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Experts Debate Where EV Charging Infrastructure Needs to Be

At a summit earlier this month, experts explored policy questions around electric vehicle charging infrastructure. In general, policymakers should look at all levels of charging to serve as many EV use cases as possible.

A San Diego Zoo electric charging station.
Bring up the issue of electric vehicle charging to experts, and there’s no shortage of different opinions about how investment, public policy and market movement could encourage wider adoption of EVs.

One idea, however, seems to generate a consensus: there’s not enough EV infrastructure at any level to meet some of the ambitious goals set by EV advocates or even car-makers and to transition transportation away from fossil fuels in the next 10 to 15 years.

The U.S. is installing 600 DC fast chargers per quarter, far fewer than the 2,000 chargers per quarter needed to meet the demand expected in 2030, said Britta Gross, managing director of the Carbon Free Mobility Global Program at the Rocky Mountain Institute, in some of her comments at a summit hosted by Veloz earlier this month.

“So we are nowhere near the kind of pace we need,” Gross said flatly.

Other speakers at the summit, like Miriam Bouallegue, sustainable transportation project manager at the Metropolitan Energy Center (MEC), questioned the prioritization for public fast chargers, arguing instead for more at-home and workplace charging.

“While I do see these are very important,” Bouallegue said of fast chargers, “they really don’t serve the everyday community member the way that at-home charging or at-work charging could.

“Yes, the corridor is very, very important,” she added. “But that doesn’t necessarily benefit your average everyday EV driver in the same way that accessible home charging would.”

Still others, like Sven Thesen, founder and co-director of the EV Charging Access for All Coalition, said don’t forget about simple, low-speed, Level 1 charging, which only needs a standard outlet and no added infrastructure.

“Right now Volvo is running a whole series of advertisements talking about how beneficial low-power, or Level 1, charging is,” Thesen said, noting that Level 1 plugging could be a workable retrofit in older multi-family housing settings.

Analisa Bevan, zero emission infrastructure specialist at the California Air Resources Board (CARB), countered that residents living in apartments should have the same access to Level 2 charging, common to single-family homes.

“I know that we can charge at 110 [watts]. But we also know that a lot of folks are using Level 2, want Level 2, and they should have the option to have level 2. And some will need it,” said Bevan at the summit.

Dedrick Roper, director of public-private partnerships at ChargePoint, tried to dispel thinking that aligns with refueling a conventional car. Think about how you charge your cellphone, he said.

“You charge it up overnight while at home, and then you top it off when you’re somewhere for a long time, whether it be shopping, whether it be the workplace, etc.,” said Roper, signaling for policy that places more charging at workplaces, schools, parks and retail destinations.

That said, Roper still believes high-speed charging plazas on highways are also needed to help “normalize the whole charging experience.”

Regardless of the many policy directions that localities and states might take as they design and build for an electrified future, everyone seems to agree charging opportunities need to be as numerous as the many use cases for electric vehicles. John Eichberger, executive director for the Fuels Institute, said charging infrastructure needs to be phased in as demand rises.

“Don’t do something stupid,” Eichberger said, directing his comments to public officials. “Don’t create too much challenge. And build for the future, and provide funding for the future.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.