How to Find Free EV Charging When You Need It

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How to Find Free EV Charging When You Need It

Electric vehicles (EVs) have been rapidly gaining popularity in recent years as more consumers look to drive green and reduce their carbon footprint. EVs run entirely on electricity stored in a battery instead of gasoline, producing zero direct emissions that contribute to climate change. However, many potential EV buyers worry about the availability of charging stations to keep their vehicle powered on the go.

This is where free public charging stations come in. Free EV charging stations allow drivers to recharge their battery at no cost. They help alleviate “range anxiety” – the fear that an EV’s battery will run out of charge before reaching a destination or the next charging station. Having ample access to free charging enables more people to adopt EVs confidently. It also allows budget-conscious drivers to avoid paying charging fees as they travel. Free stations serve an important role right now in the early adoption of EVs, removing barriers to entry and making electric transportation more feasible and affordable.

Types of Free Charging Stations

There are several types of free EV charging stations to take advantage of:

Level 2 Public Charging Stations

Level 2 public charging stations can be found in many public locations like shopping centers, grocery stores, and parking garages. These stations supply around 10-20 miles of range per hour of charging. They use the same 240V outlets as an electric dryer and require purchasing a charge cable or using an adapter. While charging speed is slower than fast charging, Level 2 stations are the most common free option.

DC Fast Charging Stations

DC fast charging stations are less common than Level 2 but can add 60-100 miles of range in 15-30 minutes. These stations work by converting AC power to DC power to quickly charge an EV battery. Fast charging does put more strain on batteries compared to slower Level 2 charging. Free fast charging is sometimes offered at dealerships and charging networks want to promote their premium fast charging service.

Workplace and Commercial Charging

Many workplaces now offer free EV charging as an employee benefit. Commercial properties like hotels, restaurants, and stores may provide free charging for customers. Charging availability and speed varies greatly. But workplace and commercial charging allow drivers to conveniently top off their battery during the day.

Residential Charging

Home charging provides the most convenient free option for EV owners by installing a Level 2 charger in their garage. Installation costs can often be offset by utility rebates. With home charging, drivers can simply plug in overnight and wake up to a full battery every morning. For those without home charging, some utilities offer free off-peak overnight charging.

Locating Free Charging Stations

Finding free electric vehicle (EV) charging stations is easier than ever with the growth of charging networks and locator apps. Public charging stations can be found in many locations from malls, grocery stores, downtown areas, hotels, and more.

There are a few ways EV owners can find free charging stations nearby:

  • Charging Station Maps and Apps – Major charging networks like ChargePoint, EVgo, and Electrify America have maps on their websites and mobile apps to locate charging stations. PlugShare is a popular third-party app that aggregates stations across networks. These let you filter by amenities like free charging.
  • Public Charging Networks – Major public networks like Volta, ChargePoint, and Electrify America have hundreds of free stations available. Volta focuses specifically on free stations funded by advertising. Many stations in other networks offer free charging as a courtesy or incentive to customers.
  • Tips for Finding Free Stations – The best free stations are often found at hotels, casinos, shopping centers, and downtown parking garages trying to attract business. Malls and grocery stores frequently offer free charging as an amenity. Also look for free charging at Nissan dealerships for Leaf owners. Signage and apps can indicate free stations.

Using charging maps and networks makes it easy to find the many free charging station options. With some research, EV owners can typically find a free public station in most areas.

Charging Etiquette

Charging etiquette is important to ensure everyone can access charging stations fairly. Here are some key etiquette tips:

  • Respect charging time limits – Many free charging stations have time limits, usually ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours. It’s important to move your vehicle promptly when your charging time is up so others can use the station. Don’t unplug someone else’s vehicle, but you can notify staff if a vehicle is overstaying the posted limit.
  • Move your vehicle when charging is complete – As soon as your EV is fully charged, move it from the charging bay even if you’re within the time limit. This opens up the charger for other EV drivers. Waiting until the time limit expires before moving wastes charging time.
  • Wait your turn if there’s a queue – If there’s a waitlist for the charging bay, wait your turn before charging. Don’t cut in line or unplug someone else’s vehicle. Be patient and courteous to other EV drivers. Charging stations will often have waitlist sign-up procedures.
  • Only use charging bays if you need a charge – Don’t park in a charging spot if you don’t actually need to charge your EV. The spots are in high demand, so only use them if your battery requires charging.
  • Keep the charging area tidy – Avoid blocking other charging bays and be mindful of litter. Keep your charging area neat so others can easily access adjacent stations.

Following basic etiquette makes public charging easier for all EV drivers. Be considerate of others and share the charging access.

Charging Station Networks

Major charging networks like Electrify America, ChargePoint, and EVgo aim to provide nationwide coverage for electric vehicle drivers through partnerships and expanding infrastructure. These networks allow EV drivers to charge on the go through a combination of fast charging stations along major highways and Level 2 charging at destinations.

Electrify America was established by Volkswagen as part of its settlement with the EPA for violating emissions standards. Electrify America plans to invest $2 billion over 10 years to install EV charging stations across the United States. They currently have over 800 charging stations located along major routes like interstates and in metro areas. Their network uses proprietary connectors that work for all fast-charge capable EVs in North America. Membership provides lower charging rates.

ChargePoint operates one of the world’s largest EV charging networks with thousands of places to charge through Level 2 AC and DC fast charging stations. Their stations can be found along major highways and in popular destinations. Membership allows you to easily locate ChargePoint stations, start a session, and track charging history. Drivers can also see if a station is currently in use.

