Public EV Charging Is Often Free: Observations From ChargePoint


There are still a lot of myths and misunderstandings about EV infrastructure.

Few people in the EV business have as much experience as Darryll Harrison. Before becoming ChargePoint’s director of global communications in 2016, Harrison managed comms for the launch of three different electric vehicles. He worked at Nissan in 2008 and 2009 leading up to the launch of the LEAF. Then he had a brief stint at ill-fated Coda in 2010 before moving to Volkswagen to introduce the first generation E-Golf.

I spoke with Harrison last week to discuss his decade in the field. Back in the day, he said, “You had a lot of early adopters that were totally into sustainability.” Now, Harrison said, battery-electric vehicles have expanded from small hatches to SUVs and every other segment. “The practical nature of EVs is starting to resonate.”

ChargePoint was founded in 2007. Harrison said that its recent growth has been dramatic – essentially matching the rise in the number of EVs on the road. Just in the two years since Harrison joined, the staff has expanded from about 220 employees to approximately 550 spread across the globe.

For Harrison, fueling patterns for an EV are more like charging a phone rather than the chore of gassing up a combustion car when the tank approaches Empty. “You don’t wait for your batteries to go dead,” he said. “The more people have EVs the more they’re going to want to charge where they are.”

Here are a few other things I gleaned from the conversation.

EV Charging Is an Amenity – Not a Standalone Business
Harrison said that more than one-third of ChargePoint stations today are free. “We don’t make money selling electricity, and we don’t encourage most of our customers to make money on electricity,” he said. ChargePoint’s business is selling charging hardware, as well as the software solutions to maintain the stations. It’s the station owners who determine the price – not ChargePoint.

When charging is offered at a workplace, it’s an employee perk. When it’s available at public locations (like a hotel or big-box store), it’s intended to attract and retain customers. Tesla and Electrify America networks help sell more EVs. When the owners add a cost, it’s usually to make sure drivers don’t occupy the space longer than necessary.

EV Stations Are Invisible
“When I speak with journalists or friends, the refrain is that lack of infrastructure is an obstacle to EV mass adoption,” said Harrison. In response, Harrison asks them to take out their phone and do a search for a charging station close to their home – only to discover locations are nearby and abundant. “They usually say, ‘I didn’t realize they were there.” In other words, there are probably hundreds of available charging stations right around you. But because there’s no big canopy like at a gas station, people don’t realize that they’re there.

The implication – my words, not Harrison’s – is that lack of EV infrastructure is over-hyped.

Shoppers often stay longer and spend more money when they are charging.

Level-2, 240-Volt Rules. Ultra-Fast Charging Is Rarely Used.
Harrison said that ChargePoint’s CPE 250, a 62.5-kilowatt DC public charger, is now rolling out. It’s part of a broad platform of ultra-fast charging solutions called Express Plus, which is in Beta development. Harrison said that fast charging right now is “somewhere in the neighborhood of five to 10 percent of charging.”

He explained that ChargePoint anticipates that ultra-fast charging will be increasingly used both for longer trips between destination cities, as well as for occasional opportunistic top-ups in urban hubs. “But we don’t see that being the norm,” he said. Besides, Harrison added, “There are no cars on the road today that can accept anywhere near 350 kilowatts.”

Charging Is Already Interoperable
“We have a lot of Tesla drives charging on our network,” said Harrison. “There’s data to suggest that a lot of them charge on ChargePoint the same if not more than on Tesla’s Supercharger network.” Again, that’s because people rarely use fast charging as their primary source of electricity.

Also, ChargePoint has agreements with EV Box, Greenlots, and Canada’s Flo Network to allow EV drivers to roam between networks without needing separate accounts. Harrison doesn’t believe that charging stations are all moving toward use of a credit-card reader. “It’s going the other direction, so that use your phone to start a session,” he said. “I don’t take my wallet with me when I go to the grocery store. I use Apple Pay.”

