Electric vehicles (EVs) are gaining popularity as they get cheaper to produce and own. But the question remains for those looking to switch: where do I find a charging station? Will it be as easy as finding a gas station?
Here we’ll go over the types of EV charging stations and how to find one near you.
What Kinds of EV Charging Stations Are There?
There are four types of public charging stations widely available:
- Type 1
- Type 2
- DC fast charging (DCFC)
- Tesla Supercharger
Type 1 (110-volt) stations are the slowest, offering around 30-40 miles on an overnight charge. Type 2 (240-volt) stations will get you 20-25 miles of range in an hour’s time, and DCFC stations can recharge an EV battery about 80% of the way in half an hour. Supercharger stations are, of course, for Tesla vehicles.
How to Find an EV Charging Station Near You
Ideally, most of your charging will take place at home or work if you own an electric vehicle, but that’s not possible for everyone. Luckily there are now thousands of EV charging stations spread out across the U.S. Many of them are free, and the ones that aren’t free are relatively inexpensive.
Electric vehicles from Nissan’s Leaf to the Chevy Volt and beyond can use U.S. Standard Level 2 charging outlets. These outlets are also called by their industry name, SAE J1772 or just J1772. So you’ll want to look for charging stations that use a J1772 outlet if you aren’t driving a Tesla. But don’t worry, that’s basically all public charging type 1 and type 2 charging stations that aren’t on the Tesla network. Fast charging stations use either a CHAdeMO plug (short for “charge de move”) or a variation on the J1772 plug, called a J1772 combo or just a combo plug.
Tesla owners can charge at stations with a J1772 outlet too since Tesla EV’s come with an SAE J1772 adapter plug, but you can’t charge a non-Tesla on the company’s Supercharger network. At least, not yet — Tesla launched a pilot program to open up its network to other EVs in November 2021, but as of this writing, it’s only accessible in the Netherlands.
Finding an EV charging station you can use in the U.S. is actually pretty simple. Multiple apps and websites will let you find the nearest charger or plot a long-distance trip, including:
Automakers also have their own apps to let you know where you can charge. Tesla’s app finds nearby Supercharger stations, for example. You can even find a place to juice up on Google Maps now — just search “EV charging stations” and it’ll bring up ones nearby.
Aside from Tesla’s Supercharger network, there are three other major charging station networks across the U.S. run by three different companies: EvGo, ChargePoint, and Electrify America. Apps and websites will usually tell you what network a charging station is connected to, what type it is (1,2, or DCFC), and the rate per kilowatt-hour to fill up if there’s a fee. Here’s a screenshot from Chargehub for a public station at a garage in Houston’s urban core:
Users can add photos, leave comments about a particular location, and add new stations to the map. You can also view the station’s full details to see how many charging ports it has and how many of those ports are available to use.
If a station requires you to pay for a charge, you can usually do so with your credit card or through the company’s app. So if the station was on EvGo’s network, you’d download their app to pay the fee.
The Challenges of Finding and Using EV Chargers
All of this makes finding a station to charge your EV pretty easy, but there are a couple of things to watch out for. Some stations won’t allow you to use them unless you work or live at a certain location, for example. If a station is located inside a parking garage and that garage is gated, you could be locked out or have to pay to use the garage, even if the charging station itself is free.
Outside of major urban areas, availability might be spotty, so planning ahead for long trips is definitely a necessity. The fact that several different private companies operate most of the charging stations in the U.S. also means downloading different apps for different networks if you need to pay a fee (if you’re not driving a Tesla). People have also reported problems with the payment network, extending a process that’s already lengthier than filling up a gas tank.
There are solutions being implemented to these problems, though. The U.S. government announced a big investment into electric charging infrastructure in 2021 to help reduce the uneven distribution of the present network. Companies like EVpassport are attempting to simplify payment with hardware and software that lets people pay by scanning a QR code instead of downloading an app.
It’s going to take some time to make a dent in the issues people face with the current network. But it can still be perfectly serviceable with proper planning for long trips, and daily driving isn’t a hassle for most people.
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