Memorial Day weekend is a time for Americans to hit the road and enjoy the start of summer. According to AAA, an estimated 42.3 million people were expected to travel this Memorial Day weekend, which is a 6% increase over last year. 37.1 million of those travelers will be driving, an increase of more than 2 million from last year.
As electric vehicles (EVs) become increasingly popular, the number of EV drivers on the roads during Memorial Day weekend is also likely to increase. This can lead to increased demand for charging stations at popular destinations and along highways, as well as longer wait times for charging EVs when they arrive at their destination. To avoid delays and ensure that EV drivers have access to charging stations when they need them, it’s important for drivers to plan ahead and research charging station locations before they hit the road.
While this situation can be challenging for EV drivers looking to take the Great American Vacation or see family in other states, it’s also an opportunity to learn about not only the present, but the future of DC fast charging networks. The extra traffic gives the network a glimpse at what everyday future demand might look like, and lets us know where the first problems are going to occur.
What we learn here probably won’t be useful for charging networks that are still focused on geographic expansion, at least not yet. Tesla’s geographic spread is such that the company can focus more on expanding sites and increasing redundancy, for example, while Electrify America and other CCS operators generally need to focus more on expanding into new areas to get people onto the network at all.
In other words, a network with bottlenecks sucks, but it’s a lot worse to have a network that doesn’t reach you where you are and/or reach your destination.
To study this, I took a look at how Electrify America’s chargers were coping under the stress of traffic on Saturday (5/27) and looked for full stations on its app. Then, I tried to figure out why the stations were likely full when others were not. After I discuss some of the full stations I saw, I’ll try to draw some conclusions we can use for future network building.
Quartzsite & Casa Grande, Arizona
From my local and regional knowledge, seeing Electrify America’s stations in Quartzsite and Casa Grande show as full through a good chunk of the day wasn’t much of a surprise.
Even during normal times, EV drivers tend to complain about Quartzsite being full, as it’s on a very heavily-used stretch of road and only has four stalls. Not only is I-10 one of the major ways into Los Angeles, and California more widely, but it’s also the corridor to Phoenix. California already has a lot of EVs, but Arizona has also been pretty supportive of EV adoption over the years, leading to a lot of EV drivers going back and forth between Phoenix and Los Angeles.
Holidays tend to make this problem even worse, for drivers of all kinds of vehicles. Many people moved from California to Phoenix over the last few decades, and during times like Thanksgiving, it’s popular to return home to see the parents and grandparents. During holidays that draw people away from California, the opposite happens, with one of the main corridors out to visit places like the Grand Canyon and most of the rest of the southern US getting clogged.
Casa Grande is in a similar position, but with yet another challenge added: the traffic from Interstate 8. I-10 goes to LA, and I-8 goes to the Imperial Valley and San Diego. This means the traffic from Los Angeles, Phoenix, and San Diego (and everywhere between those places) ends up getting funneled straight to that charging station when people want to head to New Mexico, Texas, and the South. Like Quartzsite, this station has four stalls and gets clogged up on holiday weekends.
Green River, Utah
It seems obvious that places where interstate highways come together would end up with extra demand, but it’s important to keep in mind how much travel happens along many smaller two-lane highways. Green River, Utah was full on Saturday, and that’s because I-70 isn’t the only major route in the area.
U.S. Route 191 looks like a minor highway that connects rural towns in Utah, but you’d have to zoom out on the map and talk to travelers to learn that it’s more important than it seems. If you’re traveling through Texas and New Mexico and want to head to Salt Lake City, Idaho, or basically anywhere in the Pacific Northwest, US-191 is your road. Sure, you could go through Denver or Las Vegas, but that’s pretty far out of the way.
On top of that, you’ll struggle to drive from Phoenix to Salt Lake without going that way, because there’s a whole Grand Canyon in the way. Once again, you could go to Vegas and up I-15, but that puts you on the same busy road as people coming from EV-heavyweight California.
Finally, US-191 in Utah has its own popular destinations that put extra strain on Electrify America’s four stalls in Green River. Not only is there Moab (a very popular off-roading and scenic destination), but there’s Arches, Canyonlands, and Mesa Verde National Parks and numerous national monuments and scenic state parks. Plus, 191 leads to Monument Valley and the Navajo Reservation, plus the North Rim.
Given the major crossroads Green River is, it really should have gotten at least 8 stalls, if not more.
Las Vegas & Needles (I-15 & I-40)
I also noticed that some of Electrify America’s stations near Las Vegas, NV, and Needles were full, and even into the night in some cases! I don’t think I need to get into great detail, as the last two sections probably make most of it pretty clear why this is, but in a nutshell, it’s another area that’s taking heavy traffic from California out to popular places and the rest of the United States.
In Part 2, I’m going to cover one more location that I think’s instructive and then cover some takeaways!
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