EV Charging Stations: Developing Strong Infrastructure

When asked to name barriers that would stop them from proceeding with the purchase of an electric vehicle (EV), participants of McKinsey & Company’s 2016 EV survey had a clear top three: Purchase price, driving range and charging availability. Years later, as McKinsey pointed out in an updated piece, vehicle prices had declined and range increased. Access to charging stations became the new number one obstacle for consumers considering EVs.

There needs to be considerable investments and commitments into the infrastructure that supports EVs to make this technology more accessible. The most prominent area of focus is the charging station. But as with most things related to utilities—particularly those that involve power—creating a framework can be complex. Read on to learn more about developing a strong EV charging station infrastructure.

How hungry is the public for EVs?

We already know that sustainability and earth-friendly consumerism has revolutionized buying patterns. That’s a trend that experts feel will rapidly accelerate in the EV space in the years to come. In that later report, McKinsey estimated that total charging-energy demand for the EV population across China, Europe, and the U.S. could rise from 20 billion kilowatt-hours to 280 billion kilowatt-hours from 2020 to 2030.

To provide some context around that usage, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in 2018 that it expects there to be about 125 million EVs on the road globally. And by the year 2030, a stark increase from 3.1 million in use in 2017. With the right governmental policies in place and aimed at cutting emissions, the IEA said that number could actually be 220 million. In the U.S., California leads the way with what the IEA called “rapid market penetration” of EVs.

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Types of charging stations

With the demand for EVs rising, it’s clear that increased infrastructure is needed to support the influx of future purchases. But there are several different types of chargers available, each with unique benefits and drawbacks. On its website, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC) provides a detailed recap of the three main types.

Level 1 charging

Generally good for two to five miles of range per one hour of charging. These outlets have a J1772 port and charge through a 120-volt AC plug. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s what you would find in your house. Level 1 chargers are typically used in a garage while the car is parked at home.

Level 2 charging

This will deliver an EV between 10 and 20 miles per hour of charging. The reason for the increase is because the charging goes through a higher voltage. (240 volts for residential applications and 208 volts for commercial). While level 2 charging can be supported in the home, it’s also suitable for public and workplace charging. Similar to the level 1 equipment, level 2 chargers use the same J1772 port. Although certain EVs will require an adapter to connect.

Level 3 charging

This is likely what most people think of when they consider charging an EV. At least what they’re hoping for. This equipment is known as direct-current (DC) and is fast charging, even as much as 80 miles of range per 20 minutes of charge. Despite the fact that these chargers do the job quickly, only about 15% of all charging outlets in the U.S. include level 3 equipment. Level 3 chargers also support multiple charging ports, which is another benefit to its advanced functionality.

Where to install charging stations?

Since level 1 chargers are typically for home use only, we’ll exclude that technology from this discussion. Level 3 chargers offer the speed that people want (and expect), we’ll want to direct our focus there anyway.

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One of the most extensive studies on the location of charging stations was completed by researchers from Ohio State University who sought out a scientific method of determining the ideal spots for fast-charging equipment. Members of Ohio State’s Department of Integrated Systems Engineering used more than 1 million conventional vehicles’ route data to model driving patterns in the Columbus, Ohio, area. Though the data was specific to that region, one of the study’s leads says the methodology is generic and can be used anywhere.

It seems obvious, but research shows that public charging stations should be based on “points of interest.” Places like the grocery store or a retail center. or local landmarks should be considered. However, the study concluded that some stations should also appear on the outskirts to provide an extended network. For the data it reviewed, the study surmised that six public charging stations could allow at least 60% of EVs to complete daily commutes by charging midday.

But it’s that last stat that may be the most important. According to McKinsey, even with a full charge leaving home, most EVs can’t complete a roundtrip without recharging.