When it comes to refueling a car, drivers of gas- and diesel-powered vehicles have it easy. They roll up to any one of about 100,000-plus gas stations in the U.S., pump in liquid fuel in a matter of minutes, and pay either in cash or with a credit card. Unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated with public charging for electric vehicles—although remember that almost all EV charging takes place at home, which usually requires about 30 seconds to plug in each night.
For EV drivers who want to regularly charge in public, it’s important to know about the handful of charging networks offering access to electric fuel on the go. Each network works a little differently. It’s a good idea for EV owners to have a basic understanding of how they compare with one another. That’s why we put together this basic guide on EV charging networks. It’s a work-in-progress, and your input and feedback are encouraged.
The three primary approaches are: (1) pay-as-you-go, (2) monthly subscriptions, and (3) free. If given the opportunity, it makes sense to grab a free charge, even for a relatively short period of time. But the pay models, depending on the cost for a charge, need to be studied to determine which network makes the most sense for you—if it’s best to collect a wallet-full of membership cards or if proper planning will allow you to avoid public charging unless you’re running very low on charge.
There are a few gotchas. Keep in mind that the amount of range you add per hour depends on the power capabilities of your car’s onboard charger. As Marc Geller, a director at Plug In America, an EV advocacy organization, told us: “If the car comes with a smaller charger, the cost is relatively higher than if you have a faster charger. It’s a weird fact.” Other oddities include credit card transactions and costs associated with leaving a car plugged in even if the battery is fully charged and the electrons have stopped flowing. Some of the networks have an unlimited charging plan to avoid these pitfalls.
As of March 2018, the majority of public chargers are still available for free (although not every system makes it absolutely clear how much EV drivers are paying to charge). There are nearly 47,000 free, public locations to charge an EV, while there are not quite 40,000 paid, public locations. (These numbers don't count the nearly 2,000 paid locations that are not fully public, such as spots where only employees of a company can charge.)
- First, think about your regular routes and favorite destinations. Then use PlugShare or another station-finding tool to see which charging networks are along the way. Be prepared to use any of them.
- ChargePoint is the biggest charging network, so it’s a must for nearly all EV drivers.
- If you live in Pacific Northwest, get a key fob from Webasto (formerly Aerovironment) for its network.
- Sun Country, a smaller player, primarily serves Canada.
- Greenlots mostly supplies Quick Chargers rather than Level 2, 240-volt chargers.
- On the east coast, SemaConnect is the best backup to ChargePoint.
- Use PlugShare to find these stations.
One last caveat: The terminology of ''station” can be confusing and misleading. Some services call each individual charger a station when the term station usually refers to a single public site with the capability to charge more than one car at a time.
List of Top EV Charging Networks
Background: The assets of Blink Network were purchased by CarCharging Group in October 2013. Ecotality had received a $114.8 million federal stimulus grant to oversee The EV Project. The goal of The EV Project is to deploy 8,300 private and public chargers. There have been several reported problems associated with Blink chargers, and the Blink Network, such as insufficient customer support, and incompatibility of the equipment with certain vehicles. The name of the company managing the Blink Network was CarCharging Group, but the company was renamed as "Blink Charging."
Approximate Number of Sites:1,680
Coverage: Blink Network chargers are located in approximately 25 states, with the largest concentration in California, Arizona, Oregon, Texas, Tennessee and Washington.
Access: Start by registering a credit card with a Blink account. There are no required annual or monthly membership fees, or minimum credit card balance. Members who register will receive an “InCard” and can initiate a charge using the card. Guests can initiate a charge with Blink’s mobile application.
Cost Per Charge: In the states that permit kilowatt-hour pricing, fees for Level 2 EV charging stations owned by Blink and operated on the Blink Network range from $0.39 to $0.79 per kWh, depending on the state and individual’s membership status. Blink is a proponent of kWh pricing because it is usage-based and EV drivers pay fees based on the actual amount of power consumed during the charging session rather than the amount of time that the car is plugged into the station. Fees for DCFC chargers owned by Blink and operated on the Blink Network in kWh eligible state range from $0.49 to $0.69 per kWh, depending on the state and individual’s membership status.
These states currently permit fees by the kilowatt-hour: California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Massachusetts, as well as the District of Columbia.
