Now that all the electric car charging companies are lining up for handouts from the federal government to expand the US electric charging infrastructure, this is the perfect opportunity for us to force them to implement a handful of things that will greatly improve the integrity and usability of US chargers.
- A GFCI 20 amp plug with two sockets so people can charge their ebikes or scooters for free if they need to. If the charger is broken then they can use their low speed 8/12Amp 120v charger that comes with most electric cars and get a measly 3-4 miles of range per hour. This might save people a tow if they get in a pinch and end up with an empty tank and no other charger easier within their current range.
- Multiple cameras on every charger to create more safety and cut down dramatically on vandalism.
- Motion sensors and high power LED lights that come on when people pull up to charge or there is movement of a warm body around a charger.
NYC is now spending a whopping $25 million to install ebike chargers for people to use on the streets of NY. I’m not sure how this is going to work and although I understand why they are doing it. They want to cut down on building fires caused by ebike charging in apt buildings that now happen on average once a day. A lot of people have died in these fires so I want to address why they happen and why having ‘ebike chargers’ on the street in NYC are just not going to work.
Why ebikes burst into flames
The main reason that ebikes burst into flames is because so many cheap Chinese ebikes are built with counterfeit 18650 cells. Unfortudently it is nearly impossible to tell the difference between authentic cells and counterfeit cells made in China just by looking at them. When you build lithium batteries the process for making the cells is very intolerant of moisture as well as any tiny errors in the mixture of elements that make up the ‘jelly roll’ of the 18650. A counterfeit cell can appear like a legit cell from Samsung, LG or Panasonic and can even perform similarly as far as the amount of watts it can deliver on a single charge, but they can be a time bomb waiting to burst into flames at any time.
I strongly recommend that you purchase your ebike from a reputable US supplier like Lunacycle, Pedego, or Rad Power bikes (just to name a few, there are many others as well). If you go on Amazon or AliExpress\AliBaba and buy the cheapest ebike you can find then there is a very good chance that it will have counterfeit cells. This is the same issue that happened with cheap ‘hoverboards’ several years ago that were causing so many fires and deaths in the US. That problem stopped because the ‘Hoverboard fad’ ran it’s course and they stopped allowing hoverboards that were not UL listed into the US. UL listing of the ebike and components is not going to keep the batteries from being counterfeit, but it certainly could not hurt and if the Chinese manufacturers are being forced to use more expensive UL listed components then they will be less likely to use counterfeit cells. NYC is banning the sale, renting or owning of any ebikes that are not UL listed. This is probably a smart move.
Reducing vandalism and crime at charging locations
One of the biggest issues stopping widespread EV adoption in the US is the fact that 25% of non-tesla DC chargers don’t work. This is due partly to poor engineering (using windows as the OS is a bad move and not maintaining chargers properly is even worse) and partly due to continued vandalism. The best thing to combat vandalism is having IR/high resolution cameras that operate 24/7 on every high speed charger. You also need to put up a sign saying that there are cameras on the premises and that vandalism will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Then when there is a crime or vandalism there is video evidence that can be handed off to the local authorities (in small towns the local fuzz will likely know the perpetrators). Every stall should have several cameras pointing in different directions so there is overlap with the FOV. I have 36 cameras on my rental property and you can get an 8 camera system with 8K resolution and a 3Tb drive which will store about 6 months of data for $250. That works out to about $31 per camera, at one point I checked the price of installing FAKE cameras and discovered that buying a fake camera was more expensive than installing real cameras (true story).
Motion sensors with high power LED lights
Another huge deterrent against vandalism and crime is motion sensors with high power led lights. These use only about 40 watts of power and cost about $30 but the are insanely bright and actually work to deter criminals. Nothing halts a criminal like a bright light turning on as they sneak up to do their dirty deed. These lights do not need to stay on all the time, just when a car approaches for charging or if someone walks towards the charger. This simple and inexpensive addition to the charger will make people feel safer while charging and also cut down dramatically on crime and vandalism at the chargers.
Why $25,000,000 for ebike chargers in NYC is not going to work
In some cities in the world (like Copenhagen) you can install ebike chargers and the bikes and chargers won’t get stolen while charging. Not in NYC though, as anyone who has commuted by bike in NYC can tell you that it is nearly impossible to keep any bike from getting stolen off the street no matter how crappy it looks. It doesn’t matter how beefy your lock is, it doesn’t matter how crappy your bike looks, in many places in NYC bikes are constantly stolen. Consider that ebikes are worth an order of magnitude more than regular bikes and also it’s difficult to secure most ebike chargers from theft. You also have to realize that most ebike chargers are pretty low power (200-300 watts) so it will take substantial time (many boring hours) to charge an ebike.
Using a 120v plug to get a slow charge when the charger is busted
So here is a scenario which might play out from time to time, you pull into a charger with almost no range left on your car and the chargers are not working. Although this is not a common problem with Tesla Superchargers, an estimated 25% of other companies chargers are non functional. If you don’t have enough range to make it to the next group of chargers then you are basically screwed. You will need to call for a tow or get someone you know with an electric car and an onboard inverter/charger that can give you some juice then you are in an impossible position. I always carry my 120v adapter around in my car for this exact reason, I know that I can always find a plug somewhere and then just patiently sit and wait while my car slowly charges. Having a 20 Amp GFCI plug on every electric car charger will allow you to emergency charge at any functional charger that still has power even if the screen and high voltage DC charging system doesn’t work. Its not an ideal solution, but it’s something.
Now is the time for us to do what makes the most sense for the public good while building out the charging infrastructure for the US DC fast charging network. If the federal govt is handing out Billions (with a B) to build out this network then they can also ask for these 3 simple needs to be followed. A publicly available and free 20 amp 120v plug, motion sensor LED floodlights and 24/7 cameras that have infrared night vision built in.
Right on, Ride on.