In the Western Slope, drivers are charging ahead with electric vehicles
Move over, Peter Fonda, and make way for EV driver.
Conditions keep improving for owners of electric vehicles, with more charging stations online locally and within a short drive.
A press release from Clean Energy Economy for the Region touted a route that has not been possible for EV drivers before the recent addition of charging stations.
It’s now possible to make a 340 mile-loop out of Glenwood Springs into the heart of the Western Slope and never be more than 50 miles from a public charging station, the release said.
The EV road trip makes a loop starting in Glenwood Springs, traveling south through Carbondale over McClure Pass, west to Paonia and Delta, northwest to Grand Junction and back northeast along I-70 to Glenwood. A spur can be added over Kebler Pass to Crested Butte, and an alternate route over the Grand Mesa is possible thanks to a new charger near the summit.
For the uninitiated, all chargers are by no means created equal. Level 1 chargers are the simplest, cheapest and slowest technology, producing a “trickle” charge, according to the Garfield Clean Energy website. These usually are included with the purchase of a vehicle and can plug into a standard outlet, drawing about as much power as a hair dryer. They add about four miles worth of charge in an hour, according to the GCE website, and are therefore of no practical use for the EV road trip.
Level 2 chargers are the most common form of public charging equipment, according to the GCE website, and require 240 volt electricity (like a clothes dryer). They are capable of adding about 22 miles of range per hour, so their best use is for overnight charging or a top off for commuters.
Level 3 units are known as fast chargers. They deliver direct current to the battery, unlike Levels 1 and 2, which deliver alternating current that must be converted to DC, according to the GCE website. These are the ones that make long road trips possible and the addition of which greatly increases the utility of electric vehicles. They add more than 100 miles of range per hour. There is one each in Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and Basalt, but the building boom is expected to continue this year, with new fast-charging stations slated for Rifle, Montrose, Dinosaur, Craig and Steamboat, according to the CLEER press release.
A supercharger is a Level 3 charger exclusively for Tesla drivers. One of these can be found at the Residence Inn in Glenwood Meadows, and the next closest ones are in Aspen and Grand Junction.
It’s not possible to say how long it takes to fully charge an EV due to several variables, most notably charger power output and size and condition of the car’s battery.
“There remains a large degree of variability in charging times, even across individual levels,” said Stefan Johnson, transportation program coordinator for Clean Energy Economy for the Region.
He used his Nissan Leaf as an example.
“Lots of Level II stations … provide roughly 8 kilowatts of output. So for each hour of charging, the station would deliver 8 kilowatt-hours (units of electricity). So for my 40 kWh battery Nissan Leaf, it would take around five hours to charge from 0 to 100%. With a 50 kW Level III station, it would theoretically take 48 minutes to charge from 0 to 100%. I say ‘theoretically’ because in actuality, the battery management system charges at slower than 50 kW when the battery is between 0-20% and 80-100% to maintain a balanced charge and not damage the battery. Keep in mind that we are now seeing Level III stations getting faster and faster with 100 kW, 150 kW, 350 kW charging, etc.,” Johnson said in an email.
A quick internet scan of EVs shows that most cars travel between 150 and 250 miles on a charge. Teslas can travel between 250 and 400 miles.
Pay to plug in
Many Level 2 chargers are free, while most Level 3 chargers have a fee (you could say they charge the vehicle as well as the driver).
Plugshare.com is a website that shows EV chargers across the world, with Level 2 in green and Level 3 in orange. Clicking on a charger on Plugshare will sometimes show the cost to charge, which varies widely. The fee at Carbondale’s fast charger is 14 cents per kWh; the fee at Target in Glenwood Springs ranges from 15 cents per minute to 89 cents per minute; in Eagle it’s 10 cents per kWh; in downtown Aspen charging is free but parking fees apply; and in Crested Butte’s Fire Hall the fee is 20 cents per kWh plus 25 cents per minute.
As to what that means in practical terms, Johnson said his Nissan Leaf with its 40 kWh battery would cost $6.50 to fill up in Carbondale.
Officials in Glenwood are currently working on determining an appropriate rate to charge for Level 2 chargers at the downtown parking garage, Sayre Park and City Hall.
“We’re still kind of looking into it. City Council hasn’t made a decision on that yet,” said Doug Hazzard, city electric superintendent. “The considerations will be a rate per kWh and possibly a rate for each hour you’re parked there using the station.”
For the time being, they remain free.
“They are currently in use and free as of right now,” Hazzard said.
Free to use, not free to buy
Level 2 chargers cost about $500, said Dave Reed, communications director for Clean Energy Economy for the Region, and installation is relatively simple, requiring a 240 volt plug. That might explain why there are so many free public Level 2 chargers.
“The cost of having a car plugged in is so low it’s debatable whether it’s worth charging for it,” Reed said.
Level 3 chargers, however, cost $10,000, and, “The whole project costs $20[,000] or $30,000. It has to be hooked into the grid,” Reed said.
Chargers have no moving parts, but they are exposed to the elements, posing the question of how long the investment can remain in working condition.
“Per grant agreements, grant recipients must keep stations operational for five years. I would be surprised if they didn’t make it for 10 years. But the market is growing rapidly, and we don’t have a lot of real-world case studies to look at yet,” Johnson said.
Use more, pay less
A side effect of a proliferation of EVs would be electric costs for the general public remaining stable. A study by M.J. Bradley and Associates found at mjbradley.com estimated that increased utility revenues from EV charging could be used to support operation and maintenance of the electrical grid, thus reducing the need for future electricity rate increases.