At the Alliance, EV infrastructure is our first priority, because one of the biggest barriers to EV sales is the lack of adequate charging stations. And not only the lack of chargers themselves, but also of the utility wires and equipment that connect the charger to the grid.
Even the most advanced EV states such as California have a large “infrastructure gap,” with too few public charging stations to serve the coming millions of electric vehicles, so you can imagine the more significant gap in lagging states. Consumer surveys consistently show that range anxiety is a leading barrier to purchasing an EV, second only to the price premium for EVs relative to ICE vehicles—a premium that will soon vanish, making range anxiety number one.
Although more than 80 percent of EV charging will be done at home, most people will not buy an EV until they are absolutely convinced that the vehicle will not run out of fuel on the roads. This problem is further complicated by the multiple parties involved in delivering that fuel: the local distribution utility providing power to a charging station, which is usually operated by a third party or site host, or sometimes by the utility itself.
This is not a chicken-and-egg situation, as some claim. The cars are coming. Automakers have invested billions of dollars in new product development, factory re-design, battery technology, and supply chains. We must adequately plan for this new future of electric transportation in a deliberate manner that benefits both the consumer and the electric grid, providing environmental and public health benefits as well. This means finding the right locations, with good funding mechanisms, and ensuring that the charging stations are deployed universally to all neighborhoods and locations. It will be a difficult challenge, but effective collaboration can make it happen.
The charging experience will differ greatly from the current gasoline station experience. Under the principle of “the right to charge,” we must consider many locations and charging scenarios in deployment. While most charging will be done at home, not all homes are equal in terms of access, rights-of-way, and other complexities. Many Americans live in apartment buildings and condominiums in large metropolitan areas where it has proven difficult to persuade landlords and homeowner associations to allow Level 2 chargers to be installed in their parking facilities. It is vital to find good publicly accessible charging station locations with decent traffic patterns and amenities, clean and well lit. We are far from reaching those goals today.
We believe that utilities and EV service providers should look seriously at prioritizing more charging infrastructure in several areas:
- Residential smart charging
- Workplace charging (by employer)
- Multi-family properties
- Commercial customers, including transit agencies who purchase battery-electric buses
- Publicly available infrastructure on highway corridors, in metro locations, at destinations and tourist centers, and at other types of host sites.
The program type and rate structure, or pricing, may differ greatly, but the utilities, EV service providers, vendors and host sites must work together to ensure timely deployments.
Crafting a good transportation electrification plan (TEP) is an essential first step towards this infrastructure. Utilities have not traditionally had to focus as much on innovative uses of electricity on the demand side, such as EVs and chargers, as they have had on the generation and transmission sides, so they must add capabilities and staff. And, because utilities are fully regulated, all of this planning must be shared with multiple stakeholders and then vetted and approved by each Commission.
Moreover, other EV ecosystem players such as auto OEMs, transit agencies, and commercial fleet operators carry out their long-term operations and capital planning in quite different ways. They are not as heavily regulated (by a PUC) as the utility, but they must address many other types of regulation and permitting in their planning and operations.
All of these walls and silos must come down as these sectors learn to plan the electric future in a much more collaborative and cohesive way.
Finally, as more EV infrastructure is designed, developed, and deployed, all of the firms and players in the EV ecosystem need to help reduce costs and streamline the charging process. Today, the overall system is in a nascent stage and has developed in a way that one might expect for early adoption of a new technology and new systems. However, as EV numbers grow, many of these technical complexities should resolve and cost efficiencies should improve. We at the Alliance want to share information and best practices to achieve that goal.