Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Free charging SUCKS!

If something is free or low cost while the supply is limited, it gets sold out and shortages result. Unintended consequences result, often at terrible outcome. For example, during storms, people buy stuff they may not necessarily need to have, but just in case they need it. Because the stores cannot raise prices to discourage "just in case" buying, they inevitably run out. Then the people who desperately need those items cannot buy them at any price, even if that item could save lives.

This is the (HUGE) problem with free fast charging programs offered for BMW i3 and Nissan Leaf. They offer 30 minutes of free fast charging for a year or two. Since fast charging is free, the drivers use up all the time they can, whether they need it or not. This results in waiting in line, sometimes for hours, for everyone. Since Nissan Leaf is most widely available EV, they cause the most problem. Compounding the problem is Leaf's slow DCFC rate.

They have 79% state of charge (SoC)? Plug it into DCFC and wait 30 minutes to get 95% SoC. Then plug it in again for 30 minutes to get to 99% SoC. Then plug it in again and go shopping for yet another 30 minutes to get 100% SoC, never mind that 100% was reached after 5 minutes. Hey, they are entitled to 30 minutes, and it's free. Why not?

Above is an extreme example, of course. But the problem is that every charging session becomes 30 minutes instead of 5 or 10 minutes of pick me up. Now multiply this 30 minutes by every Leaf and i3 owner, and you can see the problem. Why charge with L2 when 30 min DCFC is free? Who cares if DCFC is only charging at 1kW when 30 min DCFC is free? Why charge at home or at work when 30 min DCFC is free? Why wait until I'm below 80% when 30 min DCFC is free?


The problem is made worse by Leaf's slow charging. If it would charge like SparkEV (45kW to 80%, taper to 9kW at 99%), guys who plug in with 80% SoC may be done after 10 minutes. But with charging slowing down so quickly, I've never seen a Leaf reach 100% SoC on DCFC. This means every DCFC by "no charge to charge" result in 30 minutes of waiting.

Meanwhile, guys who have to pay (SparkEV, eGolf, etc) pay attention to how we're charging. DCFC is 6 times more expensive than L2, so it's better to disconnect and use L2 when it gets slower than 40kW (6.6kW * 6) or 20kW for 3.3kW L2 chargers like SparkEV. Also, MPGe could cost more than 1 MPG gas car if we let it sit. Basically, EV that pay to charge do not hog the charger, because there's penalty for doing so. That penalty can be very steep if we let it sit.

If there are enough chargers to go around, this is not a problem. But at key places like intercity areas such as "Shops" in Mission Viejo or Carlsbad Mall to get to LA/OC/SD, they are almost always occupied, even at late night. This makes for waiting for 2 or 3 Leafs before being able to charge, sometimes 2 hours of waiting.

Following are some personal experiences. One Leaf was charging at less than 2 kW with 10 minutes left to go at Carlsbad mall with 3 other cars waiting. Another Leaf at "Shops" was charging at 3 kW with 2 other cars waiting. Another Leaf at San Diego was charging at 4 kW at 95% with 1 other car waiting. You can read about how I determine the rate by reading my previous post.

Here's a quote from plugshare comment.

"Great selection of charge plugs. The 50W CHAEDMO stooped charging at 85%. We needed more and charged second time. Starbucks in walking distance."

Obviously, she charged for 30 min to 85%, then another 30 min (to 95%?) while away at Starbucks! I have to wonder if she knew she's charging slower than L2, and whether there were others waiting, or they saw that it's occupied and left in frustration. She could've saved others' time by switching to L2. I don't know if Leaf would charge as high as 6.6kW using L2 at 85%SoC, but it certainly wouldn't take any more time than DCFC. But hey, DCFC is free, why not hog the spot?

If you're coming fresh into EV, you hear "30 minutes fast charge!" and think that it'll be 30 minutes. But when 30 minutes typically turn into 1.5 hours (wait for 2 other cars ahead with "no charge to charge"), it makes for sour EV experience, especially when you really need it for those rare intercity travel. It gets very frustrating. Am I going to get another EV, even the upcoming 200 miles range one, and put up with this crap or just get a gas car?

If I'm a conspiracy theory kind of a guy, I'd say Nissan and BMW are deliberately trying to kill EV adoption by giving "no charge to charge".

As much as I hate free stuff causing shortages, they could've implemented as "free to 80% SoC". That way, only the fast charging portion of fast charging would be free. It would also discourage abuse by those charging at 90% SoC to  try to get to 100%. But of course, there may be other issues, such as regulatory hurdle in only allowing pricing by time, and pricing by energy to be illegal. So maybe there is bigger conspiracy by the government along with Nissan and BMW to kill EV adoption with "no charge to charge" program.

