Nov 7, 2022 - Technology

Demystifying electric car charging

Illustration of an EV charging cable making a confused face

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Drivers typically know whether their car takes "regular" or "premium" gasoline. But when their fuel is electricity, filling up can be downright confounding.

Driving the news: A new startup aims to fix that via a color- and number-coded system that helps electric vehicle (EV) drivers find the best chargers and plugs for their particular car.

Why it matters: Helping car buyers understand how charging works — and managing their expectations — is one of the biggest hurdles facing the EV movement.

  • EV consumer anxiety isn't just about finding chargers. They also need to know which chargers work with their vehicle, how long it will take to "fill up" and how to pay.
  • One problem: different cars require different connectors. A Nissan Leaf or Mitsubishi Outlander can use one type of plug, while most other EVs use a different connector — except for Teslas, which use a third, proprietary connector.

Also important to know: Home chargers and many of those often found at parking garages, grocery stores, malls and hotels are much slower than "DC fast chargers."

  • Yet some fast chargers are quicker than others, with outputs ranging from 24 kW to 350 kW.
  • It might seem intuitive to seek chargers with the highest output, but many cars are limited in how much power they can accept.

For example: Ford's F-150 Lightning and Hyundai's Ioniq 5 can both be plugged into a 350 kW DC fast charger. But the Ford only accepts up to 120 kW or 155 kW, depending on the truck's battery size.

  • In the nebulous world of EV charging etiquette, that pickup driver would be seen as a "charger hog" if they plugged into a 350 kW charger (because they would fill up just as quickly at a less powerful charger).

One more thing: Just as a gas pump slows to a trickle when the tank is almost full to avoid overflowing, EV chargers slow dramatically when the battery reaches 80% capacity.

  • You can still top off your battery, but that could add 30 minutes or so to your "fast" charging session — a surprise to many first-timers.

What's needed: A massive education effort.

  • "It's a big shift," acknowledges Jonathan Levy, chief commercial officer at charging provider EVgo. "Americans don't speak kilowatts or kilowatt-hours in their home, even though their monthly electricity bill says, 'here is how many kilowatt-hours you consumed.'"
  • "And it's partially our responsibility as an industry to teach the units."

Yes, but: The average driver doesn't want to learn a new language just to refuel their car, says Matt Teske, founder and CEO of Chargeway, a startup aiming to dramatically simplify EV charging.

How it works: Chargeway's app uses colors to show your car's plug type and numbers to show the maximum power level it can accept:

Chargeway's color and number-coded EV charging guide.
Chargeway aims to create a universal language to understand EV charging options. Image courtesy of Chargeway

Chargeway's app also includes a map showing the types of plugs and power levels offered at each charging site.

  • A timer feature helps users estimate how long they'll need to recharge.
  • And if you plan a road trip, Chargeway will calculate where you should charge, based in part on factors like the weather and your typical driving habits.

What to watch: Teske hopes to create a universal language for charging and reports positive responses so far from government officials, carmakers and industry groups.

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