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Is Investing in Public Charging the Right Strategy?

06/3/2021

Is the EV investment going to the right places? The American Jobs plan continues to attract attention in the press as the White House tries to generate the political will to guide it through congress. The White House has recently provided some details on how they would allocate resources in the EV space:

white-house-ev-info-sheethttps://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/04/22/fact-sheet-biden-administration-advances-electric-vehicle-charging-infrastructure/

We are excited to see significant federal dollars potentially pushing EVs farther and faster. It is critical that we accelerate the electrification of transportation. We do however note some differences of opinion on the best allocation of those dollars.

To quote the White House itself: “Most electric vehicle drivers will charge at home and work. One of the perks of driving an electric vehicle is never needing to go to the gas station. But public charging infrastructure will provide a key role for people without off-street parking and for longer trips. A robust, convenient, and affordable network of public chargers will increase confidence for drivers that they will always have a charging option when they need it.”

Essentially, the White House is saying, “there is a large percentage of homes that are well-suited for EV ownership, but instead of investing in home charging installation, we are going to spend money on public charging infrastructure.”

The vast majority of trips are local. Since most EV charging sessions occur at home, why focus so much attention on public chargers? Why not instead help those EV-curious consumers make the switch by offering help with the installation of the electrical changes needed to support charging at home? The vast majority of public chargers currently installed are significantly under utilized. Our data suggests that even in California - where EV adoption is highest - public chargers are in use only 1% of the time.

But while current EV drivers need home charging solutions and rarely rely on public chargers, an increase in public charging stations could have a positive impact on EV adoption. There is a positive correlation between the number of public chargers and number of registered EVs. Again looking at California, while public chargers are rarely in use, the state offers the most charging locations. In fact, the top five states for registered EVs are also the five states with the most public charging stations. 

Some academic studies have shown that an increase in public infrastructure would have the greatest impact on adoption rates, while others have found that home recharging investments have a greater effect. So what is happening here? The difference could come down to a lack of EV knowledge for some consumers. Many non-EV drivers don’t realize how rarely they will need to charge publicly. They are accustomed to the comfort of seeing a gas station on every street corner. These drivers need highly-visible charging stations to feel secure making the switch. While the Biden administration’s plan will not have a significant effect for current EV drivers or more knowledgeable non-EV drivers, it may indeed bolster EV adoption rates among some consumers. 

A two-pronged approach may be needed to support EV adoption and continued use long term. An increase in charging stations can help some new drivers take the EV plunge. But a federal rebate program that reimbursed consumers for the panel upgrades, electrical wire installation, and 240V outlet installations would be a much more useful way to help other consumers make the switch to EVs. Plenty of utilities have rebate programs specifically for networked home chargers (also called smart chargers), but many drivers do not want/need a WiFi enabled device, and the charger is not the most expensive nor the most critical piece of the puzzle.

We hope the tactics laid out in the current proposal are successful, but foresee a need for residential investments to inspire the highest possible rates of EV adoption. Regardless of the exact approach, electric utilities can anticipate a considerable increase in EV drivers in a short period of time. As we know the bulk of charging occurs in the home, EV load management is going to be critical. Utilities should be looking for EV charging load solutions now to prevent costs in the near future. 

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