Long Charging Lines During Holiday Travel Highlight Growing EV Adoption

Be it by plane, train, or automobile, holiday travel is usually a pain. Patience must be practiced whether it’s at the ticket counter, baggage claim or toll booth. While waiting in line is generally frustrating, a few EV owners cheered for long lines over the holiday weekend. 

AAA estimated that more than 55 million people would be traveling at least 50 miles for Thanksgiving. That’s 1.6 million more travelers than last year and the second highest since AAA began tracking travel volumes during the period. And there were undoubtedly more electric vehicles on the road this year than ever before. 

Most electric cars will have more than 200 miles of range, which is sufficient for most trips, however more consumers now have an EV as their primary mode of transportation, necessitating charging stops for longer trips. Therefore, many EV owners experienced long lines at charging stations for the first time this Thanksgiving.

TMC members reported waits of more than two hours with lines of up to 40 cars. While inconvenient, it was recognized as a win for electric vehicles and the greater good.  

“This is amazing, terrible and wonderful all at the same time,” ReddyLeaf posted. “Thank you all for choosing electric over gas. The extra hour spent waiting for a charger this Thanksgiving means cleaner air for those less fortunate, a safer nation/world as we transition away from the number one conflict mineral. Soon all of the trillions of dollars spent on US military intervention in oil producing areas will stop. That is my Thanksgiving wish and you all are making it happen.”

“I think lost in the discussion of the lines is the fact that ‘regular’ folks are now owning EVs and taking serious road trips (400 miles+),” gaswalla posted. “This is a great sign for EVs.”

Indeed, it’s a great sign for EVs. But, there are obvious growing pains for the segment. As EVs take a greater share of the market, charging networks will need to keep pace.

It seems Tesla at least tried to help with the expected congestion by deploying a Mobile Supercharger unit connected to Megapack batteries loaded on a trailer. 

TMC member Remonster experienced that mobile charger in person. 

“We rolled up to this at the San Luis Obispo, CA Supercharger station which is critical station for 101 travelers going up or down the central coast,” he posted. “I was expecting it to be an absolute zoo the day before Thanksgiving but to my surprise they had a mobile Supercharging station putting out 120+kW to I think 8 Urban Chargers. They had a couple of Tesla engineers on site to help monitor. One of them was kind enough to stand in the rain and help plug in/unplug cars.

They said this was their first time testing it and they rolled it in all the way from Reno to augment this particular station. They expect it to be used for the recent PG&E power shutoffs and general emergency situations. They also said it has a 12hr charge time, but I didn’t ask at what amperage.”

TMC member BridgeMojo also spotted the mobile charger and posted a couple photos.

It will be interesting to see if Tesla leverages the mobile chargers for other instances where there may be a wait for charging. Currently, Tesla operates more than 14,000 Superchargers in 36 countries. Chief Executive Elon Musk has said he wants to double that figure in the next year. 

“It might be that for the short term, building more Megapack mobile Superchargers is the right thing to do,” TMC member bmah posted. “No permits / land acquisition costs required, and Tesla can deploy them on fairly short notice to meet temporary demand. If there were a small fleet of these things (remember there’s only one right now), they could go to the usual hotspots (Kettleman City, SLO, or some other place that emerges in the future) during heavy travel weekends. But the Megapack mobile Superchargers could deploy for other occasions too.”

The good news is that Tesla is not the only player and won’t have to build the network on their own. Several other companies like EVgo and ChargePoint are trying to support growing adoption of electric vehicles by installing a network of chargers. In fact, ChargePoint is one of the largest networks in the world, boasting more than 100,000 chargers. The company says it has powered more than 62 million charging sessions in its 12 years of operation.

Another development that could help speed the wait for charging is faster, high-powered chargers.  

Tesla’s recently deployed V3 chargers are capable of charging some models at rates of up to 250kW. That kind of speed enables the vehicle to add 75 miles of range in just five minutes. The V3 charger debuted in July in Las Vegas, so the continued expansion of a network with greater performance will certainly help.

In the meantime, Tesla owners can be pacified with some thoughtful customer service. Several, TMC members suggested that Tesla should better leverage the data it gets from cars to guide owners to less-busy charging stations.

“This is where Tesla could really add value if they wanted to,” tivoboy posted. “They pretty much know which cars are coming to which supercharges and when. I’m pretty sure that most Tesla drivers when traveling on road trips are navigating to a supercharger at least for the last 20-50 miles, maybe more. Tesla also knows what speed they are traveling on, what route they are taking and what SOC they will most likely arrive at. Overall, they could certainly give an expected supercharger utilization in addition to the actual stalls available at any given time and for a predicted time. It’s just data. Not even big data.”

It was also suggested that Tesla should staff more station attendants, who could help direct the flow of traffic and possibly pass out treats to customers waiting in line during busy times. It seems Tesla is already doing some of this. TMC member goldengate said an attendant offered his group bottled water and candy bars while they waited for a charger. 

The long lines experienced during the busiest travel day of the year are obviously not the everyday norm. Supercharger stations likely won’t be 40 cars deep any other day of the year. But for that one day, despite the inconvenience, it’s a pretty amazing sight.

Photo: goldengate

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