There’s no doubt that E-mobility has reached a tipping point. Following a decade of rapid growth, by the end of 2020 there were more than 10 million electric cars on the world’s roads, with consumers spending upwards of USD 120 billion on electric vehicles (EVs).
However, while EVs have enjoyed impressive growth, the development of the charging infrastructure to support all these vehicles has lagged, and with 175 million plug-in EVs expected on the roads within the next ten years, the lack of access to convenient charging is a cause for concern.
Already there are signs of waning consumer confidence in the ability of the charging infrastructure to keep pace with the rapidly snowballing number of EVs in the marketplace. This growing concern was well illustrated in Deloitte’s annual “Global Auto Consumer Study” that showed consumers’ confidence in charging infrastructure had decreased by up to 11 percent in some major markets from 2018 to 2020.
This lack of confidence in the charging infrastructure often taints the consumers’ purchasing decision when considering an EV for the first time, manifesting as “range and charge anxiety.”
The key challenges facing an effective EV charging infrastructure
While most EVs are currently charged at home using Level 1 AC chargers, this will have to change to meet the future needs of a rapidly expanding EV market.
As EVs become more affordable and ownership demographics shift, publicly accessible charging will be essential for the many potential EV owners who live in inner-city apartments and do not have a driveway or access to conventional home charging. This also applies to parking garages that are rarely equipped with chargers, often because installing such infrastructure may be cost-prohibitive for building managers.
What is more, even though the urban rollout of easily accessible EV-charging infrastructure is vital to the rapid and sustained uptake of BEVs, it is equally important that consumers’ range- and charge-anxiety on long-distance trips be addressed with chargers capable of delivering higher miles per minute of charging.
This is best achieved with a network of L3 DC extreme-fast chargers with up to or even exceeding 350kW, that are as abundant and easy to access as the current fossil-fuel forecourt infrastructure.
Unfortunately, the development of the extreme-fast charging infrastructure is not keeping pace with the growing number of EVs on the road that do higher trip-mileages and therefore require quick ‘top up’ charging. Possibly as a result of the high installation cost and uncertain return on investment, fast chargers make up a relatively small number of new connections. Whilst the number of publicly accessible chargers grew by 45 percent to 1.3 million globally in 2020, only 30 percent of these were fast chargers capable of delivering more than 22kW.
In the United States, only 18 percent of the 104,000 charging points are classified as Level 3 DC fast chargers, with Tesla superchargers making up nearly 60 percent of that number.
So whilst there’s no fixed metric that describes the ideal charging network – whether it be the number of EVs per charge point, the number of extreme-fast chargers per mile of roadway, or distance to the nearest public charger in the city – it is clear that the efficacy of the public charging infrastructure needs to be addressed.
Building a future-proof charging infrastructure that serves everyone and supports EV ownership
For EVs to replace fossil-fuelled vehicles they will have to satisfy the demand of a widely diverse customer base, which will include the millions of potential owners that currently do not have direct access to convenient home or public chargers.
So, while the Biden administration has set aside $7.5 billion to add 500,000 public charging stations to the network in the US, General Motors has pledged to invest almost $750 million in the ‘Dealer Community Charging Program’ that aims to deliver 40,000 Level 2 AC public charging stations to American and Canadian communities by 2025. These will be installed at key locations with easy public access, including workplaces, multifamily housing, sports and event venues, colleges and universities.
Even though this is a significant step toward giving all EV owners easy access to charging, it still doesn’t directly make up for convenient overnight home charging that most owners currently rely on to fully charge the vehicle’s battery.
In the UK, the London Borough of Lambeth - with approximately a third of residents living on estates where the majority of housing is without off-street parking - is working with “Connected Kerb”, to install affordable and accessible 7kW public EV curbside chargers. These chargers will enable EV owners to conveniently charge at any public parking spot equipped with a charger. This will also support overnight charging for EVs that only have access to on-street parking.