In states where pricing by kWh is not permitted, time-based charging fees for Level 2 charging stations owned by Blink and operated on the Blink Network range from $0.04 to $0.06 per minute, depending on membership status. Time-based charging fees are rounded up to the nearest 30-second interval. Fees for DCFC chargers owned by Blink and operated on the Blink Network in non-kWh eligible states will range from $6.99 - $9.99 per session, depending on membership status.
Technical Support: 24/7 technical support at 888-998-2546.
Background: ChargePoint, previously Coulomb Technologies, describes itself as the largest online network of independently owned EV charging stations operating in 14 countries. The company provides a turnkey EV charging solutions for property owners—who can determine the terms for offering charging to EV drivers. (GE WattStation locations are now managed by ChargePoint, which acquired the network in June 2017.)
Approximate Number of Sites: 6,083
Coverage: While one-quarter of ChargePoint stations are in California, the network is the most widely distributed with at least one station in approximately 43 U.S. states.
Access: There is no cost to sign up and receive a ChargePoint card. After submitting your credit card information as part of the sign-up, you will be charged an initial deposit of $25 only when you first visit a charging station that requires a fee. (Many stations on the network are free.) Your account provides access to all public stations on ChargePoint. Charging stations are activated with the ChargePoint card or a contactless credit card. The stations can also be activated by calling a toll-free customer service number on the ChargePoint station, or by using the associated mobile app. Account balances automatically replenish when the balance gets low.
Cost Per Charge: Prices are determined by the property owner. Many ChargePoint stations are free.
Technical Support: 24/7 customer support at 888-758-4389, with more robust technical support available 8 am to 5 pm eastern.
THE ELECTRIC CIRCUIT
Background: The Electric Circuit is the largest public charging network in Québec. It is a major initiative providing the charging infrastructure required to support the adoption of plug-in electric vehicles in Québec.
Approximate Number of Sites: More than 1,300 stations at an unspecified number of sites.
Coverage: Charging stations are located in near 90 municipalities throughout 15 regions of Québec's province.
Access: There is no cost to sign up and receive an Electric Circuit card. When you first order your Electric Circuit card, you will be charged $10 (tax included), which will give you four charging sessions at any 240-V station or a 1-hour charge at any fast charge station. You will then be able to add the amount of money to your account as you wish.
Cost per charge: The rate for a 240-V charge is a flat fee of $2.50 (tax included), no matter how long you use the charging station. As of October 1st, 2014, fast-charging is offered at $10 per hour and billed by the minute. This rate applies to all existing and future fast-charge stations of the Electric Circuit.
Tech Support: Electric Circuit users have access to a 24/7 telephone helpline run by CAA-Québec (1 855 999-8378) as well as a charging station locator service. The Electric Circuit Web site, theelectriccircuit.com, and the mobile application for iOS and Android are updated as new stations are installed or commissioned.
Background: eVgo is subsidiary of NRG, a Fortune 300 and S&P 500 company. It’s one of the country’s largest power generation and retail electricity businesses, with power plants producing about 47,000 megawatts of generation capacity. eVgo is part of NRG’s clean energy portfolio, which includes solar, thermal, and carbon capture technology. Evgo manages the BMW ChargeNow program, and Nissan's No Charge to Charge offering.
Approximate Number of Stations: Approximately 774, many of which offer a DC quick-charging option.
Coverage: eVgo built its network with a strong presence in Texas, in the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth markets, as well as Tennessee, California and the greater Washington, DC area. The network then expanded to Midwest and along the East Coast.
Access: NRG’s network is only available to its monthly subscribers using an eVgo card, but as its website states, the company “will always take care of an EV driver in need of a charge.”
Cost Per Charge: There are no setup, termination, or session fees. All Leve 2 charging is $1.50 per hour. For DC Quick Charging, the pay-as-you-go plan costs $0.20/minute. If you are a member at $9.99 per month, the cost drops to $0.15/minute. The length of time for a charge depends on the time of day.
Technical Support: Contact email@example.com.
Background: Greenlots is not formally a network, but rather a provider of open standards-based technology solutions for various stations and other networks. Designed to answer the needs of site hosts offering workplace, utility and public charging applications, Greenlots’ SKY platform utilizes Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP), the largest open standard for charger-to-network communications.
Approximate Number of Stations: 392
Access: Users have many access options, including (1) Download the free Greenlots app from iTunes or Google Play. Next, enter your credit card information. Once your information is saved, select "Charge" from the menu and enter the Station ID or scan the QR code displayed on the front of the station; (2) Swipe your Greenlots RFID card; (3) Call the customer care number listed on the station to have the charge session started remotely; and (4) Some stations have a credit card swiper. Users can also create a driver account at www.charge.greenlots.com to track electricity usage, update information, or order an RFID card.
