Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Priorities
My wife and I have been driving electric since 2008. Living in the Seattle area means there was no public charging infrastructure back then, so we’ve seen a lot of change. As an early adopter, I’ve promoted public charging and helped individuals, cities, and businesses figure out how to implement charging infrastructure.
People frequently ask me about charging infrastructure. Here’s how I explain the priorities of different types of charging and what needs to be done to proliferate charging.
#1: Home Charging
EVs are more convenient to fuel than gas cars, but only if you don’t have to wait for a charge. Ideally, charging happens while the car is parked and we’re doing something else. Charging overnight at home is by far the easiest way to charge. Many early EV owners, myself included, have been happily driving on electricity using only home charging for years.
We don’t wait for the car to charge, the charged car waits for us.
For home charging we need to streamline the process for a consumer to get a charging station installed. That requires a quick and inexpensive permit process, and building a body of knowledgable electrical contractors. Installing a charging station is barely more complex than installing a dryer outlet. The process for the consumer should reflect that.
Home charging becomes more complex when home is an apartment or condo. Cities should require that all new construction include wiring for charging stations. Developers may complain at first, but experience shows that units with charging capability sell faster and at a premium.
Our legislative work paid off earlier this year when the federal tax credit for EV charging stations was reinstated, retroactively to include equipment installed in 2012.
#2: Workplace Charging
For many people, charging at home is not an option. While we’re continuing our work on making it easier for drivers living in apartments and condos, for many workplace charging can be an easier path to convenient charging. The federal tax credit for charging stations applies to businesses as well.
Even for drivers who can charge at home, being able to charge at work can be very helpful in extending their electric range. It is even more likely to be a big help for plug-in hybrid owners whose daily electric range can be easily doubled by workplace charging.
Workplace charging can be as simple as giving employees permission to use 120V outlets. Although the cost of charging is generally low, often less than other employee perks like free beverages, billing can be as simple as charging employees a fee for a permit that allows them to charge. As appropriate, infrastructure can scale up to more expensive stations that support monitoring, logging, billing, and access control.
Cities with alternative transportation programs for local employers should consider adding incentives for supporting plug-in vehicles. Although they don’t reduce congestion, they do reduce urban pollution and improve the local economy.
#3: Charging At Specific High-Demand Sites
Hotels need Level 1 (120V) or Level 2 (240V) charging to enable travel between cities. Much like workplace charging, being able to recharge overnight at a hotel doubles the convenient range of an EV and can even enable longer tours where distances between stops are within convenient driving range.
Regional attractions where visitors spend several hours are also important sites for Level 2 charging. Examples include large malls, sports arenas, and downtown shopping areas. By providing charging, these types of sites double the range of visiting EVs and thus quadruple the geographical area from which they attract EV drivers.
Airports need Level 1 charging. It doesn’t matter if the charge rate is low (a few miles of range per hour of charging) when an EV is parked for 24 hours or more. Airports and satellite parking lots can get started by installing simple, cheap, ordinary household outlets in parking garages and reserving those spots for plug-in vehicles. Quick Charging at airports enables wider use of EVs for picking up or dropping off passengers, and can be especially helpful in short term and cell phone lots. It’s interesting that at airports, Level 2 charging makes the least sense: Level 2 is too slow for dropping off or picking up, and it doesn’t make sense to have cars plugged into expensive stations for days when they would only need to charge for a few hours.
#4: Quick Charging Stations in Large Metro Areas
It’s incredibly handy to be able to quickly extend the range of an electric vehicle with quick charge stations. Having these stations located in strategic locations makes it possible to take on additional driving on short notice. Even if a driver never uses these stations, just knowing they are there in case relieves a lot of so-called range anxiety.
#5: Quick Charging Stations Between Metro Areas
Having Quick Charging spaced appropriately between metro areas makes it possible to use an EV for longer trips. They won’t turn a 100-mile EV into the ideal car for a 1,000-mile road trip, but each such station makes more electric driving possible and convenient.
No vehicle is perfect for everything. You can’t haul lumber in a Miata and using a gigantic gas-guzzling pick-up for urban commuting makes for frequent and expensive trips to the gas station. Although all-electric cars aren’t (yet) ideal for road trips, most of our driving is local and longer trips can be handled by either choosing a plug-in hybrid or rolling your own hybrid garage.
#6: Level 2 Charging Everywhere
As electric vehicles grow in popularity, we expect level 2 charging will become pervasive. If you can plug in everywhere you stop for more than a few minutes, at the grocery store, the dentist, the library, etc., EV drivers will be able to keep their car topped off on days when they may be driving beyond their single-charge range without making a detour to a quick charge station.
An Unusable Charging Station is Worse Than No Charging
Having visible public charging infrastructure helps raise awareness about electric vehicles and increases consumer confidence in the idea of driving electric. In that sense, every public charging station helps drive adoption of plug-in vehicles. However, there’s a downside to putting in charging without some thought and commitment.
If an EV driver knows there’s no charging available to help with an extended trip, they’ll choose a different option, but counting on a charging station that turns out to be unusable can mean a potentially huge inconvenience. To be useful, charging stations need to be reliable and accessible. Site owners should be careful to choose reliable vendors, reserve charging stations for charging, and post signage to make it easy to find stations. Free charging is great for encouraging use of electric vehicles, but when there’s enough demand that people charging just because it’s free are blocking access by drivers who really need the charge, it’s time to turn on billing. Local governments need to adopt regulations that allow and encourage enforcement of “no parking except for charging” policies.
The Future of Fueling
We don’t need charging everywhere for electric vehicles to be fun, cheap, and convenient for millions of drivers. Today we have tens of thousands of EV owners in the US and those drivers have among the highest satisfaction rates of any cars on the road today.
We already have electric service in far more locations than we have gas stations. In the long term, as that widespread access is made available for charging, we expect access to charging to be far more pervasive and convenient than fueling at gas stations. For people who can charge at home and/or at work, electric cars are already more convenient to fuel than gas cars. If we can focus our efforts and investment with the right priorities, we can maximize the rate at which electric vehicle adoption grows.
As our charging infrastructure gets built out, the convenient range of electric vehicles will increase while our dependence on oil, and all the problems that causes, will become a thing of the past.