President Joe Biden has proposed spending at least $15 billion to begin rolling out electric vehicle charging stations, with the goal of reaching 500,000 charging stations nationwide by 2030.
There are about 102,000 public charging outlets across about 42,000 charging stations nationwide today, according to the Department of Energy, with a third concentrated in California (in comparison, Michigan is home to just 1.5% of the nation’s public charging outlets at 1,542 charging outlets.)
Experts say significantly expanding the charging network would require coordination across the auto industry, retail businesses, utility companies and all levels of government — and $35 billion to $45 billion more, potentially through required matches from local governments or private companies.
They also say a long-term approach is appropriate, as the roll-out of chargers should match consumer adoption to moderate demand and allow time to expand the electric grid, and caution against proprietary chargers like those used by Tesla Inc.
But if a widescale charger roll-out is pulled off, they say, it would likely bring the industry to scale by reducing or eliminating “range anxiety” — consumers’ fears that they won’t be able to take a road trip or visit out-of-town relatives in an electric vehicle — which remains one of the biggest barriers to EV adoption.
Most electric vehicle owners today have chargers in their house or apartment complex, said Dan Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities: “In order for EVs to be more pervasive, it’s going to have to be gas station-like, where you can find an EV charging station with significant capacity” almost anywhere.
“The green tidal wave,” he added, “doesn’t happen in the U.S. until we have the charging stations to support it.”
Where we stand
Today, the charging network in the U.S. is an amalgam of public and private entities seeking to prepare for more EVs on the roads.
The largest charging network is owned by ChargePoint, the first global charging company to be publicly traded. It’s followed by other such private companies as Blink, Electrify America, EVgo, Greenlots and SemaConnect. Most of these charging companies use a universal plug approved by the Society of Automotive Engineers and have adapters available for Tesla-brand EVs.
Tesla operates the second-largest charging network after ChargePoint, but it uses proprietary chargers that can only be used by Teslas.
As other automakers work to take a larger bite out of the U.S. EV market, most are not following in Tesla’s footsteps by going it alone: General Motors Co. is partnering with EVgo; Ford Motor Co. is working with Greenlots and Electrify America; and Stellantis NV is also partnering with Electrify America.
In Europe, where a standard connector is mandated, Tesla doesn’t have an exclusive network. There’s no standard connector mandated in the U.S. currently, but Sam Abuelsamid, principal research analyst at Guidehouse Insights, thinks that should change to help EV adoption.
Electric vehicle startup Rivian Automotive LLC plans to build a charging network that would be exclusive to its customers.
“That actually makes the access problem worse,” Abuelsamid said. “As the number of EVs grow, suddenly we’ve got thousands of chargers that could be used, but the company won’t let people use them, and that’s bad. If you really want people to adopt EVs, you need to make every charger accessible to every EV owner.”
The Biden administration has frequently likened the president’s infrastructure proposal and the EV initiatives within it to the roll out of the interstate highway system in the 1950s in scope and potential influence, which cost about $1.1 trillion in today’s dollars ($114 billion at the time).
The gas stations that dot the interstates and reach out into some of the most remote areas of the country didn’t come all at once — they tracked with demand for cars and trucks as it rose over the 20th century, experts say.
“But when you talk about supercharging stations, there’s increased complexity,” said Ives, referring to the DC fast chargers that would be necessary to come close to the quick-stop experience of pulling over for gas on a road trip (though that speed isn’t yet possible with existing technology.)
Charging infrastructure needs to be slightly ahead of demand to ensure the electric grid can be prepared to handle increased use, but not so far ahead that they go unused.
“What we’re trying to do is pace the market, not flood the market because EVs … they’re growing very fast, we’re seeing 20% year-over-year growth in our territory, but they’re still only about one out of every 100 vehicles right now,” said Jeff Myrom, director of Consumers Energy’s electric vehicle programs. “There’s really not a good reason to flood the market.”
