More Charging Stations, Please

If we’re going to deal with the climate crisis, electric cars are a crucial part of the task. Photograph by Rebekah Zemansky / Shutterstock

In his weekly newsletter Bill McKibben shares an illuminating anecdote, titled Your Electric Vehicle Can’t Get There from Here—At Least, Not Without a Charge, about driving his electric car in New England that explains

Why we need to build a national network of charging stations fast.

I pulled into a Whole Foods parking lot in Bedford, New Hampshire, hoping against hope—but no, someone was already there, their Chevy Bolt plugged into the fast charger. Damn.

We’ve finally reached a stage in the climate crisis when, as a nation, we’ve decided to give up on denial. Now, having made a commitment to act quickly, we need execution. My Mother’s Day weekend drive across New England was a reminder of just how far we have to go. Thanks to excellent vaccine technology, I was finally allowed to go see my mom for the first time in a year, to belatedly celebrate her ninetieth birthday. But first I had to get there, from my home in rural Vermont to her retirement community in the suburbs of Boston. There’s not a bus or a train that makes the journey, so I had to figure out how to do it in my electric car, a Kia Niro. Normally, I charge it at home, from a plug connected to the solar panels on my roof. A full charge can cover a range of some two hundred and fifty miles, which is more than enough for ninety-five per cent of the trips I make in a year. Maybe ninety-nine per cent.

But it’s not enough to get to Boston and back; I was going to have to use a public charging station along the way. If you take a casual glance at the various apps designed to help you find chargers, it appears to be no problem—pins pop up on the map all along the obvious interstate highway routes. Further investigation, however, shows that most of them are, essentially, useless: they’re slow chargers designed for overnight use, or they’re in lots next to businesses where employees park in the spaces for the day. I’d been experimenting the week before, visiting a charger a few towns away from my home. After twenty-three minutes (I got bored of waiting), it had added only enough juice to drive me fourteen miles, and at a cost of $4.13, which is equivalent to buying gasoline for twelve dollars a gallon.

So I called ChargePoint, the company whose name was on the charger. A helpful representative explained that the charger didn’t actually belong to them, any more than a Shell station actually belongs to Shell—it was just associated with their network. She kindly offered to help me plot a strategy for my trip, and we centered it on the fast charger at the Whole Foods, because there was nothing else along the route…

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