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How many electric car chargers are enough?

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Direct overhead view taken with a drone of a charging station for electric and hybrid cars using solar panels to generate electricity to charge the cars battery while they are parked in the city

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The skepticism about electric vehicles — and there’s a lot of that out there — is really more of a concern with infrastructure than the EVs themselves. After all, EVs are more efficient, quieter, more refined and generally much faster than an identical fossil fuel vehicle. But the charging problem is not something EV advocates can dismiss as a simple inconvenience.

While it is true that most EV owners charge their EVs overnight at home, as adoption increases, EVs will be purchased by people without garages or garages to charge, increasing the importance of widespread and reliable public chargers. And we’ll need a lot more public chargers, according to a report by S&P Global Mobility.

As regular readers will no doubt know, there is a lot of investment in charging infrastructure. In March 2021, US President Joe Biden set a goal of adding half a million new EV charging stations by 2030. By 2022, President Biden followed through with a $5 billion plan to build fast DC chargers around along the interstate highway network, with at least four porters every 50 miles.

The money will not be spent on a federally owned and operated charging network; instead, it will be disbursed to states to be spent by their departments of transportation. An additional $2.5 billion will be made available through discretionary grants to build charging infrastructure in rural and underserved areas.

Some states are also acting on their own – in December 2022, California said it would spend $2.9 billion to double the number of publicly available chargers from 80,000 to 170,000, with a goal of 250,000 public chargers by 2025.

The auto industry isn’t exactly ignoring the problem either. In addition to Tesla’s and Electrify America’s Supercharger network (which is backed by the Volkswagen Group), Volvo plans to install fast chargers between Seattle and Denver; General Motors is in the process of adding 5,250 fast chargers nationwide by 2025 (plus another 40,000 Level 2 AC chargers (240V)); and last week, Mercedes-Benz revealed it is installing more than 2,500 fast chargers across the country by 2027.

The chargers will be added to those currently in operation, which include 126,500 Level 2 chargers, 20,431 Level 3 DC fast chargers and an additional 16,822 Tesla Superchargers, according to S&P Global Mobility. While past valuations have shown the US is on track to meet its 2030 collection targets, S&P is less optimistic.

“With the transition comes the need to evolve the public vehicle charging network, and today’s charging infrastructure is insufficient to support a drastic increase in the number of electric vehicles in operation,” said S&P Global Mobility analyst Ian McIlravey.

More than 2 million chargers

This is due to strong consumer interest in EVs. New EV registrations have been above 5% for most of 2022, and many more new models are expected to debut in the coming months. S&P says that EV market share will “likely reach 40% by 2030,” which would mean more than 28 million EVs on US roads by then. (Other estimates aren’t quite as optimistic, but still predict more than 26 million EVs on US roads by 2030.)

And that will require 2.13 million Tier 2 chargers and 172,000 Tier 3 fast chargers by 2030, in addition to any and all domestic charging, S&P projects.

The problem may be obvious well before 2030. S&P estimates that the US EV fleet could reach nearly 8 million by 2025, which would require at least 700,000 Tier 2 Chargers and 70,000 Tier 3 Chargers.

The report identifies three technologies with the potential to improve part of this problem. Wireless charging is one of them as it removes a pain point from the charging process. Battery swapping is another, but it will require some degree of standardization across automakers and a signature pack model. Domestic DC charging is third; they operate at lower kW levels than public fast chargers, but are still 5 to 10 times faster than AC charging. Unfortunately, the cost of these wallboxes is currently prohibitive for most of us, as they seem to cost 10-20 times as much as an AC home charger.

“For mass-market acceptance of BEVs to take hold, charging infrastructure must do more than keep up with EV sales,” said Graham Evans, director of research and analysis at S&P Global Mobility. “It should surprise and delight vehicle owners who will be new to electrification, so that the process feels seamless and perhaps even more convenient than their experience of refueling with gasoline, with minimal compromise to the vehicle ownership experience. battery technology and how quickly electric vehicles can be powered will be just as critical to improvements here as how quickly and abundantly the infrastructure to deliver power is.”

Of course, simply installing chargers and hoping for the best will not be enough. Uptime—both at the charger level and the venue level—needs to improve far beyond its current poor state if companies want EVs to really catch on.