Fleets Will Push Expansion of EV Market
ChargePoint is expanding its fleet business. What’s driving this direction is municipalities and transit authorities working to electrify their fleets – and the rise of ride-hailing, delivery platforms, and car-sharing services. Harrison believes all this activity will take time, but it’s a positive development for EVs. “It might not happen in the next five to 10 years, but as a company, we see that as a shift in mobility, and we are preparing,” he said.

Electric vehicles offer direct business benefits for fleet managers to lower fuel and maintenance costs. As consumers, we usually focus on individual vehicles but ultra-green, low-cost electric fleets can electrify faster and therefore play a major role in EV expansion.

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37 Comments on "Public EV Charging Is Often Free: Observations From ChargePoint"

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Coincidentally, I just used a Chargepoint L2 station today. I had an hour to kill while my house had a showing. So I dropped by the station two miles from my house and added 24 miles of range using 30A @ 208V for free. I used the keycard to activate it that I got back in 2011 when I had my Volt.

I wish that Mr. Harrison’s comments applied outside metropolitan areas and arterial highways. Where I live, long distance travel is still problematic. There is talk about building fast chargers along our highway (it’s a transcontinental highway, but up north in Canada), but probably nothing will get built before 2020. I charge my EV at home, but have to use a gas car to travel long distances. Charge Point’s customer service, at least in our area, leaves much to be desired. Their call centre staff have a hard time finding stations even they are quoted the ID on it, and they relinquish stations that continue to bear their ID.

EA now have the i 80 route from NYC to LA covered

Every single free charger I come across is always taken, even in dead of night. One cannot use them with any kind of reliability. It’s fine for Chargepoint to sell equipment, but does nothing for EV infrastructure that people need to use with any kind of reliability. No one will rely on them for any kind of travel.

Free charging SUCKS!!!

So where do you charge your EV?

Mainly charge at home, and paid chargers when public charging.

Hopefully charging stations will become commonplace soon.

Free is bad. I agree.. My soul is a brick at 60 mile sin the winter and $36K sitting still is no good to me. I don’t want free. I want availability and reliability.

I want you to find the edit button on your post and fix you typos.

I want you to fix you typos too. 😂

No, it really depends on specific situation. I agree that public chargers put in popular public places should not be free.

But free charging makes sense in many situations. Employers offer it as a perk to their own employees (why would you be parking there?). Restaurants & hotels offer it as a way to help attract customers…you don’t park there unless you are their customers. Government buildings often offer it as an incentive to get people onto EVs…you don’t don’t park there unless you work there.

Should the charger at big mall, downtown parking spot, the sports stadium, etc. be free? NO! But that doesn’t mean no charging should be free. And this is Chargepoint’s model…they let the entity installing the charger to decide.

And usage of free chargers should be carefully monitored…if they do become abused then start charging.

+ 100 to BoltEV

Free charging SUCKS!!!
Every single free charger in my area is also always taken, even in the dead of night.

Library charger – occupied on Sunday when the Library is closed.

Rideshare bus station – occupied dead at night when all the commuters have gone home and bus service is stopped.

So the only explanation is that these are hoggers who live nearby and can’t be bothered (or are too cheap) to use L2 at home.

So as Sparky said – free charging does nothing for EV adoption, quite the opposite. If you count on them, you’ll be frustrated and will be put off EVs.

I do support this model:
Businesses should offer free L2 charging during business hours. Many EV owners will be inclined to patronize their business while getting a charge. Sometimes they don’t realize they could have gotten their shopping done elsewhere cheaper. I am one of them – think I paid more at Shop A over Shop B for my stuff. All it cost Shop A was less than $1.00 of electricity. The allure of front door parking and free charging was too much. 🙂

It’s opposite for me. There’s a place with free charging and another with moderate fee. I avoid free charging mall, because I know that will not be available. Pay charger mall did hell of a lot of business with me compared to zero with free charger mall.

I suspect others feel the same way where free is unobtainable whereas pay moderate fee means you can opportunity charge while shopping. Free charging is probably turning customers away in many cases.

