Government Technology

Experts: Charging Options Key to Electric Vehicle Adoption

Experts indicate that the United States will need a widespread charging infrastructure for consumers to feel secure in electric vehicles. But being able to charge at home might be just as important.

Reliable and available charging options is the deal-breaker — or deal-maker — behind the decision to buy and keep an electric car.

With EVs making up only a fraction of the cars on U.S. highways, and public charging infrastructure still in relative infancy, home-charging is still the No. 1 option among EV owners, say experts.

“If you don’t have reliable, overnight, slow charging, it’s really hard to own an electric car,” said Gil Tal, director of the Plug-In Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Research Center at the University of California, Davis, during a panel discussion organized by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM).

The federal infrastructure package is set to send billions of dollars for a national high-speed charging network and other projects. States are developing plans to locate charging opportunities and identify private-sector partners to build and operate charging stops.

Tal and other researchers advise developing charging stations as “future-proof” as possible. The problems are not with the chargers or the technology behind them, said Tal. But what are the business models? And how are they structured?

“I think that many of the state DOTs [departments of transportation] that have been active in this area also know and recognize that there are partnerships that need to be formed for this program to be successful,” said Melissa Savage, director of the Center for Environmental Excellence at the American Association of State Transportation and Highway Officials, during the NASEM panel.

For now, the business model to build out high-speed highway charging is probably not there yet — which is why the federal investment is needed to seed charging station development, which will give consumers more confidence to buy an electric car.

“Some of us won’t use it all,” observed Tal, pointing out that, for most drivers, a low-speed, overnight home-charger is more than adequate for daily driving.

“But it’s really important to have them there,” he added.

An issue for states, as they develop plans and form partnerships with vendors, is the requirement in the new infrastructure law to “buy America.” Savage asked whether there is a company that can be compliant with that requirement and be able to produce at the capacity that is expected.

“But we also know that public policy can be a triggering event,” Savage said. “And certainly, we have also heard that there are companies that are moving manufacturing to the United States.”

Savage added that state DOTs need to partner with the right companies to build out the infrastructure and to maintain and operate the charging systems.

As essential as charging is for EV adoption, the infrastructure doesn’t have to be built tomorrow. There’s enough charging infrastructure to serve today’s electric cars, say experts.

“It’s a slow shift,” Tal said. “We can sell millions of cars with the infrastructure we have today. But eventually we will need to move to enough infrastructure to be reliable and dependable.”

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