Consumers is offering $70,000 in rebates for the installation of DC fast chargers and hopes to continue to do so through 2024. Utility companies offering charger rebate programs get a return by increasing their rates over time.
“We really view this as beneficial to all of our customers if we’re doing this in a way that we’re integrating the load efficiently with the grid, so we can shift the charging to off-peak times or we can install charging where there’s excess capacity on the system,” said Kelsey Peterson, a manager of DTE Energy Co.’s EV strategy and programs.
DTE, too, is providing rebates of up to $55,000 per charger depending on output.
More than $15 billion
However, investment from utilities, auto companies and private charging companies won’t be enough without some government help, said charging specialists in each industry — both to support the market expansion and to ensure it happens quickly and equitably, as the administration has said it hopes to do.
It’s also crucial in order to be competitive with China, experts say, which has dramatically outpaced both the U.S. and Europe in publicly accessible chargers.
But Republicans in Congress aren’t happy with Biden’s infrastructure and jobs proposal, arguing it constitutes a Democratic “wish list” of climate-related policies that don’t count as infrastructure, including the electric vehicle priorities.
They’ve also raised concerns that spending so much more on the heels of the $1.9 trillion COVID-relief package passed earlier this year could cause the economy to overheat due to increased inflation.
Experts who spoke with The Detroit News noted the $15 billion set aside in the proposed infrastructure package isn’t nearly enough to meet the president’s goal on its own.
Ives of Wedbush Securities said his group estimates it will cost around $60 billion to bring the U.S. up to 500,000 charging stations by 2030, so the Biden infrastructure plan would cover only about 25% of the cost.
An analysis by industry consultant AlixPartners also estimated $50 billion would be needed in the U.S. alone to expand charging to adequately accommodate EV growth within the decade.
The group estimates Level 2 chargers (which typically charge slowly over hours while the owner is at work or at home)cost about $4,000 to install and DC fast chargers (which can charge an EV to 80% in less than an hour) cost between $50,000 and $110,000 to install. Once installed, maintaining the chargers costs also costs thousands of dollars.
“This $15 billion is not the cap on the funding that’s going to contribute to deploying 500,00 chargers, it’s a floor. It’s public capital that’s going to be leveraging private match that will then enable us to do that,” said Anne Smart, vice president of public policy for ChargePoint.
Multiple pieces of legislation that have already been introduced in Congress and could be pulled into Biden’s package provide funding for charging infrastructure but require a private match for those who receive grants.
“That’s the exact model that’s been underway for a decade,” Smart said. ChargePoint works with customers to determine how much they can spend while identifying local and state incentives and utility programs that can help complete the sale.
“When we’re looking at these federal programs, we want to make sure that we’re considering how do we leverage this funding to the greatest extent possible?” she said.
“Ensuring that where private capital is available, we’re using that to continue to accelerate the market, and these public funds are going to help move us all there more quickly, but it isn’t 100% of the cost.”
Negotiations over the bill package are in the earliest stages in Washington, and funding for chargers could be reduced as the administration negotiates with Republicans and moderate Democrats to advance it.
Senate Republicans have proposed an infrastructure package more narrowly tailored to traditional infrastructure that would cost $568 billion over five years, while progressive Democrats are pushing for hundreds of billions more for priorities like affordable housing and immigration reform.
Some Republicans are hesitant to throw federal funding behind electrification, reflecting a preference to let EVs sink or swim in the free market. Some also argue electric vehicles aren’t totally zero-emissions because fossil fuels are still the largest electricity source in the country.
But if what automakers with their multi-billion dollar EV plans and charging companies are saying about the EV ecosystem is true, said Brett Smith, technology director at the Center for Automotive Research, “the technology should be in a pretty market-ready state, where it isn’t any longer a political discussion. It’s about consumer acceptance.”
“So maybe this is the last go-around for this being a political football,” Smith added. “Maybe by (the next presidential cycle), you have a technology where it’s no longer us versus them because it’s shown that it actually works.”
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