Navigant Research Blog

Solving the EV Charging Puzzle

Scott Shepard — May 11, 2015

When Tesla, Nissan, and General Motors (GM) introduced plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) to the mass market, arguments against PEVs mainly cited weaknesses with vehicle cost, range, and limited publicly available electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE). The first two weaknesses are difficult to solve, but their solutions are fairly straightforward: battery cost cuts through economies of scale and range increases through the development of better batteries. However, solving the third weakness is more nuanced. For instance, it’s been assumed that simply increasing public charging infrastructure will increase the adoption of PEVs, which has led to multiple government– and utility-funded initiatives on public infrastructure build-outs.

A Contradiction

Though it’s arguable that the public charge point build-out on behalf of the EV Project has been integral to PEV sales growth (most likely as passive marketing), data from these and other early infrastructure projects has suggested that PEV owners overwhelmingly charge at home rather than at the public points. This fact questions the practicality of these initial public infrastructure investments. Yet, data analyzed from a survey discussed in Navigant Research’s Electric Vehicle Geographic Forecasts report suggests that a lack of charging infrastructure still seems to be the biggest drawback to PEV ownership, as illustrated in the chart below.

Primary Drawback to PEV Ownership, United States: 2015              

(Source: Navigant Research)

What this contradiction appears to indicate is that yes, there is a need and likely a business case for public EVSE, but it needs to be in the right place. The trouble is that building owners are unlikely to invest in EVSE unless they see a need from residents, employees, or customers. And these groups are unlikely to ask for these services unless they have a PEV, which is unlikely if they don’t have places to plug in the PEV. What this all means is that the EVSE industry has to continue to find the right places for both the PEV owner and the building owner—or run the risk of placing infrastructure where it’s unnecessary.

Innovation

An innovative approach to solving this problem is underway thanks to the efforts of a San Francisco-based non-profit organization, Charge Across Town. In mid-April, the organization launched the Driving on Sunshine campaign, which showcases EVSE company Envision Solar’s integration of solar power and energy storage into a mobile EVSE unit named the EV ARC. The campaign places three EV ARCs at predetermined locations throughout San Francisco for 3-month periods and collects data on site usage. Findings on the data will be used to inform on public EVSE use and determine where units may be most effectively placed for consistent use; units will be donated to sites with the most use.

The charging stations are likely not inexpensive; however, it’s feasible to consider that a utility with big plans for infrastructure development (Pacific Gas & Electric, perhaps) would benefit greatly from a similar approach to siting public EVSE installations. Further, it would provide incredible value to potential host sites in actually determining the efficacy of EVSE placement without the added costs and embarrassment of a never-used public EVSE station.

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