Edit 2015 Oct. 17

As I was pulling in to charge, there was a Leaf that just plugged into dual charger and the driver ready to leave to go shop. Meanwhile, the dedicated Chademo was left empty. I politely explained how there's dual head and asked her if she can move the car so I don't have to wait 30 minutes for her car to finish. She said she just plugged in, and didn't feel like moving the car! I was going to dish it, but I didn't want to make a scene.

After she left, I saw her Leaf's state of charge in the beginning: 76%! It started out quick enough, but soon it was charging at 16kW. At 90%, it was charging less than 6 kW (taking over 6 seconds for 0.01kWh as shown in the video) with 11 minutes left to go. This is slower than L2 charging speed while she's taking dual-head fast charge spot.

"I'm entitled to free 30 minutes. Whether I'm charging slower than L2 using dual head fast charger when I could've used Chademo doesn't matter. I'll take this spot even if I don't charge!"

Meanwhile, a Kia SoulEV pulled into Chademo only slot after about 20 minutes into her charging. Few minutes after I started my charge, another Leaf pulled up. Then the offending Leaf driver came back to move her car some 40 minutes later. Because she wasted 30 minutes of my time, second Leaf now has to wait for me to charge. I go to 80% (it gets expensive beyond that), so it only took 16 minutes. Had the offending Leaf moved her car to Chademo charger in the beginning by spending 2 minutes, I would've saved 30 minutes, the next Leaf would've saved 16 minutes. Senseless waiting all around.


Free charging is not only bad, but it fosters non-caring and entitlement attitude. This can only go bad to worse for EV adoption.


  1. Ugh. Horrible people. Where do you live with all these jerks? I've always heard EV owners were more courteous than average.

    If you don't feel like making a scene at the time, maybe write a letter explaining how much time this person cost you and that charging above 80% damages the batteries and leave it on their windshield. Of course if they're leasing maybe they don't care if they damage the batteries charging to 100% regularly.

    I think cheap leases to people who just want to save gas money and don't care about the environment might be another reason this situation is building... Nissan really needs to put some limits on free charging or build up the number of chargers if this is the current state of things.

    1. I live in San Diego, but I drive to LA/OC often. Most Leaf I encounter have "No charge to take up fast charge spot". Especially evil incident on Oct 17 occurred at Anaheim behind Forever 21.

      If Leaf can actually charge to 100% at DCFC rate like SparkEV, that wouldn't be a problem since next car could charge after first Leaf is done. But Leaf slows down so drastically that I've seen some Leaf charge at 2kW rate at 95% SoC. I have never seen any Leaf reach 100% with 30 minutes of DCFC, even when they start with 80% SoC.

      BMW gives similar program, but they can actually charge to 100% if they start with high SoC%. In fact, BMW driver went out of his way to help me with DCFC.

      There's nothing wrong with cheap EV lease. For example, I get cheap lease (cheaper than $3000 used car), and I don't care about the environment compared to ICE cars. Biggest problem is that it's free to charge for 30 minutes, and everyone tries takes 30 minutes. Why would you take any less when it's free while it costs money to charge at home? But in case of Leaf and the slow charging, it's ALWAYS 30 minutes.

    2. The bit I added about the environment was based on the assumption that if someone cares enough about the environment to buy an EV mostly to help the planet, then they've already proven they care about things other than themselves. Such a person would be unlikely to be unwilling to spend 2 minutes moving their car to save you 30 minutes. That isn't to say that everyone who buys an EV to save money without thinking about the environment will be a jerk to their fellow drivers... or buying an EV simply to save money is a bad thing... it still saves the planet... but I think it also has a higher chance of growing the pool of jerk EV drivers that will not care about anyone else at the charging station.

    3. I don't know if environmental altruism is necessarily connected to human altruism. There may be some, but I think polite / considerate has far more to do with other factors.

      What is certain is that there will be jerks, and more of them as EV become more popular. Unfortunately, we will have to live with more jerks taking dual-head while perfectly good Chademo is left empty. But chances of needless long waits will be significantly reduced if jerky behavior comes with monetary penalty (ie. pay per time to use charger). They'll optimize charging to save their penny, which benefits everyone and EV reputation by having less waiting.

      In case of the bad incident I had (30 min of my time, 16 min of another Leaf's time), she probably wouldn't have plugged-in in the first place if she had to pay. Even if she did plug-in, she probably would've disconnected in about 5 minutes when it was charging slowly, and costing her more than 25 MPG gas car. If she really needed more, she would've switched to L2 which cost 1/6 the price of fast charge per unit time, and it would've been charging just as fast as DCFC.

