In January 2020 I started shopping for an electric car, buying a Chevy Bolt at the end of March. This post is a summary of what I’ve learned about charging the Bolt, both at home and on the road.
This is an evolving page about a rapidly evolving business. I’ll add more information as I learn it.
Speeds of Charging
There are three ways to charge the Bolt, which the Chevy Bolt Charging page nicely shows and describes.
Level 1, L1, Trickle Charging – slow
- J1772 connector
- A normal 120V outlet plus your car’s L1 Adapter. On the road, a long, heavy-duty, weatherproof extension cord is useful for charging at friends’ houses.
- About 4 miles of range per hour of charging.
- Practical in a pinch: you can drive about 48 miles for every 12 hours of charging.
- You can program your car to pull 8 Amps or 12 Amps, but 12 Amps may overload some home 120V circuits. For comparison, a normal 1,500 Watt space heater pulls 12.5 Amps.
Level 2, L2 – common
- J1772 connector, just like L1
- A 240V high-capacity charger.
- Up to 25 miles of range per hour of charging, depending on the adapter capacity. I’ve seen 4kW L2 chargers, which add under 16 miles per hour of charging.
- L2 is the most common charger I’ve seen on the road.
- You can have an L2 charger installed at your home, and a dedicated 240V circuit, so you can fully charge your empty Bolt overnight.
DC Fast – quickest
- J1772 Combo, “CCS” connector.
- Requires the ” DC Fast Charging capability ” option for your Bolt, which adds about $750 to the cost of the car.
- A very high-capacity charging system.
- About 100 miles of range in one half hour of charging.
- Useful on road trips, to minimize charging time.
- Cannot be installed at home.
- There are other, incompatible DC Fast connectors, so you need to tell your mapping apps that you’re looking for stations with CCS connectors rather than CHAdeMO or Tesla connectors.
Charging at Home
I plan to do most of my charging at home to save loads of money over charging on the road.
You can program the Bolt’s charger to take advantage of Portland General Electric’s Time of Use plan, to charge only between 10pm and 6am. That’s about 4.2 cents per kilowatt-hour vs. the peak home price of about 12.6 cents.
We’re currently on PGE’s Basic Service instead of Time of Use. That basic service which will cost us about 7 cents per kWh for the additional electricity for charging the car. After a few months of charging at this rate we’ll see whether Time of Use would be cheaper.
We’re also on PGE’s Green Source plan, which costs about 1 cent per kWh more to get all our power from renewable sources (mostly Wind and Solar right now). If we weren’t on the Green Source plan, we’d be charging our “green” electric car with, say, coal power – not so green.
So right now we’ll be spending about 8 cents per kWh to charge the car at home, which is very roughly $5.50 to fully charge an empty 66 kWh 2020 Bolt battery.
We arranged to have a Level 2 charger installed in our garage. Here’s the process we used:
- Buy the charger. You can either buy it when you buy the car (about $600 MSRP) or buy one online. If instead you shop for a charger on, say, Amazon, make sure the charger is compatible with your car, provides the current (Amps) you need, and has the features (if any) you want. I bought my 32A Webasto Turbo DX charger with the car, for about $510 because it counted as a car accessory.
- Choose an electrician to install the charger and its dedicated 240V high-capacity circuit. There are at least two ways to choose an electrician:
- Connect with qualified installers via Chevy’s Charger Installation page, The page takes you through the process of taking pictures of your breaker panel and garage; you eventually get email contacts from 2 or 3 electrical firms, and you choose one. I was unhappy with the cost of this option, but it’s good if you don’t know a local, qualified electrician.
- or use friends’ recommendations to find a qualified electrician who is experienced with installing car chargers. We used this option. Note: this electrician will be working with high voltage and current; if they don’t know what they’re doing they could kill someone.
- that installer comes out and installs both the charger and its dedicated 240V high-capacity circuit. Some chargers are wired directly into their circuit; others plug into a 240V outlet powered by that circuit. My 32A Webasto charger requires a 40A circuit, and is wired into it rather than plugging in.
The installation process may involve permits, which the installer gets. I’ve read that depending on how far your electrical panel is from the garage, whether your panel needs to be upgraded, and whether the service to your home needs to be upgraded, installation costs vary from $700-$1,700, in addition to the $600 cost of the charger itself.
Until the L2 charger was installed, I used L1 charging at home. I’m trying out charging on the nearby roads to get used to the various charging networks and their quirks.