Tesla and other charging companies set a bad example by making so much free charging at the beginning. It’s a bit like our expectation now that in the internet age our news should be free. Now people expect charging to cost less than what it costs to deliver that energy, and as with all free things, people abuse the privilege and get angry if its taken away. Just look at how Tesla drivers reacted when costs were increased for Supercharging. The cost of installing DC fast charging equipment is obscene, not to mention demand charges that must kill Tesla when they don’t have battery backup installed. No one ever bought an ICE car with the expectation that gas should cost nothing, but the race to increase adoption set us on this stupid path and it will be incredibly difficult to put the genie back in the bottle.

Except the station owner can enable reservations and notice on free in the CP app. It’s part of the software the station owner licenses. The can also do fun stuff like enable idle fees.

To Quote
The implication – my words, not Harrison’s – is that lack of EV infrastructure is over-hyped.
Level-2, 240-Volt Rules. Ultra-Fast Charging Is Rarely Used

How many thousand comments have been made on this site and others such as ElecTrek and Cleantechnica along the lines of

“No Charging network? Total failure. DOA”

Which opinion is correct or more likely nearer the truth?

For me in my little part of the UK I can get 50kW charging for the same price as charging at home just 9 miles away or I can get Type 2 11kW charging for free 6 miles away OR I can charge at 7.5kW at home.
The expansion of the 50kW CCS chargers (on various networks) over the past year has been quite remarkable. There are even some 50kW CCS/CHadEMO chargers that don’t charge in some places (Aldi Supermarkets)

None of these chargers are tied to a car maker which IMHO is the right way forward.
Naturally YMMV

Do Not Read Between The Lines

Lack of DCFC negatively impacts sales.
If you want to drive a BEV beyond range, you need DCFC on your route, unless you have guaranteed destination charging that will get you back home, or you’re unusually willing to go to extremes on charging.
If you deal with cold weather and/or are subject to significant power outages, you may need DCFC to see you through the extremes.

Does everybody need it? No.
Will those who use it use it a lot? Probably not.
Is it important? Yes, very.

Agree with DNRBTL.
No DCFC means that long range BEV is stuck as a commuter.
Even unreliable DCFC is as good as none.

Through painful experience, I now take my ICE or Tesla instead of stopping at the hundreds of CHAdeMO/CCS stations here in NorCal. Most have 2 outlets and between the Uber Bolts and Free-to-charge Leafs, you gotta be willing to waste time on your trip.

Agreed, just ask Tesla why they built a network that was originally free…

That Harrison fella thinks there’s enough infrastructure and it’s mostly free to use. Come to New York, and show me where they are….

“Level-2, 240-Volt Rules.”, I would argue L2 208V Rule…

Hahaha Much of the time “L2 less than 200 volts much less than 30 amps” rules.

Chargepoint has been focusing on destination L2 chargers. Their views on DC-fast-chargers should largely be ignored. They are desperately needed for long distance travel. And though people don’t want to hear it….they need to charge a healthy amount in order to be economically practical.

EV infrastructure is NOT abundant. It looks abundant when you look at a region level on PlugShare because the pins are so big. Zero in on any area, including the area around ChargePoint headquarters (in the middle of the largest EV market in the country) and you realize that statement is just false. I had a meeting in Los Gatos, only 2.6mi from ChargePoint headquarters, and the only nearby chargepoint was in an adult community. I had to park 1.5mi away at a city park where two chargepoints are hidden and ride the bike I keep in my car. Also, since the huge uptake in Model 3 deliveries the charging situation has become demonstrably worse in the Valley.

Free charging sucks!

Can anyone explain why a business would rather put a $10,000 Chargepoint L2 charger in and pay the monthly “cloud fee” for giving away free L2 charging when any dumb L2 charger will do the same for like $1500? Heck if you’re giving it away, a NEMA 14-50 on an RV pedestal for like $500 installed should do the trick. I’m trying to help a friend with a small brewery set one up.

