Even in Sacramento, electric vehicle charging is treated as an optional luxury -

Even in Sacramento, electric vehicle charging is treated as an optional luxury

When it comes to electric vehicle adoption, California is currently the undisputed champion. While the US overall only has single-digit EV registrations per thousand people, California has more than three times the adoption rate. A quick look at EV charging station maps, like the one you find at PlugShare, shows that the number and geographic reach of DC fast chargers is also ahead of almost anywhere else. Government subsidies for electric vehicles, regulations that push people toward buying one, and support for other policies are all there, too.

So, you would think that governments in California would get the basic nature of electric vehicle fast charging. Sure, the average driver charges mostly at home, but commuters, commercial drivers, taxi/rideshare, and many others still depend on charging away from home. California has the most chargers, but it also has the most electric vehicles, so you’d think the state and charging networks would understand that the uptime of each charging station is very important.

But, if you thought they all understood it, you would be sadly mistaken.

When Sacramento Airport decided to put back parking lots and some streets, it had the courtesy of at least telling Electrify America that it would close access starting in May. Electrify America decided to shut down the stations so drivers wouldn’t despair and drive through construction to get a charge.

The saddest thing is that government officials have not closed off access to everything in the region. Across the street, a gas station continued to serve drivers while construction staff carefully kept access to work as open as possible (a common building practice that makes sense). After all, months of no access to a business means the company will likely go under, and no one wants to be the bad guy who made some small business owner or large company employee suffer economically.

Even worse, it was said that construction would continue for several months. This tweet and video was from last month, and if the four-month estimate given is correct, there are still months of hiatus. To see if anything has changed since May (over 2 months ago), I checked the PlugShare reviews of the site, and it still renders offline, and visitors still report that it crashes. The Electrify America app also shows that the station is down.

Why don’t you go down the street?

Unlike, say, a rural freight station along a freeway in the “overpass country,” this station closure is less likely to strand anyone. If they accumulate at 0%, there is still a chance they could sneak their car into one of the nearby charging stations. The cell phone parking lot has a slower DC charger, and it’s less than a half mile away. Other faster stations are also available nearby, including many other Electrify America stations.

The thing is being stranded isn’t really the problem.

As I noted earlier in the article, California has a lot of EV drivers, so even low capacity in the area can hurt drivers when things get busy. It also reduces the amount of redundant capacity the local charging system has, so outages at other stations are likely to make EV drivers feel crunchy during peak travel times.

The other problem is the comparison problem. When there is a gas station across the street that is treated with the utmost respect while EV charging is simply cut off from the road system, it shows what officials really think about EV charging. I can’t read minds, but gasoline seems to be essential, while electricity is something people can do without. At best, it shows that EVs are not seen as a high priority, and at worst, it could be the phrase “EVs are toys for the rich.”

Is America electrified lawyer for itself?

I know from local construction projects I’ve photographed that gas station owners aren’t shy about making sure officials know how damaging a lockdown could be to them. They attend public meetings, talk to the press, and even do things to protest anything they think will harm them. Since they are squeaky wheels, they usually get grease. Only when they make unreasonable demands, such as trying to tell the engineers how they should build the road, are they ignored.

I’ve reached out to Electrify America to ask how they handled this, and I won’t assume anything about their stance on this until I hear back. But, I think electric vehicle charging providers should act like gas station owners when there is construction going on. Allowing government officials to take the easy way out and cut off access to a site without a fight is not a good thing.

Perhaps autonomous electric vehicle charging locations are unwise

Another issue this situation raises, which we’ll likely see in the future, is that charging EVs alone probably isn’t such a great idea.

When it comes to construction, a single EV charging site is much easier to ignore than an entire business. EV chargers generally don’t have facilities, a local owner, or a convenience store that might go down if it’s closed for months at a time. It’s politically dangerous to put someone out of business, but electric vehicle charging seems easy to ignore. The terminal costs a lot of money, and the company expects a return on that investment rather than a loss, but that’s easier to ignore on its own.

Other than building, it also appears that shipping an EV just isn’t profitable enough (or profitable at all) to make powering it up on its own a top priority. Most gas stations make almost no money at the pumps, and you may lose a little money after considering upkeep and upkeep. Like movie theaters, the real financial action comes from the snack bar. It’s unlikely that we’ll really see EV charging become profitable for business, but we’ll likely see companies introduce EV charging to lure customers into other profitable pursuits.

For both reasons, this situation in Sacramento shows us that only EV chargers aren’t a great idea. Even if they are the fastest chargers in the world, being able to rely on a company to advocate for and benefit from charging makes a lot of sense. Being part of an airport car park (where level 1 and level 2 make more sense) or being hosted by some other inappropriate property is nonsensical.

Featured image by Jennifer Sensipa.

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