I’ve seen notes from Bolt owners who get along fine using only L1 charging, at home, to avoid the about 1 or 2 thousand dollars to buy and install a charger. That option also works for renters who might not be able to get approval from their landlord to install the charger.
Charging at Work
I’m retired, but if I still worked at Intel, I could use their L2 chargers for a nominal fee.
Charging on the Road
Charging on the road can be far more expensive than charging at home. For example, the Blink chargers at the Hillsboro Library cost $0.37 per kWh. That’s over 4 times our about $0.08 per kWh home power rates.
There are a pile of competing charging networks, whose prices and availability varies a lot, even within the network. Each network requires its own RFID card and/or mobile app, although the newer stations accept credit cards. So far I’ve signed up for three: Blink, ChargePoint, and GreenLots. I will likely sign up for a few others as I try out local chargers and do road trips.
I’ve seen the following networks’ chargers around Hillsboro. Most are L2 chargers.
- Blink seems to be the oldest and most common network in the Hillsboro area. I’ve found one or two Blink chargers that charge your car for free.
- ChargePoint has a lot of chargers in the area.
- SemaConnect has a few chargers in the area, for example at the Hillsboro School District building on Brookwood road.
- Volta, a (currently) totally free L2 charging network. No signup; no cost to charge. You just plug in and charge. These chargers are here and there around Hillsboro: Walgreens on Cornell, Walgreens on 10th, Washington Square, Pet Smart and Barnes & Noble in the Tanasbourne mall.
- GreenLots, a Shell company, has DC Fast chargers at the Sunset Esplanade that are branded PGE.
- EVgo has a DC Fast charger in the Washington Square parking lot. In early 2020 EVgo was acquired by LS Power.
- Electrify America has DC Fast chargers in the Cornelius Walmart parking lot. It’s reported to work with ChargePoint cards.
- OpConnect has a DC Fast charger in the Gustav’s / Red Lobster parking lot near Washington Square.
I’ve seen the following cost structures of chargers near Hillsboro. Some chargers have different rates at different times, and some seem to not even display the rate (!)
- per kWh, for example $0.37 per kWh
- per time, for example $0.03 per 30 seconds ($3.60 per hour)
- per session, for example $7 for an up-to-2-hour DC Fast session.
Sometimes the station charges a per-minute parking/hogging fee after your car is charged if you don’t move your car.
Notifications From the Charging Station
Because charging on the road at an L2 charger can take over an hour, you’ll likely be away from the car when the charging session stops. Because many charging networks levy a spot-hogging fee after your charging session stops – even if it stops before the charging session is complete – it’s important to know when your car stops charging.
Each of the charging networks I’ve signed up for so far (Blink, ChargePoint, GreenLots) provides end-of-charging text messages and emails to let you know when to return to your car. You can get these messages without having to use the sometimes-poorly-reviewed mobile app for the specific network. One thing to watch out for: My GreenLots end-of-charging email arrived about 1/2 hour after I’d unplugged my car and driven home.
Chevrolet provides charging notifications through their mobile app, MyChevrolet. It also provides messages, but be aware those messages may require an active OnStar subscription. It seems that the basic, Connected Access several-year OnStar subscription that comes with the car doesn’t provide that messaging ability.
Finding a Charging Station
Plan ahead. Even now, charging stations are nowhere near as plentiful as gas stations. Because chargers are sometimes broken or occupied, I plan to identify 2 other charging areas near each one I’m planning to use. For example, if the Washington Square EVgo stations are full, you may find a DC Fast charger available at the nearby Red Lobster.
I’ve seen the following consolidated charging stations maps, which show stations from most networks:
- The US Federal map of Electric Vehicle Charging Stations. So far, this seems the most up to date. You can select the types of connectors your car uses (J1772 or CCS for the Bolt). It describes limitations on a given station, such as “For Hotel Guests only”.
- Google Maps. Search for “ev charging station” or “charging station”. I’ve had mixed results.
- ChargeHub. I’ve seen it list totally private chargers, which is just distracting to me.
- PlugShare. I haven’t used this much yet.
- Open Charge Map. I haven’t tried this out yet.
- The myChevrolet mobile app. I haven’t tried this out yet.
Also each network seems to have its own web site and mobile app for finding and activating their chargers. Beware: several of the apps have very low ratings on Google Play. Those low ratings are why I want to get RFID cards for those networks – to avoid installing the app.
