On a recent trip across Texas, I found myself needing to get a charge in Houston. I remembered a previous article about Phillips 66 installing their first DC fast charging station at their flagship store … which just happens to be in Houston. Plus, I haven’t charged at a Freewire station before, so it seemed like a great thing to try out.
What Makes These Stations Special
On the surface, and based on where it was installed, the thing that makes these stations something new and exciting is a sticker and a name. A company with a long history in the oil industry (going back to the Phillips Petroleum Company in the 1920s), Phillips starting a new journey away from fossil fuels is a big deal. So, it’s really more than just a sticker. But, these stations have something more special inside the box.
Like all Freewire Boost stations, they don’t just serve power from the grid into your EV’s battery pack. The equipment at these charging stations is much larger than at Supercharger stations, but everything is organized into one cabinet. For example, there’s the charging equipment, 160 kWh of battery storage (which can support 2–4 charges in most cases), and all the electronic components.
This idea of energy storage at charging stations is not original, but one key difference sets it apart. Other companies, like Electrify America and Tesla, use battery storage to do something similar. However, this method still requires numerous hours for installation because it necessitates wiring complexities and a separate place to store the batteries. They do their best to stash the battery packs away, but it is more difficult to get everything approved because of this. FreeWire sends a self-contained box that can be installed in just a few hours compared to waiting months for installation.
Not to mention: you don’t even need 3-phase power if it’s not accessible. This makes the installation process much more seamless. In other words, these can replace a Level 2 charging station with ease — little to no extra wiring or new services from the electric company and without adding demand charges businesses’ power bill. The end result is an affordable system that still provides 100–200 kW of consistent charging power for drivers without straining the grid.
You’ll have to pay for electricity to power your charging station, but the cost from your electric company will be higher than you might expect. The charges include something called demand charges, which are levied per kilowatt rather than per kilowatt-hour.
Your power company bills you based on how much electricity you use at your highest point of consumption during the month. They don’t care as much about how much energy you’ve consumed overall, but rather how big of a “pipe” was needed to support your peak usage. The larger the wires have to be to handle your maximum load, the higher they will charge you for using their service. Comparing this billing method to water usage, electricity would be like gallons used while power would refer to the size of pipe required.
If you have a 50kW station, this fee will be hundreds of dollars monthly. If you have multiple 150–250 kW stations and they all get used at the same time, you’ll end up paying thousands of dollars every month — it’s super expensive. If you don’t have preexisting infrastructure in place, you’ll need to pay for the materials and construction needed to get power running to your desired location. Not only that, but you’ll be charged a high monthly rate to keep the lights on and maintain said infrastructure.
Perhaps even better, if you wanted to power these stations from solar power, it would be a lot easier. The station can draw a few tens of kilowatts all day, and save that power up for a driver to get a full 160 kW of charging when they arrive.
What It Was Like Using A Phillips 66 Freewire Station
While the technical details are interesting, EV charging is something we don’t want to really be that interesting. Ideally, you plug the car into the station, start the charge, and let the charger and the car do their thing to give you the range you need. If it’s any more interesting than that, something probably went wrong.
I’m happy to report that the experience here was largely boring. I plugged the car in, held my ChargePoint card up to the station, and it started putting power into my Bolt EUV’s battery.
When it comes to the station, there was one really cool detail from a customer-facing perspective: a big, beautiful touchscreen. The photos of Freewire stations don’t really do it justice. They look absolutely awesome in person. Like a TV, bigger screens are always good, but they also help the big box of batteries and charging equipment look a lot more proportional, too.
When I was done starting the charge, the advantages of Phillips 66’s flagship store started to become apparent. Not only did the OnCue station have a broad variety of snacks, drinks, and actual food, but it also had large, clean bathrooms. Sometimes, an EV charging station doesn’t have a bathroom nearby at all, but this was one of the cleaner public restrooms I’ve seen. We needed to get some cash from an ATM, and they had that, too. Plus, the ATM had a very reasonable fee for my out-of-network card. They even had my favorite soda.
In other words, it was just about the best convenience store and fueling station I’ve ever been to, so the “flagship” was really earned and not just marketing and PR fluff.
So, all in all, I’d have to say that this was an excellent charging station to visit. The charging went well, the facilities were excellent, and everything was reasonably priced. The stations were putting a minimal strain on the local electric grid, which is better for the energy transition. There was really nothing bad to say about the experience.
I’m hoping to see Phillips 66 spread this flagship experience out to other stores around the United States. If everyone could have a great experience charging like this, it will really help the EV transition go a lot more smoothly.
Want to check it out yourself? Head over to 10612 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77042.
Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.
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