      Unfortunately, Nissan and BMW are continuing with their free charging programs, and I fear we'll have more bad reputation for EV and mocked for long charging times and needless waiting.

    4. My guess is that many Leaf owners using NCTC don't understand the combo vs Chademo only stations. The first couple times I went I didn't realize that both chargers couldn't be used at the same time. I did notice the difference by my 3rd charge and will always use the correct one if possible. Perhaps you should politely explain to Leaf owners the problem when you encounter it.

      The problem is education because all of this is so new. If people understand how the charging works, we might have more courteous owners. But I do understand your point regarding NCTC.

      I would raise another point regarding environmentalism that many EV owners espouse. An EV is not necessarily helping to "save the planet". That is currently an asinine thought. The vast majority of electricity is generated from non renewable resources that are not clean. So unless an EV owner is getting all their energy from their own solar panels, they are crazy to think they are doing anything special for the environment. I, like sparkev, drive a leaf because it was cheap, simple, and very cost effective to drive. Combine that with my roof PV system, and you have an incredible combo. But without the stupid subsidies, the personal economics aren't quite as sweet.

    5. In another post, I break down the bad behaviors in 3 parts: Leafed, Leafracked, Leafrackers; most people already know ICED.

      Leafrackers are like the girl I encountered who pulled into dual head, then refused to move her car even after I explained that we could charge together. While many newbies may do this, doing this when knowing that it blocks CCS is being a Leafracker. There's nothing to be done with the personality disorder, though NCTC is making it worse.

      Getting Leafracked is when one's waiting for DCFC when Leaf is currently charging at less than 6kW. This is the result of NCTC. They wouldn't plug-in in the first place or would disconnect when it gets more expensive than 2 MPG gas car. I try to educate Leaf drivers with MPGe$ table in another blog post.

      Getting Leafed is when one's waiting for DCFC when Leaf is charging slower than 40kW, but greater than 6.6kW. This is a direct result of Leaf (the car) problem, and not much can be done. Still, it would be nice if Leaf drivers disconnect at 80% and move to L2.

      I have a feeling once people have to pay, great many of these problems will go away. Until then, I only hope the word spreads among Leaf drivers so we can minimize the wait for everyone. I also hope that my table will help them when it comes time to pay.

      Hmm. This is becoming more Leaf blog than SparkEV blog...

    6. I know you were interested in the charging rates vs. charge plot in other posts so I generated a couple of graphs using a proper tool rather than eyeballing the rates from eVgo screen. Click the link for the graph and then zoom in because there is a lot of resolution there. I put three different charge sessions into an image that show differences between the charge rate, SOC, and temperature.

      The first graph is the most interesting, which is the charge I just completed. The battery was at 24% at start and ended at 88% in 30 minutes. The temperature here in Mira Mesa was 70 degrees @ 10PM. The battery started at 70 degrees and ended at 87 degrees. The rate was 41Kw, increasing to 44Kw until around 58% charge and then it was a somewhat linear drop to about 9Kw over the last 21 minutes. That works out to 34% in the first 9 minutes and another 30% in the last 21 minutes. The last image is showing the voltage of each cell and SOH%.

      I, of course, take advantage of NCTC as a new Leaf owner because I have a charger only a couple blocks from home. It's very convenient for me to go at night when nobody will be there and read.

    7. Wow, that graph is fantastic! Thanks! I hope other Leaf drivers become aware of this. All the Leaf drivers who have to pay to charge would benefit, and all those who get NCTC would understand how slow it becomes and hopefully disconnect at 80% (or sooner). May I incorporate the plot in my blog? Which post do you prefer to be in? I think this would be a good place.

      If you went to 88%, is magenta the soc in %? If so, power seems to drop below 40kW (price point you'd pay more than L2) at 55%. This would be of importance to those who have to pay to charge.

      I'm surprised by temperature at 87F; I thought it'd be over 100 degreesF. I wonder how Leaf DCFC would do in hot temperature above 87F; my suspicion is that it'd be slower.

      There's nothing wrong NCTC if people use it reasonably, which it seems you're doing. I'm sure there are lots of Leaf drivers who use it reasonably. But almost all encounters with NCTC Leaf have been those who charge above 90% at far less than 6kW while having everyone wait. They probably wouldn't if they had to pay, and that's my point.

      As for EV subsidy, I think of it as reducing taxes. As a small government kind of guy, I don't like paying taxes, and getting some back by EV subsidy is a great way to reduce taxes, especially since side benefit of EV would be to eliminate paying ISIS through oil imports (tiny percent for us, huge amount for them).

