90% of Americans don't have easy access to public EV chargers

Even with low rates of electric vehicle ownership, the US is short an estimated 30,000-90,000 EV chargers
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Over the weekend, Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess experienced firsthand a common frustration for electric vehicle owners: During a drive from Austria to Northern Italy, the vacationing exec had a hard time finding reliable places to charge his EV.

The problem isn’t unique to Diess, nor is it unique to the highway connecting Austria and Italy—it’s a well-known obstacle to US EV adoption, too. A new report from Mobilyze.ai, an EV charging analytics firm, provides a detailed look at where the US stands on this challenge.

The headline figure: Just under 10% of those living in the top 50 US cities (~4.6 million people, in total) live within a 5-minute walk from a public EV charger.

  • The figure varies quite a bit city-to-city—San Francisco (of course) has the highest rate of access at 25%, while less than 1% of Oklahoma City, Memphis, El Paso, and Indianapolis residents have access.
  • EV ownership rates are generally lower in the cities with less charging access, but it’s a bit chicken-and-egg: If people know EV ownership is a hassle, they are less likely to purchase one to begin with.

And generally, white people and more affluent people have greater access to chargers than people of color and lower-income people. As of April, six states had equity mandates requiring utilities—one of the main actors determining EV charger placement—to at least consider marginalized communities when placing chargers, but most states have zero guardrails.

Demand > supply: Even today, with relatively low rates of EV ownership in the US, Mobilyze estimates that the country has 30,000–90,000 fewer chargers than it should, given the number of EVs on the roads.

Deus ex infrastructure bill

After four months of standard politician hand-wringing and five days of crypto-specific hand-wringing, the Senate passed the $1 trillion infrastructure bill on Tuesday. The bill, which now needs to get through the House, includes $7.5 billion to grow the US’s EV charger network to 500,000. The US currently has 104,000 public chargers.

Mobilyze advocates for most of these chargers to be built in US cities in order to maximize the number of people served, and to account for the fact that city dwellers will have a much harder time charging their EVs at home than suburbanites or rural EV owners.

  • David Keith, an MIT professor and CEO of Mobilyze, who coauthored the report, told Emerging Tech Brew those who can will do most of their charging at home.
  • “If you have off-street parking, or a driveway, or a garage, or whatever it is, that’s still plan A for most people,” Keith said. “You’re gonna get the best experience. It’s likely to be the cheapest, most available charger.”
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As for rural areas, the question mark is whether the electrical grid can support charging stations, according to Peter Huether, senior research analyst at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

“Obviously parking is not an issue but it’s more, are there going to need to be upgrades to the distribution system, are people going to do upgrades to their homes,” Huether said.

Mobilyze also recommends that at least 50,000 of these chargers should be direct current “DC” fast chargers, also known as Level 3 chargers, which can fully charge an EV in 60–90 minutes. Level 2 chargers, which account for 82% of public US chargers, take up to 8 hours to fully juice an EV.

Looking ahead… Mobilyze recommends that chargers are allocated based on need versus focusing on current EV ownership rates and willingness of a given site (e.g., a Target, or a highway rest stop) to host the charger. Right now, Keith told us the latter is the default.

“Utilities have been more focused in general on just getting the stations built. It's hard enough to find a combination of a site host and a place where the grid can support energy load,” Keith said. “They're so busy just in the day-to-day of running the program that, to date, no one's really been...planning out strategically where these stations should go.”

Keep up with the innovative tech transforming business

Tech Brew keeps business leaders up-to-date on the latest innovations, automation advances, policy shifts, and more, so they can make informed decisions about tech.