With fast charging, 24/7 security, lounges and free Wi-Fi, Electrify America’s flagship station in San Francisco is pretty sweet. Now build more of them!
With 20 stalls, Electrify America‘s new EV charging hub in San Francisco is not only its largest installation yet but also the swankiest, tempting drivers with amenities and creature comforts that should make charging their electric cars safer and less of a chore. I stopped by this massive indoor facility to get a sneak peek at EA’s vision for the future of EV charging before it opens to the public this week.
San Francisco is my neck of the woods. I’ve been testing electric cars around these parts since the first-generation Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi i-Miev launched way back in 2010. In those days, public EV chargers were a rarity, but over the last decade (and particularly the last few years), charging infrastructure in the area has grown by leaps and bounds. Even so, The City proves to be a challenge for building a large-scale charging network because space is at an extreme premium, and every square foot of real estate is expensive. However, with many older and densely packed residences that often can’t accommodate home charging, public options are in extremely high demand.
EA’s new flagship hub aims to tackle these problems by rethinking how it builds EV charging locations. For starters, the station is indoors, tucked inside a building previously used as an auto shop and then a tour bus depot. It’s also densely packed with 20 high-speed charging stations, beating out the Santa Clara (14 stations) and Baker (12 stations) locations for the flagship spot as EA’s largest charging hub yet.
The large, well-lit interior comes with the additional benefit of 24/7 security with an onsite attendant. The big bay doors are open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. with the attendant letting drivers in and out outside of those hours as needed. This is a big deal given the San Francisco Bay Area’s notoriety for car break-ins and vandalism, and it allows drivers a bit more confidence to get out of their car to stretch their legs while charging. To this end, the facility features two climate-controlled lounges with vending machines and work and meeting spaces. There’s complimentary Wi-Fi and two restrooms with baby changing and water bottle refill stations. (I didn’t notice a tire check-and-fill station or any window cleaners, which are about the only things I’d add to EA’s formula right now.)
Electrify America worked closely with local utility PG&E to develop the building’s bespoke high-voltage power system, which is capable of sustaining a 3.5-megawatt draw from the grid when its stations are at full capacity. The chargers themselves are EA’s newest generation 350-kilowatt load-balanced stations. That means each pair of posts shares up to a 350-kW max, which is balanced between the cars as necessary. With every stall charging as quickly as possible, that still works out to 150 kW each, which is more than enough bandwidth for most EVs on the road today. However, if you want to max out one of the fastest charging EVs, maybe leave a space between the next car.
All charging posts feature CCS plugs, but EA says it’ll be able to eventually accommodate and convert to NACS plugs once enough of the industry has switched over. Today, almost all DC EV chargers that aren’t Tesla Superchargers use CCS, and with most automakers targeting 2025 to start making the switch to NACS, that’ll probably be the case for a while. Until then, NACS-equipped cars — currently only Teslas — can still charge via a relatively inexpensive adapter. And because there’s an attendant on site, EA expects that this will be one of the best maintained stations in its network, which should improve downtime and help guarantee the fastest charge possible.
Given the level of EV adoption that I’ve noticed in San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area among residents, commuters, rideshare drivers and folks just passing through and the station’s proximity to the highway, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and residential and commercial neighborhoods, the Harrison Street hub is an interesting location for such a large charging hub and should see a lot of charging traffic. Hopefully, 20 stalls will be enough to keep up with demand. EA expects that with so many stalls charging so quickly that drivers should cycle through quickly enough that long queues shouldn’t be an issue. If queues do develop, the onsite attendant will be able to help manage and organize drivers, further speeding things along. (This sounds amazing compared with my small suburban station where drivers are left to self-organize queues with mixed, and often frustrating, results.)
Earlier, I predicted that 2024 would be the year we figure out EV charging, with automakers, charging network operators and even gas stations getting in on expanding the charging grid with larger charging hubs outfitted with amenities exactly like what we see here. I’d like to see Electrify America and other charging network operators replicate this indoor formula, which could be an even better fit for cities that see harsher weather — snow, severe rain, heat waves — than mild San Francisco.
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