    8. Yes, please feel free to use the graph as you see fit. The love letter post seems appropriate as I think all Leaf owners need to understand the limitations of DCFC. Since there are diminishing returns at the high end, why wait longer than you need to?

      The temperature component is very interesting and I will keep monitoring the charge at different temperatures if I can. You can see from one of the other plots where the battery temperature was near 100, but the charge was very full, and the outside temperature was quite warm (85 degrees?) since it was taken a couple weeks ago during our SD heat wave. Doing more research I realize that getting the charge that high when the temperature was so hot was a bad idea. But I'm not sure that battery temperature is the rate limiter here because the 2nd and 3rd graphs were taken at very different temperatures but appear to have the same trajectory relative to charge % as the first graph does.

      The Magenta %GIDS is the charge % that I see on the car dashboard. I can't say I really understand the difference with SOC%.

      As a small gov guy as well, I see the subsidy as a small return of the massive sums that have been confiscated from me over the years. Same goes for the PV subsidy. I like the reduction in foreign oil imports as well.

    9. Updated the love letter. Thanks again!

  2. Thats so funny - seems like both sides of this argument have entitlement issues!
    Any EV (even Tesla) suffers from charge taper, so why should their charge be any less important than yours. Is it just because its slower or that they before you in line?
    Obviously EV adoption need to be much lower so you can keep your access to "your" chargers for longer - you seem to have the time to sit around watching someone else's car charge after all.

    1. She may have gotten there first by a few minutes, but that it is just crazy for her to hog the only dual-standard charger while there is a perfectly good CHAdeMO-only charger right beside it - I would have taken issue with it as well (and I'm a Leaf owner)

    2. If Leaf actually paid for their charging, they're not likely to charge slower than L2 rate while paying 6 times higher cost, making it cost more than 10 MPG gas car. Most of these guys wouldn't even bother plugging into fast charger if they had to pay at public DCFC if they can charge at home. Even if they're using public DCFC, they'd get off much sooner than 30 minutes when the car reaches 80% when it gets more expensive to charge than 10 MPG gas car. The entire problem is due to it being free, and long lines as a result.

      EV adoption is fine. Giving out free charging is the problem. Without free charging, I suspect over 75% would be freed up. In fact, I think every Leaf I saw had free charge, but only few (three) were using it for intercity travel; at that level, it'd be more than 90% freed up.

      I don't have a choice in not to watch another EV while waiting. What, walk away, and have another Leaf to "no charge to take fast charge spot while charging"? What do you do other than sit and watch others when you have to wait for charger or gas pump at busy gas station?

    3. What I meant was "no charge to take fast charge spot while SLOW charging"

      As for entitlement, let's say there are two supermarket checkouts, one for those who get free groceries, and another for everyone (free and pay). Someone who gets free groceries with 2 carts full (30 minutes worth) get in line in everyone's checkout while the free checkout is open. After she has one item checked (no need to unload the cart in this robotic store), someone who must pay comes to line and asks her politely if would use the free checkout so both can checkout at the same time. She says she's already started, and doesn't want to move, and goes off to shopping. Meanwhile, the other person waits full 30 minutes before his 16 minutes (fewer groceries) before he can pay. Does the person who has to wait 30 extra minutes needlessly, then pay for his groceries have entitlement issues for complaining?

  3. Can you tell if someone is charging for free? I know that if you are not a dcfc evgo subscriber you will be charged $4.95 to switch to another charger (which could have been occupied earliar). I would not want to switch chargers if I had to pay an extra $5. Thanks for all your blogs and forum posts, very informative.

    1. There's no way to know if they're getting free charge just by looking at the car, though 2013+ Leaf have a light in charger port. I did a "survey" by asking people, and only 3 out of more than a dozen people were actually paying.

      In the incident I had, I don't know for certain if Leaf was getting free charge. I did see that Chademo was empty when she pulled into dual head. Given that it had close to 70% already, that would mean $8 for about 20 miles. I doubt she would pay equivalent to 8 MPG (at $3/gal gas) if she's not getting it for free, especially since she started at such high state of charge that she got elsewhere. I assume that was home, and she's just "topping off".

      But for the benefit of doubt, it could be that she had to go somewhere afterwards that needed more. I don't know for certain, but that seems unlikely. It could also be that she's oblivious to how much she's actually paying (8 MPG). That's why I wrote a "love letter" for Leaf DCFC drivers to inform them of the cost.

      Glad you find my posts informative. While some could be helpful (ie, range and range polynomial), some are just rants to vent my frustration such as this one. Hopefully, some rants will help, too, by letting the world know of the issues facing some EV drivers.