How to find EV charging stations
Even if you do all your regular EV charging at home, every EV driver needs to know how to find EV charging stations easily. The number of publicly available EV chargers in the US is steadily climbing, with federal funding pouring in to increase the rate of new installations.
IEA, Fast publicly available chargers, 2015-2021, IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/data-and-statistics/charts/fast-publicly-available-chargers-2015-2021, IEA. License: CC BY 4.0
IEA, Slow publicly available chargers, 2015-2021, IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/data-and-statistics/charts/slow-publicly-available-chargers-2015-2021, IEA. License: CC BY 4.0
In particular, public Level 3 chargers (which charge at 50 kW or more, recharging a depleted battery to 80% in well under an hour) have increased at the greatest rate. Since Q2 2021, the number of public DC fast chargers in the US has increased by at least 6% quarterly.
At last count, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory documented 128,431 public EV charging ports across the US.
What makes EV charging stations harder to find
The placement of charging stations isn’t bound by the same demands as gas pumps. We’re used to stand-alone fueling stations with big signs, at intersections and near highway off-ramps. However, because charging stations—even ultra-fast ones—have a much smaller carbon footprint, don’t contain toxic chemicals, and take longer to refuel than gas pumps, many of them are located at convenient destinations like shopping centers, parking garages, hotels, and schools. That doesn’t mean there are no EV chargers along highways; on the contrary, fast-charging station corridors exist across America, and many gas stations have already added EV chargers.
With so many public EV chargers available, it isn’t so much a question of how to find EV charging stations as knowing which are available when you need them, how fast they charge, and whether they’re compatible with your EV. To get answers to those questions, you need a great EV charging app!
How find EV charging stations faster: Choosing the right EV charging app
EV charging apps have come a long way in the past decade. What started out as maps with pins has advanced to include long route planning, in-app payment, and all sorts of nuanced information about charging stations.
Getting the right EV charging app can eliminate any lingering range anxiety you might have while ensuring you’re not charging more than you need to.
Here’s a quick look at some of the best EV charging apps out there.
Enel X Way
The Enel X Way App has just been redesigned to help EV drivers of any make and model eliminate range anxiety, trip plan and seamlessly charge. You can easily filter stations by type, charging speed, operator, availability and accompanying services (like a restaurant or hotel).
Maybe Enel X Way’s most differentiating features are that you can follow busy stations to get notified when they become available, choose the rate plan that best suits your needs and book your recharge directly in the app. With that functionality, you can do everything charging-related on one app. Plus, by adding your EV details to your profile, the Enel X Way App filters out incompatible chargers so you never waste time driving to charging stations you can’t use.
The app also includes a Trip Planner feature that suggests charging stations along your route based on your starting charge and range. Charging stations can be saved in your Favorites for easy recall when you need a future top up, along with notes about each station.
PlugShare has been publicly available since 2011 and maintains the largest database of EV charging infrastructure globally. The interface uses a map very similar to Apple Maps, with added layers of data for EV drivers.
When you click a map pin, you can see the station’s address (although you can’t navigate directly there in the app), charging speed(s), parking costs, nearby amenities, open hours and a detailed description of the location. Like the Enel X Way App, if you specify what EV make and model you’re driving, PlugShare will automatically filter out chargers that aren’t compatible with your EV. Scroll down a bit more and you’ll find plug types as well as recent check-ins (a good way of guessing whether the station is actually operational). Lower down on the sidebar you’ll see photos of the location, and nearby locations.
ChargeHub started a year after PlugShare, in Canada, and is very similar in many key ways. Like PlugShare it’s manufacturer-agnostic, aiming to display as many public charging stations as possible. You’ll find the coverage between the two apps comparable. Like PlugShare, it’s built on the Apple Maps platform.
The app has a less robust route planning feature than PlugShare. Whereas PlugShare’s Trips tab prompts you to include your vehicle’s total range and starting range and then shows you which stations are within that (you still have to do a fair bit of your own calculations, unlike with the Enel X Way App), ChargeHub just asks for origin and destination.
Open Charge Map
Open Charge is an open-source database of EV charging stations, maintained by a global community of volunteers. It’s a bit less robust than any of the first three apps discussed here. While its station list is largely the same as PlugShare’s and ChargeHub’s—with slightly fewer listings— station details, trip planning and payment functionality are all lacking. That means you’d likely have to supplement this with a second app, where the Enel X Way App has you covered from beginning to end.
Lots of EV drivers default to using Google Maps to find EV charging stations because they’re already in it for navigation. Just like all other locations on Google Maps, you can read and write reviews for charging stations, which can deliver a lot of nuanced information you may not be able to get from standard details.
The other big advantage of using Google Maps is that it offers in-app navigation. If you try navigating to charging stations in other apps, they’ll send you to Google Maps or Apple Maps.
Google Maps’ big drawbacks are the lack of detail, filtering, vehicle-based route planning and payment options. It’s a good app for finding stations, but like Open Charge, you’ll find yourself switching to another app at some point while figuring out where to charge.
There are a handful of other EV charging apps, including EV-manufacturer specific apps like ChargePoint and Tesla, but they can exclude options that might suit your needs best. For the broadest results, it's safest to use a charger-agnostic map.
When choosing among charger-agnostic maps, try to balance ease of use and functionality. Finding EV charging stations takes a lot more information than navigating to the pin closest to you. You need to know which plugs fit your vehicle, which are available and working, which will charge you up at the speed you need, and how much it’ll cost. The Enel X Way App offers an excellent blend of information and functionality, designed by a team who have spent more than a decade connecting EV drivers with easy-to-use chargers of all speeds.