There are other Level-2 chargers available for the Chevy Volt besides the recommended SPX Voltec; EVs have reached the point where charging units are even sold at local home improvement stores. And in addition to chargers that you own, there is an emerging infrastructure of commercial “charging networks” such as Blink and ChargePoint*. These companies have made an investment in providing chargers in public places, adding the convenience of charging while out-and-about at work, at the mall, or going to your local library, school, or recreation center.

Keep in mind that the 15A Voltec charger was specifically endorsed by Chevy for the Volt because it is not over-engineered for what the car requires as dictated by the car’s built-in 3.3kW charge-regulating circuitry. The same can be said of the Nissan Leaf, even though its AeroVironment charger is rated at a slightly higher 16A.

GE, Schneider, and ECOtotality offer 30A Level-2 chargers, which can deliver a maximum of 7.2kWh of energy. Blink is a division of ECOtotality, and as would be expected, they use their own 30A chargers in their network. But the Leaf & Volt cannot take full advantage of the energy that these high-amperage chargers deliver. And therein lies my issue with the Blink Network.

Blink charges by time rather than the amount of energy used, and they round up to the next whole hour. Their rates are $1/hr for ‘Plus’ members (committed $30 annual fee), $1.50 for ‘Basic’ (pay-as-you-go) members, and $2 for Guests.

Let’s assume you are a Plus member. If you charge for 59 minutes, you just paid $1 for what could have been 7.2kWh at the maximum. The worst-case residential SDG&E top-tier rate is $0.31/kWh, so at a $2.23 equivalent, the Blink cost would appear to be a phenomenal steal. If you had an EV that could take advantage of the high kWh, not only would membership be a no-brainer, but you’d wonder how the Blink business model could ever hope to succeed.

But the Volt, Leaf, and most other EVs on the road today can’t benefit from 7.2kWh. Limited to a 3.3kWh draw, you are paying $1 for what is a $1.02 residential worst-case equivalent. At first glance, that’s still exceptional considering the convenience of public stations, even with the $30 fee factored in. But appearances can be deceiving.

If you watch the clock and get as close to 60 minutes as possible, Blink is a big win for the driver. But anything more or less than a 60 minute milestone, and the value tails off quickly. Plug in for a quick 30 minute lunch? You still paid $1 but it wasn’t for the full 3.3kWh – more like 3.3kW for 30 minutes, or 1.65 kWh. Just missed your 60 minute deadline and pulled the plug at 1:01? Now you’ve paid $2 for what should have been $1.02 (or less) at Tier-4 or better. And if your vehicle is fully-charged, the kWh meter may not be spinning but the Blink clock is still running.

This may be an unfair analogy, but I liken Blink to a Las Vegas casino. The house is betting that you won’t hit the customer-optimized 60 minute boundary or will over-extend your stay. Inattentive chargers/drivers would appear to make the best marks… er um customers. And the numbers are obviously far worse at Basic or Guest price levels.

“There’s an app for that”, which makes finding nearby Blink stations easy. But the Blink app offers nothing in the way of clock management. The “Charging Status” screen consists of a spinning graphic and confirmation that your vehicle is plugged in. No start time. No elapsed time. You could cross-reference the time via optional SMS or email alerts, but there is nothing within the app itself. Color me suspicious, but it’s almost as if they want to make it difficult. And what could possibly be their motivation for that? Could it be that optimizing your hourly usage is counter to their maximized profit margins?

ECOtotality is taking a calculated risk by investing in this Blink infrastructure build-out, and there’s no question they need to make money somewhere for it to succeed and grow. But why not impose a premium on the local utility’s rate and charge for the product that is actually being consumed?

This is the model implemented in the build-out of federally-funded public EV charging infrastructures. The $0.50-per-kWh of the San Diego initiative is a 60% premium over the worst-case top-tier SDG&E rate, but at least you are paying for services rendered. Instead, Blink is following more of an “Ace Parking” model by essentially renting out the space by the hour rather than focusing on the juice, and IMHO this is bad ju-ju.

People are already familiar with paying by kWh. Changing the underlying measure just makes it seem like a way to distract the consumer from seeing what they are paying for. When I pull into a gas station, I pay for what I consume, not a “pump occupancy fee” based on time spent there. Per capacity, it is expected that a motorcycle will be charged less to fill its tank than an RV. Not so with Blink. A golf cart, a Volt, and a Tesla would all be billed the same dollar amount for an hour’s time, even though the kWh draw for each could be substantially different.

In order for EVs to be successful for the greatest number of consumers, not only should there be readily accessible charging stations, but they need to be equitable. And it would probably help if charging was as analogous as possible to existing ICE conventions.




* ChargePoint is another commercial network, but I haven’t seen if they have a similar model as Blink. I do know that they are slightly different in that they allow the site owner to set the price. There are only 2 stations in my area, and both are free. For a site that charges, I don’t know if it is by time or usage.