The 2022 National EV Charging Summit was held virtually this week, but the pandemic isn’t stopping the golden era of electric vehicles. The summit featured a series of virtual roundtable discussions about the state of EV charging stations in America, and how the build-out of a national charging network will bring confidence to EV-curious consumers. The summit was led by the EV Charging Initiative, a diverse group of stakeholders from across industries and the public sector.
The National EV Charging Summit united automakers, charging equipment manufacturers, community organizers and a number of government officials around a common goal: bringing reliable, convenient charging to all Americans. Even Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm popped in to share her commitment. Here’s what we learned from the summit.
Why Does America Need a National Charging Network?
Over 62% of Americans support building out a nationwide charging network, and 39% of American drivers are considering buying an electric vehicle next time they’re in the market for a car. While many auto enthusiasts lament the demise of the spirited combustion engine, frugal drivers are welcoming the fuel savings, albeit at a higher upfront cost. At current residential electricity rates, charging up is equivalent to spending about $1.00 per gallon of gas.
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However, many Americans live in a charging desert. What good is the EV revolution if there’s nowhere to charge? Most EV drivers plug in at home, but not everyone can do that. From apartment dwellers to rural residents, owning an EV simply isn’t viable if there aren’t chargers for road trips, family visits and work transportation needs. When it makes sense for consumers, electric vehicles offer plenty of benefits. Cheaper fuel, less maintenance, sporty performance and no tailpipe emissions to name a few. But EVs risk remaining a symbol of luxury and impracticality if it doesn’t get a lot easier to charge up in America.
How Will It Come Together?
In summary, federal funding is supposed to get the ball rolling, and the private sector will take it from there. EV charging stations, particularly DC fast chargers, are really expensive to install. On top of upfront costs, America’s electrical grid is not ready for the demand that would be generated by mass adoption of EVs.
Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm highlighted the need for upgrading the national power grids to not only prepare for the adoption of EVs, but to also clean up the sources of energy that power them. She noted that “EVs are only as clean as the energy that’s produced to power them.” To lead partnerships and planning, the US Department of Energy and US Department of Transportation are partnering together to establish a new joint office tasked with building out a national charging network.
At one point, the summit even turned into a forum for announcing thousands of new job openings. Secretary Granholm and others touted 2,000 new EV-related jobs in a new joint office between the DOE and DOT. This new office will coordinate the build-out of the national charging network.
The real details were discussed and pressure-tested when representatives from the private sector and utilities came together to talk about what needs to be done, and the numerous challenges that lie in the road ahead. A practical, consumer-focused approach was a common theme. As RMI Managing Director Britta Gross put it, “no amount of level one or level two chargers can instill consumer confidence in EVs without DC fast chargers.”
Gathering Partners for a Daunting Task
What needs to happen first? The US Department of Transportation and Department of Energy are mapping out a plan of action to make EV charging stations commonplace by 2025. By fall of 2022, every state will have a detailed plan and timeline for how to execute the electric charging station network buildout. Summit panelists understood that without universal access to public fast charging, the EV revolution is dead in the water. No one wants to spend $50,000 on a car that could leave them stranded desperate for electrons on the interstate.
The coming national charging network is not just a government project. Utilities and private industry are getting in on the action too. Utilities have a lot of skin in the game. They stand to make a lot more money if charging infrastructure turns out to be a lucrative business venture for power providers. We heard more about the new partnership between American utilities that we learned about last month. The Edison Electric Institute (EEI), an association representing US utilities, announced a monumental initiative to combine the forces of 51 investor-owned electric companies, one electric cooperative, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. This new coalition is a coordinated effort to install thousands of fast charging ports along major U.S. travel corridors by the end of 2023. The coalition members are committing $3 billion of their own money to bring fast chargers online over the next two years.
America’s three electrical grids in the lower 48 states need to be ready for the power demand to come. The last time the electrical grid underwent such sudden, major change was the adoption of air conditioning in the 1950s. Utility representatives at the summit understood the importance of this, and outlined the road ahead for needed upgrades. However, it’s going to cost some money.
Who Will Pay For It?
There are three funding sources leading the way with the build-out of America’s EV charging infrastructure: Public funds, utility investments and private sector capital. Federal funding is already jump-starting the growth. DOE Secretary Granholm touted the recent bipartisan Infrastructure Law that allocated $7.5 billion for charging stations and the associated infrastructure. She also addressed the costs of going electric. The Secretary made sure to promote the revised EV incentives that face an uncertain future in the Senate.
Automakers, suppliers, charging infrastructure companies and others have already committed over $330 billion to EV development by 2025. However, summit participant Atlas estimates that $90 billion in funding is specifically needed for EV charging stations if EVs are to reach dominance in the light-duty passenger vehicle segment. But on the global scene, that’s pennies. Worldwide, climate investments are forecast to total $23 trillion by 2030.
As we’ve mentioned above, utilities are throwing money at this too. The Edison Electric Institute members are committing $3 billion of their own money to bring EV charging stations online over the next two years. Southern California Edison plans on upping their annual electric charging station installations to 8,000 annually, up from 1,000 a year in 2020. Half of them will go in underserved areas.
Summit panelists expressed a desire to get OEMs to the table for these discussions. When talking about big money like this, the pragmatic approach is to involve the OEMs who will turn this lofty vision into reality. How would the billions in funding best serve the build-out? Equipment manufacturers probably have some good ideas.
Rick Spina from GM shared the company’s commitment to providing $750 million for accelerating the rollout of home, public and commercial charging. GM is rolling out Ultium Charge 360, a line of turnkey charging solutions meant to be sold from the dealership. Ford also has big charging plans for their Blue Oval network partners.
What Are Stakeholders Focused On?
The conference, while well-intentioned, was an echo chamber at times. In other words, we heard a lot of the same themes repeated over the course of the day. Here’s the gist of it all:
“Confidence inspiring” – Right now, charging an EV is not confidence inspiring unless you are a Tesla driver. But Teslas are expensive, and other OEMs are going electric. Charging needs to be easy and carefree.
“Best practices” – The EV charging industry needs standardization. There are too many types of charger connections, payment hoops to jump through, and other complications that should be made simple for the consumer.
“Charging equity” – Panelists emphasized bringing charging to places where it’s not available now, like apartment complexes, small towns and underserved communities.
“Incentives” – Installing a DC fast charger station is not a quick money-making business decision. Installers spend $50,000 to upwards of $100,000 to install a station. Incentives bring installation a lot closer to making financial sense.
“Partnerships” – The federal government can’t do this alone, and neither can private industry. Working together is the only way this will turn out well.
“Consumer focus” – What does the consumer want? Affordable, easy and quick charging experiences. Developers seem to have this in mind, and that’s a relief.
“Reliability” – You know how gas stations sometimes have plastic bags covering the pumps if they are out of order? It’s no big deal if you can drive across the street to another gas station. With EV charging stations, broken chargers can ruin a road trip. Chargers need to work, and they need to work all the time.
“Job Opportunities” – Numerous panelists shared exciting job opportunities for veterans, underserved communities, and any electricians looking to expand their skill sets.
There was a lot of talk at the National EV Charging Summit, but also some substance. Clearly, a lot needs to be done before EV charging infrastructure becomes as commonplace as it needs to be. Automakers are all-in with EVs, and you could argue that there’s no turning back. It remains to be seen if their half-trillion dollar investments will be worth it in the end. However, the outcome depends on if we can build a future where owning and charging an electric vehicle is an accessible and reliable experience that empowers the consumer, not burdens them. We’ll keep you up to date with the latest as big changes head our way.