Electric Road Trip

The drawbacks of charging up past 80%: time and money

DETROIT — It's been a full week crisscrossing the Midwest in a variety of electric vehicles: a Kia Niro, Chevrolet Bolt and BMW i3.

Like the cars, charging experiences have varied. There were free slow charges — at hotels, in downtown Toledo, Ohio, and at Indiana Dunes National Park. And more expensive ones, like at the new fast chargers in downtown Detroit.

In Detroit, I wanted to top off the Kia battery. I touched my phone to a panel on the face of the rectangular silver box, and the juice began to flow. It seemed like a breeze. Then came the sticker shock.

The Kia battery took an hour and 23 minutes to reach 100%. I added just 49 miles of range at a cost of $27.13, not including the separate $2 parking meter fee that goes to the city.

The chargers are owned by Blue Energy, a division of Corrigan Oil Co., a 61-year-old company that's involved in a wide variety of fuel- and transportation-related businesses. Among them, it owns gas stations and convenience stores.

I called Cody King, the project manager and business development specialist for Blue Energy, who said the company is branching out into EV charging as a diversification play — a recognition that the auto market is going electric. Blue Energy already has some Level 2 chargers. The Detroit project was its foray into fast charging.

While Corrigan Oil has decades of experience with oil and fuel markets and how to profitably run gas stations, the economics of EV charging, specifically fast charging, are a guessing game for now, King said.

"We want to see for six months to a year how this takes to market," he said.

To run the chargers profitably, the company must recover the investment in the chargers as well as the cost of energy it purchases and resells to EV drivers.

For now, the initial pricing structure is a $1 session fee plus 40 cents a minute. That could change as the company learns the market and whether it makes more sense to charge per unit of energy, in this case by kilowatt-hour, a closer equivalent to how gasoline is sold.

Blue Energy's pricing was one reason for my costly charge. The other was how slowly the car battery would charge when it was already 80% full.

I didn't need the charge. But because I was there to learn about the project and as part of the Electric Road Trip, I wanted to try out these week-old fast chargers.

I'd read that car batteries, like the batteries in iPhones, take juice more slowly when you exceed 80%. A ChargePoint quick guide to fast charging says as much. But reading about this phenomenon and experiencing it myself are two different things.

As King said about the company's jump into the vehicle charging business, "It's a huge learning curve."

As one who's new to driving and charging EVs, I couldn't agree more.

Electric Road Trip

E&E News reporters take a 6,000-mile road trip in an electric vehicle to explore how the switch from gas to electric transportation will change the economy, environment and daily life of America.
Load more posts