read Card. Please Try Again” error screen. I believe my wife had this happen on another Blink machine and it seems to be specific to that make. As for the Coulomb, I once tried accessing it using my credit card with RFID, just to see what would happen. I got an unfriendly “Auth Failed Credit Card Declined” error. I should follow up with ChargePoint to see what that was about. Could be embarrassing on a date, huh?

The Drivers

I first started charging here in late February. Here we are only 2 and a half months later, and I’m noticing the spot is developing its own “culture”. I park there only once a week, and walk to another set of buildings, so I can’t really see the whole picture.

There’s a red Volt. I often see it parked next to my car. Last week, the owner left a note on my windshield saying he hoped it was OK to unplug me. I was happy to interact with one of the other drivers, and responded that it was OK.

There’s a white LEAF, just like mine. White seems to be the least noticeable LEAF color, so I probably don’t notice this car if it’s in the lot but not in one of the charge spots.

There’s a blue LEAF that I used to see charging, but lately I only see in a non-charging spot. Is the driver charging in the morning and moving her car before I get back? Or is the driver sitting things out now that the stations are getting a bit more impacted?

Today, I got a ChargePoint text message indicating that my car was topped off. Of course, I was in a meeting, so I couldn’t just rush out to move it. A couple hours later, I walked out there to move the car and met a driver who was moving his gray Volt.

This driver had just recently gotten his February-built CA HOV-compliant Volt. Yet for a new driver, he was really knowledgeable about the charging situation at this particular site. Apart from the cars I knew about, he told me about more. “See that white car way over there. That’s an Active-E.” Wow. I haven’t seen too many of those. If he hadn’t pointed it out, I’d never have noticed. He had even picked up some info about how far the other drivers commuted.

The Management

I learned that the site owner was communicating with the drivers who work in the nearby offices. The third (currently empty) spot will be getting a GE Wattstation in June. The site owner is doing a one-year pilot study to determine which stations to buy more of.

So this is all becoming more clear. The current Coulomb and Blink stations are networked, so the owner can get usage data from the respective EVSPs. The GE Wattstation that’s coming is also a networked station, so the site owner will be able to log into GE Connect to see the usage.

And the site owner is in communication with the local tenant drivers (and apparently is interested from hearing from the transient drivers, like me).

So this owner will have access to some very valuable data when the year is up. Which stations are preferred by drivers? Which subscriber networks are preferred by drivers? Which stations are friendlier to non-subscribers? How much would drivers be willing to pay? Which stations suffer the least amount of wear and tear? I’d love to see that dataset.

As for the site itself, it’s very interesting to watch it go, in only a couple months, from hardly being used at all, to cars shuffling in and out like dancers in a ballet.

Update: I was contacted by the property manager and asked to fill out a “Plug-in Vehicle Registration Form”. This seems very proactive, and I’m interested in hearing more from the manager about how he plans to utilize the data he collects. Stay tuned.


Upcoming Webinar

pumpwplugIf you’re interested in what charging stations are available and how to choose among them, please register now for our free webinar on Thursday, May 24, 2012 5:00PM PDT. More information available here. Whether you’re thinking of buying a plug-in and are researching residential options, or you’re a property or business owner considering hardware to install for a public site, we’d love to have you join us.

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