When it comes to electric vehicles, the United States has reached a turning point. Today, in the United States, 5 percent of new car sales are electric vehicles, according to Bloomberg, which predicts EV sales will make up 25 percent of new car sales in the U.S. market by 2025.
The federal government, with the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, is again offering tax credits to offset the high costs typically associated with purchasing a new or used electric vehicle in hopes of getting more of them on the road. And, as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that was signed into law last year, the federal government is also investing $7.5 billion to help build a national charging network — 500,000 EV chargers across the country — which will be a critical step to meeting increased charging demand.
But while more electric cars and more charging stations would lessen the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels — leading to reduced emissions and improved air quality while hopefully stemming some of the most dire effects of climate change — charging will have to become quicker and easier to lure many would-be holdouts away from their gas-powered vehicles.
Electric Vehicle Charging Today
The Current State of Charging Electric Vehicles
Today, depending on where you live, or where you’re traveling, finding a charging station for your electric vehicle when you need one isn’t always easy, and when you do find one, charging isn’t exactly quick. While public, fast-charging stations can typically charge compatible electric vehicles to 80 percent in 20 to 60 minutes, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, it’s still not as speedy as the pump. This can frustrate drivers, as well as push curious electric car buyers back toward familiar gas guzzlers, worried they’ll be stranded on the side of the road if they were to go electric.
Range anxiety — the fear that an electric car won’t be able to travel a desired distance given on its current charge — is a real concern, though one that may be rooted more in drivers’ minds rather than on the road.
“I think for consumers range anxiety is a thing until people live with an EV for about a week and they realize that 95 percent of charging they’re gonna be doing is at home, overnight,” Vitaly Golomb, a technology investment banker focused on mobility and sustainability at Drake Star Partners, told Built In. “The charging model is quite different than people’s concept of a gas station.”
Types of Electric Vehicle Chargers
- Level 1: These chargers can be used with standard 120 volt wall outlets and provide up to five miles range per hour of charge.
- Level 2: More powerful, these 240 volt chargers are on a dedicated circuit, like a clothes dryer, and can provide 25 miles of range per hour of charge.
- DC Fast Charger: These chargers are typically found at public charging stations and provide around 250 miles of range per hour of charge.
More Public Charging Stations Are Needed
While most electric vehicles are charged at home while owners are asleep — much like a smartphone or laptop — public charging stations are still critical to making charging easier, according to Gustavo Occhiuzzo, CEO of EVCS, an EV charging network operator based in California.
According to a recent report by the consulting firm McKinsey, 1.2 million additional public chargers — plus 28 million private charges at home, work and other sites like restaurants — will be needed if electric vehicles ultimately make up 50 percent of new car sales by 2030, which is the goal of the Biden administration.
“It’s a complicated puzzle to put together.”
“Without a sufficient density of stations in heavily populated cities, especially throughout the west coast, EV charging in public areas is still a challenge for many,” Occhiuzzo told Built In via email. “As soon as we are able to have more developed and reliable stations in frequent locations — similar to today’s gas stations — we’ll be on a better path.”
But that “better path” may not be easy to navigate.
“It’s a complicated puzzle to put together,” Golomb said.
While the U.S. federal government is stepping in to help increase the number of charging stations, concerns related to the country’s electrical grids — mainly their capacity to handle increased pull from electric vehicles and the sources that fuel them, like coal — loom. And unless improvements are made and consumer habits change, the prospects of a viable electric car future could be dampened.
According to researchers from Stanford University, by 2035, peak energy demand could increase by 25 percent in the Western United States, just by growing electric car ownership alone. Without changes among electric car owners regarding when and where they charge — namely shifting away from overnight charging at homes to workplaces or other public charging infrastructure during the day, when solar is able to provide a surplus of energy — researchers warn that electrical grids could experience considerable stress. (Last month, California’s grid experienced the highest demand for electricity in its history as a result of a heat wave.)
Relieving Stress From the Grid
One potential hedge against a weak grid and the added stress charging electric vehicles will cause, is bidirectional charging, which allows power to not only travel from the grid to an EV battery, but from the battery back to the grid, which is critical during times of peak demand. Peak Power, a Toronto-based energy software company, is currently running bidirectional charging projects in three downtown Toronto office buildings with 21 Nissan Leafs, each equipped with bidirectional chargers, which essentially allows these cars to serve as storage units for power.
“Because the biggest problem with variable renewables is you need to match supply and demand at every moment of the day.”
“The vehicles can actually flow power from their batteries back into the building at those peak moments, which reduces the building’s draw and demand on the grid,” Mabel Fulford, Peak Power’s director of innovation execution, told Built In. As a result, according to Fulford, a building’s greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced, along with its electricity costs, without costly updates to the grid.
If bidirectional charging projects (like the one Peak Power is conducting in Toronto) were scaled, some of the stress on the grid could be mitigated.
