The final roadblock to America’s Electric Vehicle Future is the Charging Infrastructure

This goes without saying, electric vehicles are dependant on the electric charging infrastructure. As long as the charging infrastructure is not enough for the demand, big car manufactures will keep away.

Since the inception of electric cars, the main challenge has been charging stations for the vehicle and battery range. Different automakers have different charging infrastructures of the vehicles. For a car like the Jaguar I-Pace, the Tesla charger is not compatible with the vehicle. Also, another problem cropping up is the power output by the charger. Charging stations have different outputs with the classification of Level 2 and Level 3, with the Level 2 charger being slower than the Level 3 charger.

All these factors bring about electric car range anxiety, which revolves, remaining battery life range minus miles to the destination, thus either hope or despair for the driver. The vehicle range as a dynamic figure, depending on terrain and speed, makes the driver even more anxious. All this makes spotting a driver using an electric car easy as they are sweaty from avoiding the use of air conditioners to save power, instinctive forward when driving up a hill, and finally driving slowly to save power. As an electric car owner failing to notice the difference between the level 2 and level 3 charger could cost you time. These factors are causing a big problem for the future of the electric cars in the US.

The auto industry had plans to invest $141billion in the next few years to be able to retool the supply chains from internal combustion engines to battery-driven cars, but the coronavirus pandemic struck. To support this financial reasoning in the US, almost one-third of car owners aimed to purchase an electric car during their next purchase. Well, the automakers have new electric car models lined up, with most of them achieving a 200mile range. Reaching a range of 200mile for the electric car is a massive milestone as with this, there is a possibility to banish range anxiety from showrooms. However, range anxiety on the roads is quite alive as vast chunks of the US lack charging stations. This reality makes car consultants like McKinsey say that lack of enough charging stations may cause a tremendous barrier in electric vehicle adoption in the US.

Most Americans drive an average of 37 miles a day a distance that most electric cars can cover. In a year, only 15% of miles covered by a vehicle in the US are 100 miles or longer. Thus due to the mentality of going anywhere you like after purchasing a car, the electric vehicle has a significant risk of being stranded no matter how rare.

The charging speed is another problem to overcome with 64000 charging plugs available in the US, and only one in five can fully charge a car in one hour or less. Most of the charging plugs available are suited for shoppers or commuters and not long-distance travelers. If one decided to search for Level 3 chargers, the availability becomes much worse.

Charging startups have promised to build thousands of new chargers, but their timelines are uncertain. Notably, even with such ambition, many parts of the country may be skipped. The lack of chargers will cause rural drivers not to purchase electric vehicles, and thus if the demand is low, carmakers won’t increase production. In a couple of weeks, the world have achieved one million electric charging outlets, with the US having an 8% share. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the setup of charging cords will be affected because of the economic uncertainty. An 18% fall is expected globally to about 1.7 million units in 2020.

Setting up the charging infrastructure is an expensive endeavor.  The level 2 charger hardware costs $2500 to install, while a level 3 charger costs $320,000 based on a study by the Rocky Mountain Institute. Level 3 chargers can charge four times faster than a standard outlet. It has liquid cooler wires and a high-capacity conduit. Strong feeders, new meters as well as transformers require to be installed in the surrounding grid at the cost of $173,000 apiece. Also, digging trenches for cables and building a protective structure will add the price considerably. Well, building a fast-charging station far from a city or interstate corridor is setting your money on fire.

For the consumers charging rates depend on the rates set by the predominate state utility regulator. In the US, commercial electricity rate average 10cents per kilowatt-hour. Thus it could cost $6.60 to fill up a Chevrolet Bolt with a rough estimate of 2.5cents per mile. Though, charging stations charge per minute.

EVgo, a charging company based in LA, operates 815 fast-charging stations in the US, with 115 million Americans live just 15 minutes from an EVgo plug. In this situation, customers have a few plugs available to them for charging. The companies business model is to position chargers in areas with high traffic. Since it has skipped most of the country, the EVgo charger use is high. As long as the demand is up, they will build more charging stations meaning that other areas with less traffic will be left out.

Charging Point, another charging company, has around 715 fast-plug stations and thousands of slower charging stations. The charging company has focused on areas with high numbers of electric vehicles. This current business model for charging infrastructure is not perfect, but it works since it is close to the market.

Electric car owners in major cities should carefully plan if they want to travel long distances. The reason for this is the location of charging stations, for example, traveling from Raleigh-Durham North Carolina to the Outer banks is risky as just two fast-charging stations are available for the entire strip of barrier islands. Sadly, carmakers are waiting for companies such as EVgo, ChargePoint, and other startups to fill the gaps. Companies like General Motors are focused on zero-emission for the future, but they are neither putting up or buying charging stations. It has teamed up with the Bechtel group to pitch investors on investing in thousands of chargers.

Meanwhile, Ford has put together a network of sorts called the FordPass. Its aimed at helping electric vehicle owners locate electric chargers. For the big carmakers to get into the charging game, it took a scandal. In a settlement deal on the Dieselgate scandal, Volkswagon is to spend $2billion in the installation of new chargers across the US through Electrify America. By 2022 the network will expand to 800 with a current count of 428 online sites. VW is also funding an additional $2.7 to individual states, with up to 15% of the funds used to build charging infrastructure. 

With the development of charging infrastructure, it is sad to note that the small fleet of new electric vehicles is struggling to sell. The Jaguar I-Pace debuted in October 2018, and by last year, only 3,000 units were sold in the US. Tesla, for instance, has been selling more of the Model 3 cars. Audi E-Tron, on the other hand, has had a slight success in the market from spring 2019 though it is yet to sell more than 2,000units in a quarter.

For older electric vehicles such as BMW i3, Chevrolet Bolt, and Nissan Leaf, a decline of -21%, -9%, and -6% was experienced in 2019, respectively. Production of electric cars is costly due to the high cost of batteries; thus, profits on gas-burning vehicles are higher, which makes electric vehicles at best a nook business.

In the US with Tesla, rivals have fewer fast-charging capabilities; thus, they are struggling to keep up with them. For ChargePoint, the initial production capacity for most of the vehicles is not aggressive enough; therefore, it is frustrating for the company to build more fast-charging stations with little demand. A popular unfathomed statement among car company executives ‘ If people want electric cars we would make more.’ 

Tesla has proved this statement wrong with the success of Model S, Model X, and the famous Model 3. By noticing that the private sector is not ready to finance charging stations, Tesla decided to build its own chargers. With this, Tesla decided to make their charging club exclusive with the company chargers as proprietary technology. However, Tesla can make use of any other companies charger brand as it has adapters available. Notably, in the US, Tesla has more fast-charging stations that the other outlets combined. Since Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, is more invested in selling cars, Telsa charging stations are scattered all over the country. 

The founder of Wood’s High Mountain Distillery bubble up whiskey and gin in Salida, P.T.Wood, was asked to provide an electric vehicle charging station for topping off his vehicle when on long trips, he installed one. Wood also doubles up as the mayor of Salida. He noticed that many electric cars were passing through, so he applied for a grant to install six level 2 charger at $30000 per piece. It is encouraging to note that small clusters of charging stations are popping up all over the US. 

It is our hope after ten years, convenience stores and infrastructure investment funds invest in charging stations. In the meantime, utility companies in the US have applied for permission to build additional 245,000 charging stations. It will cost $3.3billion, which can be raised by increasing electricity piped to businesses and homes.

Well, things go slow before they go fast, and electric vehicle adoption is no different.