Even a battery with a million-mile lifespan can’t overcome one of the key hurdles to mass adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) in the United States and elsewhere—the insufficient public charging infrastructure. The EV revolution is not only about car performance, choice availability, or price parity with internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. It also hinges on easy access to charging infrastructure to allay customer fears that they could be left stranded without battery power and without a charging point nearby.
EV infrastructure in the United States is expanding, but it needs a lot more expansion and investments to be ready for EVs to increase their market share.
Even California, the leader in EV sales and Tesla’s largest U.S. market, has recognized that it needs to fill the gap in charging infrastructure if it is to meet California Governor Gavin Newsom’s target of phasing out the sale of new gasoline-fueled passenger vehicles by 2035.
Earlier this month, the California Energy Commission (CEC) approved a US$384 million plan to accelerate zero-emission transportation, including by allocating US$132.9 million for light-duty EV charging infrastructure and another US$129.8 million for medium- and heavy-duty EVs and infrastructure.
In August, California state officials gave Southern California Edison the green light for a US$436-million EV charging infrastructure program that will add about 38,000 new chargers throughout the utility’s 50,000-square-mile service area, which will be the nation’s largest EV charging program run by an investor-owned utility.
Who Should Operate Charging Points?
California is the leader when it comes to plans to authorize utilities to invest in EV charging infrastructure. More than half of the total US$2.6 billion approved by regulators in 24 states came from California as of September, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing data from Atlas Public Policy.
But there is trouble brewing over the idea that utilities should be the primary developers of public charging points. Regulators in some U.S. states are debating whether utilities are the best choice, although states with clean energy targets and policies are increasingly open to the idea.
“When the utilities are engaged, there’s quicker adoption because the infrastructure is there,” Calvin Butler Jr, chief executive officer of Exelon Utilities, told the Journal.
However, the idea to give utilities a greater role in EV charging infrastructure development is running into opposition from consumer rights protection advocates, from start-up EV charging companies and the oil industry. Consumer groups say that the electricity rates to consumers will increase initially and may not fall over time, as utilities promise. Fuel producers are not happy with the idea that states could help subsidize the rival vehicle technology that could displace fuel sales. And small EV charging firms don’t like the potential control of utilities over much of the infrastructure.
Utilities, on the other hand, argue that they have the financial resources to deploy EV charging infrastructure faster and thus help state targets for cleaner energy and transport electrification.
How Much Investment In Needed?
Regardless of who has to play the leading role in significantly expanding U.S. EV charging infrastructure, one thing is certain—billions of U.S. dollars will be needed to make EV charging widely available, including in homes and in rural areas.
The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) said in a white paper last year that the capital costs of the EV charging infrastructure needed for public, workplace, and home charging for the most populous 100 U.S. metropolitan areas through 2025 would exceed US$2 billion in a scenario with 2.6 million new electric vehicle sales in 2025. The report found that home charging costs to support these EVs total US$1.3 billion, whereas new workplace, public Level 2, and DC fast charging costs total US$940 million. According to the paper’s author Michael Nicholas, about 4 times more public charging infrastructure than the number in 2017 will be needed by 2025 to match expected EV growth.
Wood Mackenzie expects 10.8?million EV residential and public charging outlets in North America by 2030. At present, public charging infrastructure deployment in North America trails significantly behind Europe, Kelly McCoy, Analyst, Grid Edge, wrote in an analysis in May.
U.S. utilities aiming to play a role in public charging infrastructure are currently limited by “regulatory boundaries precluding or limiting ownership, investment and EV services,” McCoy said.
State and possibly national policies to incentivize transport electrification, as well as utility EV infrastructure programs, are set to alleviate consumer anxiety about range in the second half of this decade, which will help the U.S. to catch up to Europe in terms of public charger deployment, the analyst noted.
Gaps In Regional EV Infrastructure
A recent analysis from Rocky Mountain Institute showed that there are not as many fast DC chargers on major U.S. highways outside more urbanized environments. Unsurprisingly, five of the ten cities with the highest availability of surrounding EV infrastructure are in California.
Source: Rocky Mountain Institute
“Gaps are visible away from these more urbanized environments, which could lead to range anxiety for consumers taking longer trips outside of their home cities and states,” RMI said.
“Furthermore, fast-charger coverage in various major corridors of North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and some other states is limited to Tesla drivers only. This further complicates the question of regional infrastructure suitability for individuals that drive other brands of EVs.”
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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