EVgo focuses on providing reliable fast-charging stations for EVs, including along busy corridors between cities. They have over 800 fast charging locations across the United States. EVgo has partnered with major automakers to provide charging solutions. Members can charge at lower rates, track usage, and monitor station availability.

Charging Speeds

The charging speed for electric vehicles depends on the type of charging equipment and battery capacity. There are two main charging levels to be aware of:

Level 2 Charging

Level 2 charging stations operate on 240V power and typically charge at 6-19 kW. This allows an EV battery to gain around 25 miles of range per hour of charging. Most Level 2 public stations have a maximum output of 7-10 kW.

For example, a 60 kWh battery would take around 6-8 hours to fully charge on a 7 kW Level 2 charger. The actual time can vary based on the battery state of charge when plugging in and tapering of the charge rate as the battery reaches full capacity.

DC Fast Charging

DC fast charging stations operate on 480V or higher power and can charge an EV battery up to 200+ miles in 15-45 minutes. The max charge rate varies between 50-350 kW depending on the vehicle and station capabilities.

Tesla Superchargers currently charge at up to 250 kW, delivering up to 200 miles of charge in 15 minutes. Many new DC fast chargers offer power up to 350 kW, allowing capable EVs to charge even faster.

Factors Affecting Charge Time

The main factors that impact charging time include:

  • Charging station power level (kW)
  • Vehicle maximum charge rate
  • Battery size and state of charge
  • Battery temperature
  • Ambient temperature

Using the fastest charger available and minimizing wait times can help drivers charge quickly and efficiently. Monitoring the battery temperature and preconditioning can also help reduce charging times.

Payment Methods

There are a few common ways to pay at public EV charging stations in the United States. Understanding the payment options can help you choose stations and be prepared when you arrive.

RFID Membership Cards

Many charging networks issue RFID cards to members that allow you to simply tap and charge at stations. RFID cards are convenient since you don’t need to enter payment info each time. Major networks like Electrify America, EVgo, ChargePoint, and others offer RFID cards. There is often a membership fee to get a card.

Mobile Apps

Instead of a physical RFID card, some networks allow you to use their mobile app to start a charging session. The app can be linked to your payment method. Apps provide similar convenience to RFID cards. Apps like the Electrify America app and ChargePoint app enable no-hassle mobile payments.

Credit Cards

If you don’t have an RFID card or network app, most stations allow direct credit card payments. You’ll need to either swipe your card or enter the card details on the station screen. Credit card payment may incur session fees in addition to the charging cost. It’s less convenient than RFID or app methods since you must go through the payment process each session.

Future Expansion

The future looks bright for increased accessibility and availability of EV charging stations. Major investments are being made by both the government and private companies to rapidly expand public charging infrastructure.

The recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act allocates $7.5 billion to build out a national EV charging network. States will be able to apply for grants to install charging stations along highway corridors and in underserved areas. This should help eliminate many charging deserts where EVs have limited travel range due to lack of charging options.

Private companies like Electrify America and EVgo are also investing billions to install ultra-fast charging stations across the country. Tesla continues to expand its proprietary Supercharger network as well. More workplace and multi-unit dwelling charging stations are being added too.

Experts predict there will be over 100,000 public charging stations in the US by 2025, up from about 48,000 today. This will make driving and charging an EV more convenient than ever. Locating a charging station along your route will become as easy as finding a gas station. The increased accessibility should spur more consumers to go electric with their next vehicle purchase.

Saving Money with Free Charging

Charging an electric vehicle can get expensive, especially if relying solely on paid public charging stations. However, using free EV charging stations whenever possible is a great way to save money. Here are some tips:

Take Advantage of Free Charging

Seek out free charging stations to avoid paying fees. Apps like PlugShare map out locations of free EV charging spots. Shopping centers, hotels, and workplaces often offer complimentary charging as an amenity. Even charging at home utilizes lower-cost electricity versus paying per session at public stations.

Look Into Membership Discounts

Joining a charging network like ChargePoint, EVgo, or Electrify America provides access to lower charging rates at their stations, versus paying as a guest. Some networks offer unlimited charging plans. Also, some utilities offer discounts on public charging to their customers.

Track Usage and Limit Fast Charging

Apps like Chargeway and EVMatch allow EV owners to track charging costs. Since fast chargers cost more per minute, limit their use to occasional long trips. For daily commutes and errands, use Level 2 stations as much as possible. Setting charging alerts and timers can also prevent overcharging.

Taking advantage of free charging opportunities, membership plans, and charging cost management can help make EV ownership more affordable.

Finding the Best Options

When it comes to finding the best free EV charging options, there are a few key factors to consider:

Location – Think about where you’ll be driving and if there are free charging stations conveniently along your route or at your destination. Apps like PlugShare can map out charging stations on a route. Try to plan stops at free stations when possible.

Speed – Free charging stations are typically Level 2 with slower charging speeds than paid fast charging. Make sure to factor in charging times if you’ll need a full charge. If you just need a top-up, free Level 2 stations are very convenient.

Availability – Be aware that some free charging stations have time limits or are restricted to certain networks or memberships. Check apps ahead of time and have a back-up plan if a station is occupied or unavailable.

Paid vs. Free – For longer trips, fast paid charging may be necessary to save time. But for everyday around-town driving or short trips, free charging can definitely get the job done. Take advantage of free charging when feasible.

Route Planning – Optimizing your route to incorporate efficient charging stops will ensure you get the most value from free stations. Check apps to see where free chargers are located along your drive. Group activities together near charging stations when possible.

With some savvy planning, free EV charging can keep your driving powered up while saving money. Assess your needs and look for convenient free stations that fit your routine.

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