“It could fundamentally change the way the energy sector manages power,” Fulford said. “Because the biggest problem with variable renewables is you need to match supply and demand at every moment of the day. Enabling that vehicle storage means you can put those renewable electrons in a vehicle battery, and then make it available to the grid when it’s needed.”
At home and other private settings, electric vehicle charging companies are attempting to make charging more convenient and less reliant on the grid. According to Tom McCalmont, co-founder and CEO of Paired Power, a company specializing in solar-powered charging products, what he describes as the “fueling paradigm” is inherently different with electric vehicles than gas-powered cars.
“We have electricity everywhere,” McCalmont said. “And so, the more you drive an EV, the more you realize what I really want to do is, I don’t want to have to wait for it to fuel, I just want to park it — I want to park it at work, park it at home, park it at retail, park it at church, park it at school — and be fueling when I’m not in it.”
Earlier this year, Paired Power began marketing PairTree, a new solar canopy that’s easy to install and capable of charging electric vehicles at home and other settings completely off the grid.
According to McCalmont, the canopy can charge an electric vehicle for 75 miles of use per day, which McCalmont believes is more than enough range, given that 93 percent of U.S. drivers commute less than 30 miles daily, he said. (According to the Federal Highway Administration, drivers in the U.S. average 13,476 miles per year, which comes out to around 37 miles per day.)
“You do need fast chargers on the highway,” McCalmont added. “But that usage is relatively low. Most people don’t take very many trips. They’re mostly driving around town.”
The Future of EV Charging
As the United States transitions to a future with more electric vehicles on the road, a number of things will have to occur to ease that shift and make charging quicker and easier, increased education being one.
“We’re adapting to a new way of life that’s been standard for centuries,” Occhiuzzo said. “Now it’s time to wrap our minds around electric driving range, cost and accessibility to charging both inside and outside of the home.”
Today, charging solutions like J+ BOOSTER 2 from the Switzerland-based electric vehicle charging company Juice Technology AG, offer drivers added accessibility and flexibility, both at home and on the road.
The J+ BOOSTER 2, which launched in North America in August, acts as a two-in-one charging tool — a mobile charging station and a wall charging station for use at home — and is able to vary power output depending on the adapter and outlet a driver is using.
“Our charger is like a charging station that always goes with you,” Michael Boehm, general manager of Juice Americas, told Built In.
Because it can plug into most traditional and industrial outlets, Boehm believes more investment could go into outlets than in chargers.
“You don’t really need that hardware of the charger,” he said. “You just need a supply of electricity.”
Fast Charging, Reduced Range Anxiety
As far as speed of charging, new technology and power sources will be critical.
According to Golomb, with electric vehicles currently powered by lithium-ion batteries, the fastest charging stations today allow drivers to charge their cars from near empty to 80 percent in about 25 to 30 minutes depending on the voltage. He predicts consistent incremental improvements — a few minutes shaved off here and there — over the next few years.
“Will it ever get to five minutes? Yes, but not with today’s battery chemistry,” Golomb said.
But within a few decades, Golomb predicts charging will be an afterthought. “It’s going to be ubiquitous,” he said. “You’re gonna be going down the road and the car will be charging.”
Electreon, a wireless EV charging provider based in Israel, is currently working to make that a reality. The company is poised to break ground in 2023 on a pilot program in Detroit, Michigan, where they’re teaming up with Michigan’s Department of Transportation and other organizations to create one mile of dynamic roadway using rubber coated coils embedded within asphalt that can charge a variety of receiver-equipped vehicles, including transit buses, that drive over it.
“Will it ever get to five minutes? Yes, but not with today’s battery chemistry.”
Gene Gurevich, Electreon’s vice president of policy, told Built In that one of the main advantages of Electreon’s technology — he described it as a handshake between the receiver and the energy-transmitting coils — is that it reduces stress on the grid during peak times.
“Because the vehicles can charge through space and time, you don’t need these urgent and major infrastructure investments to increase capacity on the grid,” Gurevich said.
When paired with other static charging stations, like at home for cars or terminals for buses, another potential benefit of wireless, on-the-road charging, would be the elimination of range anxiety, since charging would become, as Golomb described it, ubiquitous.
Additionally, it could cut down on costs, lowering a major barrier to EV adoption as a result, especially when it comes to transit buses and other fleet vehicles, since batteries wouldn’t have to be as large.
“What’s the biggest cost with EVs? It’s the battery,” Gurevich said. “So, instead of getting a massive battery, you can reduce its size, because you can charge the vehicle in multiple locations.”
But one of the biggest benefits comes back to the electrical grid, essentially delaying or reducing the need for some of the major upgrades that would be required with more and more electric cars on the road.
“If you look at the potential for EV adoption, we need to start thinking about these issues now,” Gurevich said. “Because look at what’s been happening in California with power outages. Add a million EVs to the mix, and you have a real serious problem on your hands.”