Ways to Extend Your Battery’s Life
Your car’s battery capacity, like that of all Lithium Ion batteries, reduces over time. That reduction currently doesn’t sound like a big problem for the Bolt: one user reported a possibly 7% reduction after 100,000 miles. That said, it’s good to be nice to your battery.
I haven’t seen tips specific to the Bolt, but I found a good set of Nissan Leaf battery life hints that likely apply to the Bolt as well:
- Stop charging at 80% full. Lithium batteries don’t like being fully charged.
- Don’t run the battery below 30%. …they don’t like being fully discharged either. Note that the 80% and 30% limits mean that your practical battery capacity is about 1/2 of the maximum specified. No worries, because that leaves the 2020 Bolt with a whopping 129 miles battery capacity, and you can still use more than 200 miles on a road trip when you need to.
I seem to recall someone recommending against frequently using DC Fast charging, saying something about the battery liking slower charging. …but I haven’t found that reference again. Their recommendation might have had to do with wanting to avoid high battery temperatures, which are definitely hard on the battery – I don’t know about DC Fast charging’s effect.
Ways to Extend Your Driving Range
From the owner’s manual:
- “Use the heated seat feature instead of climate settings. Heating the seat uses less energy than heating the vehicle interior.” Heated seats are part of the optional Comfort and Convenience Package. Because this car doesn’t have a gas engine, it doesn’t generate anywhere near the heat that a gas car does; heating the cabin is far from free, mileage-wise.
- “Use remote start to heat or cool the interior when the vehicle is plugged in to maximize the electric range by utilizing electricity from the electrical outlet.”
- ” Plan ahead for decelerations and coast whenever possible. For example, do not rush to traffic signals. ” Taking your foot off the brake (‘coasting’ in the owner’s manual) uses regenerative braking to charge the battery. After 2 weeks of driving my Bolt, I’ve used the brakes only a few times – I love it!
- Do the usual mileage-improving behaviors, of driving at 55 mph or below, not driving on the freeway with the windows down, avoiding fast take-offs or stops at traffic lights, and not carrying more weight (cargo) than you need.
Prepare for the Occasional Rude Behavior
In my short survey of chargers around Hillsboro, I’ve seen the following reasons chargers were unavailable.
- A gas car in an Electric Vehicle charging spot. In Oregon, that car owner can get a ticket for blocking an EV charging spot.
- An electric car that has unplugged and stayed in the spot after charging, to avoid paying a charger parking fee. Depending on how the courts interpret the Oregon law, hogging the spot in this way might cause you to be ticketed, just like a gas car.
- An electric car that’s long outstayed the posted 45 minute limit. Unfortunately, the time limit in many spots I’ve seen is only a request rather than a law.
I’ve found charging often involves comparing apples to oranges, such as $0.37 per kWh vs. $1.25 per hour at 6.6 kW. A few numbers and conversions can help. The examples may remind you of Algebra story problems. On the other hand you can just pay the bill and look at how many miles were added to your battery.
- My 2020 Bolt battery has a 66 kWh (kilowatt-hour) capacity. That’s equal to 66 thousand Watts transferred continuously for an hour. That’s a lot.
- (kWh * 1000) / Watts = hours. For example, fully charging my totally empty 66 kWh battery at 960 Watts should take about 69 hours (almost 3 days).
- kWh / kW = hours. For example, fully charging my 66 kWh battery at a 6.6 kW public L2 charger should take about 10 hours.
- kW * hours = kWh. For example, charging at a 7.7 kW public L2 charger for 1 hour will add 7.7 kWh to my battery, or about 12% of its 66 kWh capacity: (7.7 kWh / 66 kWh) * 100 = 11.6%). Now you know what motivates people to hog the charger for a couple hours.
- $ per hour / kW = $ per kWh. For example, $1.25 per hour / 5.6 kW = $0.227 per kWh. Much cheaper than $0.370 per kWh.
- Amps x Volts = Watts. For example, an 8 Amp home L1 charge at 120 Volts = 960 Watts. That’s less than a hair dryer. A 32A home L2 charger at 240V = 7,680 Watts, which is 7.680 kW.
- Watts / Volts = Amps. For example, a 1,500 Watt space heater plugged into a 120 Volt outlet pulls 12.5 Amps.
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