My car is on a CP station right now… workplace charging. Almost EVERY EV or PHEV owner know non-owners don’t see the chargers. It’s called being ICE’d

So to help them out you’ve bought CP stock? Last time I looked CP is in it for the money, so to spend the $ to put in a station for you (and others using the route) it has to make financial sense. It doesn’t now or it’s be there, so they have to build where the money is first and branch out like Cable or wired internet.

I plugged in to a public charger at an outdoor mall last week (Evgo). When I returned to my Tesla Model 3 I had gained a few miles at the 4.4kw charge rate. I use my car like any car, ICE or not. A charge rate of 4.4kw is ridiculously slow. Tesla has hit the sweet spot with their superchargers where I can gain 75% in a half hour or so. I drive a lot and a suboptimal charge hurts the acceptance of EV’s and would limit the practical use of my car. BTW it was not free and over $.75 per kwh. Ouch slow and expensive.I hope Chargepoint continues to roll out robust chargers at all of their locations. For now I’ll Supercharge.

First, I have to say the most reliable charging stations I’ve found are ChargePoint stations. Second, the only free charging stations in our area are ChargePoint stations (Kohls and local city fire halls). Third, the free chargers at Kohls are almost always ICEd. On the subject of there being plenty of chargers, I heartily disagree with Mr. Harrison. Such a statement tells me Mr. Harrison doesn’t drive an EV on a regular basis. Okay everybody, get out your PlugShare app. Look at Nashville Tennessee & surrounding counties. Lots of chargers right? Well, maybe. The ones at the Nashville fire stations and Kohls are probably a safe bet. However, the majority of the rest are Blink junk. God help you if you are depending on one to actually be working. At any given time only one-third to maybe half are operational. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to figure out which one will be working when you need it. Most of the remaining charging stations are Aerovironment/EV-go. Especially the L-3 fast chargers. Forget for a moment they are usually ICEd. Seems every time I’ve tried to use one, it requires a call to EV-go’s help desk. Then 15-20… Read more »

Yeah, I used to prefer the old L2 chargepoints that had a current status display,unlike the new ones that are ‘shareable’ (meaning they run at 1/2 power when both ports are busy), and have a cartoon which tells you nothing.

But the new ones seem much more reliable. They must have gotten tired of the complaints of the old ones always breaking.

My experience and that many EV owners I know is that charging up at a DC is the norm. No one wants to deal with the time it takes to charge at a level 2 charger.

No one? If I drive to the other side of the city in my 2012 Leaf Wattzn to meet friends, I use their L2 charger. Why would I not? The car will be sitting in the same spot for an hour, the range on the old Leaf needs the help (I know, Model 3, Model 3…), and the L2 chargers are right by the door and patrolled by eager tow truck drivers thus always open. Win, win, win.

I wonder if there’s a little bit of sour grapes going on with Chargepoint, since they were upset not to be chosen to be fast-charger partners with Electrify America (they even sued them over it).

Nevertheless for low-speed charging, I’ve used Chargepoint a lot (I have a PHEV, so fast charging isn’t an option for me anyway). They have a low-cost one at my work, and there’s a free one I use occasionally not too far from my house. It is easy to use with a phone’s NFC.

On the other hand, since they are landlord owned and serviced at their leisure, the price and quality can vary. I’ve seen very expensive ones (I’m talking about -you- Fry’s in Sunnyvale and downtown Morgan Hill garage) and broken ones. That’s not really Chargepoint’s fault though, given the ‘service’ model they use.

ChargePoint was the leader buy they drop off compare to EVGo and EA

When I’m looking one a map showing public chargers in my area there’re quite many compared to the number of citizens. But there’s like no one that is for free (not at a place where people are quite often like a supermarket). It’s even quite hard to charge effectively for like 0.25EUR/kWh (roughly the price of domestic electricity), especially when the battery isn’t nearly empty so offers like ca. 8EUR for one time “flat” charging make sense.