Coverage: No specific region. Charging stations in Midwest, Northeast, Northwest, South, and Southwest, as well as Hawaii, Canada and Singapore.
Cost Per Charge: Site hosts determine the fee for use. Greenlots does not charge a membership fee.
Technical Support: The 24/7/365 customer care team can be reached at 855-900-7584. Less urgent inquiries can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Background: Maryland-based SemaConnect offers Level 2 commercial grade EV charging station equipment and management software called SemaCharge. Their focus is on making charging as easy as possible for EV drivers and station owners. The company says it’s the fastest growing network on the east coast. SemaConnect is the third largest supplier of commercial-grade Level 2 charging stations based on the number of stations deployed.
Approximate Number of Sites: 1,166
Coverage: SemaConnect stations are located in about 20 states, with the greatest concentration in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, DC, Georgia, California and the Pacific Northwest. It also has a presence in Puerto Rico.
Access: To sign up, log on to the SemaConnect website, and open a new account. You will receive an RFID card that can be used to initiate charging at any SemaConnect location. A SemaConnect account is free to have, however, if you choose to associate a payment with your account, your credit or debit card will be charged an initial $10.00. This money is not a charge by SemaConnect, but rather it is what turns your SemaConnect account into a debit system for charging your electric vehicle and will be utilized to pay for your charging sessions with money being deducted based on the pricing structure of your charging location. When your initial $10.00 is depleted, your associated card will automatically be charged $20.00 to replenish your account. $20.00 is the minimum replenishment amount, but you can choose to replenish your card with up to $250.00.
Cost per charge: The cost varies, as determined by the property owner.
Tech support: Available 9 am to 5 pm EST at 800-663-5633.
TESLA SUPERCHARGERS and TESLA DESTINATION CHARGERS
Background: Tesla Motors offers its own propietary charging network to serve the refueling needs of owners of its Model S, Model X, and Model 3 vehicles. Tesla Superchargers are standalone sites, while the company has also established sites, called "destinations," that are managed in partnerships with hospitatlity, retail,
workplace, and multifamily entities. Tesla supercharging stations charge with up to 145 kW of power distributed between two cars with a maximum of 120 kW per car. They take about 20 minutes to charge to 50 percent, 40 minutes to charge to 80 percent, and 75 minutes to 100 percent on the original 85 kwh Model S.
Approximate Number of Sites: As of March 2018, there are about 492 available Superchargers and more than 3,000 Tesla Destinations.
Coverage: Supercharger stations are situated throughout the United States.
Access: Tesla Superchargers do not require a card to initiate. Tesla owners simply drive up and plug in.
Cost Per Charge: As of January 1, 2017, anyone who orders a Tesla will get just 400 kWh of free Supercharging credits per year, good for about 1,000 miles of driving. Tesla has not revealed how much it will cost after that limit but says a "small fee" will be cheaper than buying gas. Owners who ordered their car in 2016 or earlier will still charge for free, for life. That excludes owners of the Tesla Model 3.
Technical Support: Available toll-free at 877-79-TESLA
WEBASTO EV SOLUTIONS (FORMERLY AEROVIRONMENT)
Background:Webasto (formerly AeroVironment, known as AV) is a pioneer in the development of electric vehicle charging technologies. The company sells a range of Level 2 and Quick Charge equipment but also operates its own network of chargers.
Approximate Number of Sites:164
Coverage: Webasto’s chargers, many of which are DC Quick Chargers, are primarily located in Oregon, and to a lesser extent, in Washington State—as part of the “West Coast Electric Highway.” AV also has a handful of charging locations in Hawaii.
Access: Unlimited monthly access is provided for $19.99 per month. Subscribing to the Webasto network starts with calling 888-833-2148 or filling out a form on the Webasto's website. The company will send a key fob that activates the chargers. If you are a current subscriber there is no activation fee. If you are a new subscriber, there will be a one-time activation fee of $15.
Cost per charge: As an alternative to the flat monthly access fee, there is the option of paying per session: $7.50/session for DC Fast Charger; and $4.00/session for a Level 2 charging station. (Per session payment is only available by calling the Customer Service Support Line at 888-833-2148).
Tech Support: 24/7 support at 888-332-2148. AV can also be emailed at email@example.com.
The list of smaller charging networks, with between about 50 and 200 charging locations include: