Volta Offers Free EV Charging, With Caveats

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Tesla set the bar high with free charging for many years. Now comes Volta Charging, a company that aims to build a network of high-speed chargers for all EVs that are free for the first 30 minutes. They’d be in upscale locations that meet Volta’s standards and supported by advertising, including on signage near the DC fast chargers.

The typical motorist would pick up 175 miles of driving from the half-hour charge. The user then decides to complete the charge on their own nickel, or disconnect and drive for a couple more days. Volta already has a series of Level 2 (240-volt) charging stations in and around a dozen major metro areas. The first DC fast-charge station will be in Norwalk, Connecticut, along I-95 linking New York City and Boston.

Ads on the Volta charging units would underwrite the cost, about $ 5-$ 8, of each free charging session.

Already, the cost of electricity is a third to half that of the amount of gasoline burned comparably sized cars, if you charge at home where electricity costs about 12 cents a kilowatt-hour. Charging at public stations adds overhead costs that cut into the dollar savings but the energy efficiency is still there. Volta tilts the tables further in favor of EVs if it can make the ad-supported model work. Volta estimates a steady user of its charges would score $ 1,155 in “equivalent fueling costs” each year.

Volta Charging, based in San Francisco, was founded in 2010. It has significant investment capital. The idea of expanding into fast charging for all EVs that’s on par with the speeds of Tesla Supercharging — meaning a full charge in about an hour — is the obvious next step. We wish them well. We hope they put DC fast chargers near us.

But. Reading Volta’s marketing materials and press releases is a deep dive into buzzword bingo language. The gist is that high-speed chargers will go where the most affluent EV drivers live: more likely in, say, Newport Beach, California’s, Fashion Island, or the Mall at Short Hills (New Jersey) than at a mall anchored by WalMart and Popeyes. Volta’s web pages for prospect charger host sites promise:

No hardware purchases or monthly service fees and not a single charging fee [for venues that meet the Volta data model] … The entire process is turnkey, with costs covered by an innovative sponsorship model that allows forward-thinking brands to advertise across the network.

Volta also tells potential charger hosts that “68 percent [of their customers] consider going electric … after seeing a Volta station. Providing charging triggers a meaningful dialogue with customers while delivering millions of miles of clean energy. Businesses can also earn LEED certification points (for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, signaling a green facility) by hosting vehicle chargers.”

Existing Volta charging stations as the network looks to expand to DC fast charging, starting along I-95 in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Level 1 chargers run on 120 volts while Level 2 EV chargers run on 240 volts and can recharge, say, a Nissan Leaf or Chevrolet Bolt EV in four to eight hours. (Level 1 chargers need overnight, sometimes longer.) Level 2 chargers draw 15 to 40 amps, roughly equivalent to a Level 1 charger if it could draw 30 to 80 amps. DC fast charging bypasses the charger/transformer in the car and feeds power more or less directly into the battery pack. They are typically 50 kW to 100 kW, with plans to go to about 350 kW. Most DC fast chargers support the two major standards, CHAdeMO, supported by Nissan, and CCS, or Combined Charging system, supported by Jaguar, Volkswagen Group, Renault, General Motors, BMW, Daimler, Ford, FCA, Tesla, Kia, and Hyundai. 

After that first Volta fast-charge station arrives in Connecticut, Volta says it will focus on bigger cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC, and Chicago.

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