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Ultra-Fast EV Charging Is Actually Cheaper Than Slower Versions

Electric vehicle charging speeds that deliver about 20 miles of range per minute of charging at public roadside stations is becoming the expectation among drivers and car makers. It’s also cheaper than the slower options.

Digital illustration of an electric car charging.
Shutterstock/Paul Craft
The future of public charging for electric vehicles is “ultra high speed.” Oh, and it’s also the cheaper option.

As states across the nation begin drafting, or putting the final touches on, plans to locate and develop electric vehicle charging stations along highly traveled corridors, experts say ultra high-speed charging — a level that generally provides 20 miles of range per minute of charging — is what drivers and car companies expect; and it can also be the more affordable option.

“The bottom line is basically, at 350 kilowatts, you’re serving a lot more customers in a given day. And at scale you can deploy far fewer of those stations than you would of 150 kilowatts,” said Nick Nigro, founder of Atlas Public Policy. Atlas, which works largely in areas related to policies around climate change, conducted recent research related to how many public chargers will be needed to meet U.S. demand in the coming years, and what sort of investment this will require.

Deploying some 500,000 high-speed chargers across interstates and other high-volume travel corridors is projected to cost some $39 billion, according to Atlas. High-speed charging is generally viewed as at least 150 kilowatts of power, per charging port. Increasing that power to 350 kilowatts, which translates to shorter charging times and fewer plugs, could save about $14 billion, said Nigro during a Feb. 16 discussion organized by electric vehicle and policy and advocacy group Veloz.

“It’s an overwhelming, clear trend that the industry is moving towards ultra-fast charging,” said Matthew Nelson, director of government affairs with Electrify America, a nationwide owner and operator of high-speed DC fast-charging stations for EVs. The stations are found in 46 states at about 800 locations.

Electric vehicles entering the market are increasingly capable of handling the ultra high-speed charging rates, and consumers naturally desire the shorter charge times. These are important points state transportation officials should keep in mind as they put forward plans for public charging, a requirement for federal funding from the new infrastructure law. Federal guidance for the charging stations is for at least four chargers with at least 150 kilowatts of power at each plug. The station has to have a minimum of 600 kilowatts of power.

“The states can always go beyond that,” said Nelson in some of his comments on the panel.

“So we think, having that as a floor is a pretty important fact,” he added. “There’s never been a regulatory program to date that puts so much emphasis on charging power per charger, and has emphasized the importance of ultra-fast charging, as distinct from 50 and 100 kilowatt charging.”

In the early days of electric cars — way back, five years ago — a 50 kilowatt plug was seen as standard at a roadside high-speed charging station.

“I remember asking a state transportation agency, ‘Who do you actually expect to sit at a rest stop and charge for an hour every hour and a half in order to take a road trip?’” recalled Nigro.

Since then, battery and other advancements have been progressing rapidly, with even lower-priced cars coming out today being designed to handle fast charging speeds.

“Many of the vehicles, if not most of the vehicles, offered for sale can handle well over 100 kilowatts today, and I don’t expect that to slow down,” said Nigro.

As ultra high-speed charging becomes the industry standard, a common misconception, said Nelson from Electrify America, is that rural areas will not be able to supply that level of power.

“The most difficult place to build ultra-fast charging is the urban core,” he added. “Manhattan, downtown San Francisco, downtown L.A. Those are extremely difficult places to deliver a mega-watt of power. A commercial establishment in rural America has the capacity to do this.”

For starters, states and private-sector charging partners should work hand-in-hand with local utilities to determine where the grid is built up to supply high levels of power. It will likely be at retail and restaurant locations on busy highway exists. It will not always be at a rural rest stop.

“If you build at the local grocery store, the grocery store is a commercial establishment. The grid has already been built to serve that commercial establishment,” said Nelson. “Build stations in the community, at local retail establishments that serve both the traveler riding through and serve the local residents.”
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.