Navigating the complicated world of EV charging

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An electric car charging. Photo credit: andreas1/CC 2.0, 60578 via Pixabay

Electric cars: the future of transportation.

At least, that always seems to be the message. We often hear that electricity is cheaper than gas and better for the environment, and that  going electric is one of the most effective ways to reduce your personal carbon footprint. If that’s not convincing enough, governments and electricity companies offer subsidies, rebates, special parking, and carpool lane privileges to electric drivers.

Everybody wins.

Except for renters, who make up two-thirds of Los Angeles, and who can’t necessarily plug in at homeThey have to rely on the inconsistent and confusing world of public chargers.

One in 20 of California’s cars is electric, and EV sales shot up 64% in 2019. As they get more popular, L.A.’s EV infrastructure is trying to keep up. Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) has set a goal of having 28,000 chargers in the city before the 2028 Olympics comes to town.

Right now there are just over 3,000 chargers, and that's not enough.

The first challenge is finding an available charger. After that, it’s making sure the charger fits the car. Right now, there’s Level 2 charging, which means you can drive 80 miles on a charge of  three and a half hours; and DC fast charging, which gives you the same range in a half hour. Teslas have their own special port too.

Even if you find the right type of charger, each company has their own app that you must install to pay for the electricity. Each company has different pricing. Sometimes the driver is paying for the amount of time spent using the charger, and sometimes it’s for the amount of electricity being taken from the charger. That means finding out whether the price is reasonable takes a lot of mental math. Paying one dollar per hour is much cheaper than the price of gas for a car with average gas mileage. Paying one dollar per kilowatt hour is significantly more expensive.

Companies can change the price for the electricity, and one company’s app might not show that another company’s charger across the street offers a more affordable charge.

So for a lot of people, it doesn’t seem worth it to go electric. But that is quickly changing.

The distance an EV can travel is getting better, which means you don’t have to plug cars in as often. 

Also, electric cars are cheaper to maintain, according to  plug-in and electric vehicle researcher Dahlia Garas. “There’s no engine oil, there’s no engine. So there’s no spark plugs to change. There’s less use of physical brakes because they’re using the electric motor to slow down the vehicle. So hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and all electric vehicles have much less brake wear and tear.”

LADWP says as more electric cars fill the streets, the inconsistent charging infrastructure will become more standardized. That also means more incentives to charge when electricity is abundant.

Plus, LADWP’s Chief Sustainability Officer Nancy Sutley promises that more chargers on are on the way.“We want people to see that they can charge their car wherever they are in the city of Los Angeles and LA County and Southern California,” she says. “Every street has electricity, so every street has the potential to have an EV charger.”

What are your questions about electric cars and how to charge them?

Credits

Host:
Steve Chiotakis

Producers:
Christian Bordal, Jenna Kagel

Reporter:
Caleigh Wells