The Terra Incognita of Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

As electric vehicles continue their rise in popularity while major automakers spend millions to build more, the need for a nationwide network of charging stations is critical. 

As of right now these electric ports number around 43,000 across the nation. In contrast, there are around 136,000 gas stations spread out around the country, even in small remote towns. Most car charging stations are grouped together in urban areas, making an electric vehicle an unworkable means of transportation for a lot of Americans. 

All of this suggests that the U.S. and the world need to ramp up the installation of universal charging stations to keep up with the demand for and production of electric vehicles. 

An Ambitious Goal.  But Is It Attainable?  

With a global call for net-zero emissions by 2050 and U.S. President Joe Biden plans for half of all new cars to be electric by 2030, the ambitious and generally popular plan to significantly reduce carbon emissions and the world’s dependence on fossil fuels with EV cars is admirable. Yet many are asking whether it is truly attainable? 

Without a vast network of universal charging stations as ubiquitous as gas stations, it’s unlikely the United States or the world will meet these goals. Consumers are not going to give up their easily refueled gas-powered vehicles with the real possibility of being stranded who knows where when their EV battery dies with no charging stations available for miles. 

“E.V. charging infrastructure is the single biggest barrier to E.V. adoption. You talk to anyone who’s on the fence about buying an E.V. and the No. 1 concern that comes to mind is range anxiety,” said Asad Hussain, a senior analyst at the research firm, PitchBook, to the New York Times.

Tesla Is Charging Ahead

Impatient with current progress, famed EV car manufacturer Tesla built the single-largest network in the world with 25,000 global charging stations, dubbed “The Supercharger.” However, these charging stations will only power up a Tesla. So if you are in a Chevy Volt owner, you are out of luck. 

"I don't think Tesla would have sold so many expensive EVs as it did without the ability to drive cross country. The company publicized the existence of this Tesla-branded network. I am not seeing carmakers, except for Tesla, putting in big efforts to build these stations." John Voelcker, contributing editor to Car and Driver magazine told ABC News. 

The rest of the auto manufacturing world seems to be waiting on federal and state governments to step up with the funds to build charging stations in all corners of the United States. The new American's Job Plan legislation earmarks $7.5 billion for a network of charging stations across the country, but the CEO of EV charging operator and provider, Blink, Michael Farkas, told ABC News that won’t cut it. 

"It will push things along but it will take substantially more [money] than that. Every state is lacking in infrastructure -- even California. We have a massive need for chargers both in the U.S. and globally."

The Road Blocks 

One of the first hurdles to overcome is cost. The average cost to install a Level-2 charger, the kind found in most residential and commercial areas ranges from $3,000 to $5000. These kinds of chargers take anywhere from six to 12 hours to fully recharge an EV battery. With that kind of time commitment charging is only feasible for when you are planning on being at the office for around eight or nine hours or at home for the night.

DC fast chargers can fully recharge an EV battery in about 30 minutes, which is still a lot longer than it takes to fill up a car with gas. Moreover, they are $125,000 to a cool $300,000 to install. That is cost-prohibitive in most small-town rural areas. 

Financial issues aside, there is the challenge of getting the permits and permission from local governments to install the chargers. This can take months, years, or never depending on local officials. 

There is also the drain on local electrical grids to consider. Here, it is imperative that builders of charging stations work with local utilities to ensure there is enough power to support the chargers, especially the DC type, which are power-hungry. Billions will have to be invested to upgrade many existing power grids to be able to handle the increased demand for EV charging stations. 

Finally, we come full circle back to financial considerations. As of right now, charging station manufacturers and installers are small companies that have not seen much profit. Unless there is substantial money to be made there won’t be a rush to build more charging stations.

A Jumpstart Is Needed

Several fossil fuel companies and utility providers have seen the light, internationally, and are now committed to spending lots of euros to build charging stations across Europe. The United States should aim to do the same. 

With scientists sounding the alarm about climate change and dwindling fossil fuels worldwide it would benefit the planet and the EV industry if oil companies started looking towards the future where electric vehicles will become the new norm. If more utility companies got on board that would help solve some of the infrastructure problems by ensuring that existing grids have enough power to support an influx of residential and commercial charging stations.

Car manufacturers themselves need to get involved to the same degree Tesla did to build its Supercharger network. Getting rival car companies to work together is problematic, but there has been some movement in that direction, though.

Other car firms are following [Tesla], to a point. BMW, Ford, Hyundai and Daimler are partners with VW in Ionity. Its fast-charging network hopes to expand from 1,500 points to 7,000 by 2025. Electrify America, set up by VW in 2016 as part of its settlement with American regulators over its emissions-cheating scandal, now has 2,200 fast chargers in the United States. General Motors says it will spend $750m on charging. Its first move will be to install 40,000 points at dealerships. The Economist

Voters can do a lot to ensure that there are adequate, affordable, and easily accessible charging stations around the nation by electing officials who are onboard with the EV movement. If the record number of pre-orders (160,000 and counting as of November 2021) for Ford’s new EV, the F-150 Lightning, is any indication, they are. 

The Future Is Electric, But Will It Last? 

Carmakers would not be planning to go all-electric over the next decade if they did not see a demand. So far six manufacturers have pledged to transition to making nothing but EVs in the not too distant future.

Jaguar announced a paired down line-up of cars and seems to be rebranding itself as an EV only manufacturer by 2025

Bentley plans to release its first EV in 2025 and by 2030 offer only electric vehicles

General Motors plans to release an electric Hummer this year and its Cadillac brand to follow suit with the Lyriq’s release in 2023. GM has already announced plans to be EV only by 2035

Lotus: With the release of the all-electric Emira planned this fall this car manufacturer will skip the transition with hybrid models and go straight electric effective immediately

BMW's Mini model will be only available as an EV by 2030 

Volvo: While the XC40 Recharge is the only EV under the Volvo name it has other models under its Polestar division and plans to be exclusively producing EVs by 2030

Without adequate charging stations a lot of those cars could be back on the used market within a year or so if drivers can’t easily recharge their vehicles as needed. 

Ride The Lightning

The general consensus is that electric vehicles are here to stay. Globally, sales of EVs continue to rise even as residential and public charging station installations lag. Consumer demand should push more lawmakers, large corporations, and utility companies to begin investing in local power grids to support more charging stations. Creating affordable public charging along residential streets for apartment dwellers, shopping centers, and office building parking lots and garages is needed now. 

Building a vast network of charging stations across the country reaching into every small town in America will ensure that automakers are able to accelerate the EV movement with steady sales, sharply reduce carbon emissions and the country’s dependency on foreign fossil fuels. 

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