The Fuse

Public Charging Infrastructure Network Developing as States, Utilities Take Initiative

by Matt Piotrowski | June 11, 2018

A number of states are pouring money into electric charging infrastructure. Recently, New York, New Jersey, and California said they will invest a combined $1.3 billion in charging stations and other outlays to support electrification. This government action is a step in the right direction, giving motorists and fleet operators more flexibility and reducing range anxiety for those hesitant about purchasing electric vehicles (EVs). Most electric charging stations in the United States are located in drivers’ homes, where they refuel the vehicle overnight. The lack of public charging infrastructure has been cited as an obstacle to EV adoption, but now with sales continuing to rise and more fleet operators seeing the economic benefits of electrification, governments are stepping up their efforts in this area.

New York, New Jersey, and California said they will invest a combined $1.3 billion in charging stations and other outlays to support electrification.

In California, where there are now more than 15,000 public charging outlets, its Public Utilities Commission has approved spending $738 million dollars over the next five years on EV initiatives. Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric will receive almost $600 million to invest in widespread charging infrastructure, particularly for the heavy-duty sector. San Diego Gas and Electric has also received money for its vehicle-to-grid operation so customers can profit from selling power back to the grid.

New York and New Jersey are also making large investments. In New York, the governor’s office has pledged some $250 million through the middle of next decade in order to strengthen EVolve NY, the state’s charging initiative. The plan is to install interstate fast chargers every 30 miles, support charging hubs at airports, and create EV communities. Altogether, Albany looks to increase the number of chargers by 10,000 by 2021. Meanwhile, New Jersey’s biggest utility, Public Service Enterprise Group, is poised to install more than 50,000 charging stations on highways and in residential areas at a cost of $300 million. The state currently has only 538 stations.

These investments are the largest ever for EV infrastructure at the state level. California’s move is unsurprising given the state’s zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate, which aims for 5 million EVs and 250,000 charging stations in the state by 2030. At the same time, New York and New Jersey’s plans are encouraging since the two states are in the populous Northeast corridor, where petroleum consumption levels are among the highest in the country. Even though other states have not yet put forth sizeable investments, they may follow the leads of California, New York, and New Jersey amid growth in EV sales and fleet operators shifting to alternatives to save costs. Currently, there are approximately 48,000 charging outlets in the United States, at 17,820 stations, according to the Department of Energy.

Reducing ‘range anxiety’

In order for buildouts in public charging infrastructure to be effective, governments and utilities have to consider motorists’ time, convenience, and range anxiety. Drivers do not want to be inconvenienced by having to search for a space to recharge, and they want to feel confident that they will not run out of fuel as they travel. As researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory pointed out in a study published last year: “Accurately reproducing observed charging patterns requires an explicit representation of spatially disaggregated charging infrastructure as well as a more nuanced model of the decision to charge that balances tradeoffs people make with regards to time, cost, convenience, and range anxiety.”

Worries about range are mostly overblown—approximately 80 percent of charging takes place at home.

Since EVs began taking off earlier this decade, range anxiety—the worry that your vehicle will run out of battery power on a long drive before you can find a charging station—has been cited as one of the main impediments to buying an electric car. But this worry is mostly overblown—approximately 80 percent of charging takes place at home. And with EVs now having ranges of 150-250+ miles, most drivers do not travel far enough on a daily basis to fully deplete the charge. Consumers tend to buy vehicles based on the most extreme use—such as long vacation outings with large families—even though traveling hundreds of miles by vehicle tends to make up only a small portion of trips. For longer trips, drivers do need access to public charging stations, which is where the states’ recent initiatives will help foster more widespread EV adoption.

Boosting the attractiveness of electric autonomous vehicles

If AVs are largely introduced to the public through shared fleets, it could shift the economics of charging infrastructure.

While a vaster charging infrastructure network should support EV adoption, it will also likely increase the attractiveness of using electricity instead of petroleum to fuel autonomous vehicles (AVs). In order for AVs to see widespread adoption—whether through private ownership or in ride-sharing—and run on electricity, proper infrastructure will need to be in place. If AVs are largely introduced to the public through shared fleets, it could shift the economics of charging infrastructure. “Companies deploying a shared, electric AV fleet will be investing capital in local markets at a scale where it may make sense to consider investments to optimize charging infrastructure for their fleet characteristics and service plans,” said Amitai Bin-Nun, Vice President, Autonomous Vehicles and Mobility Innovation at SAFE. “Companies will coordinate closely with government on charging infrastructure and are likely, to some degree, to invest in charging infrastructures themselves.”

AVs operated by fleets will be able to leverage their financial size to optimize charging infrastructure with vehicle infrastructure and operating models. Consequently, cities could see large-scale benefits as shared, autonomous EVs have the potential to reduce congestion and fuel consumption significantly.

 

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