For elec­tric cars to take off, they’ll need place to charge

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

Around the world, sup­port is grow­ing for elec­tric cars. Au­tomak­ers are de­liv­er­ing more elec­tric mod­els with longer range and lower prices, such as the Chevro­let Bolt and the Tesla Model 3. China has set ag­gres­sive tar­gets for elec­tric ve­hi­cle sales to curb pol­lu­tion; some Euro­pean coun­tries aim to be all-elec­tric by 2040 or sooner. Those lofty am­bi­tions face nu­mer­ous chal­lenges, in­clud­ing one prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tion for con­sumers: If they buy elec­tric cars, where will they charge them?

The dis­tri­bu­tion of public charg­ing sta­tions is wildly un­even around the globe. Places with lots of sup­port from gov­ern­ments or util­i­ties, like China, the Nether­lands and Cal­i­for­nia, have thou­sands of public charg­ing out­lets. Buy­ers of Tesla’s lux­ury mod­els have ac­cess to a com­pa­ny­funded Su­per­charger net­work. But in many places, public charg­ing re­mains scarce. That’s a prob­lem for peo­ple who need to drive fur­ther than the 200 miles or so that most elec­tric cars can travel. It’s also a bar­rier for the mil­lions of peo­ple who don’t have a garage to plug in their cars overnight.

“Do we have what we need? The an­swer at the mo­ment is, ‘No,’” says Gra­ham Evans, an an­a­lyst with IHS Markit. Take Nor­way, which has pub­licly funded charg­ing and gen­er­ous in­cen­tives for elec­tric car buy­ers. Ar­chi­tect Nils Hen­ningstad drives past 20 to 30 charg­ing sta­tions each day on his 22mile (35-kilo­me­ter) com­mute to Oslo. He works for the city and can charge his Nis­san Leaf at work; his fi­ancee charges her Tesla SUV at home or at one of the world’s largest Tesla Su­per­charger sta­tions, 20 miles away.

It’s a very dif­fer­ent land­scape in New Ber­lin, Wis­con­sin, where Jeff Solie re­lies on the charg­ing sys­tem he rigged up in his garage to charge two Tesla sedans and a Volt. Solie and his wife don’t have charg­ers at their of­fices, and the near­est Tesla Su­per­charg­ers are 45 miles (72 kilo­me­ters) away.

“If I can’t charge at home, there’s no way for me to have elec­tric cars as my pri­mary source of trans­porta­tion,” says Solie, who works for the me­dia com­pany EW Scripps. The un­even dis­tri­bu­tion of charg­ers wor­ries many po­ten­tial elec­tric ve­hi­cle own­ers. It’s one rea­son elec­tric ve­hi­cles make up less than 1 per­cent of cars on the road. “Hu­mans worst-case their pur­chases of au­to­mo­biles. You have to prove to the con­sumer that they can drive across the country, even though they prob­a­bly won’t,” says Pasquale Ro­mano, the CEO of ChargePoint, one of the largest charg­ing sta­tion providers in North Amer­ica and Europe.

Gaps to be filled

Ro­mano says there’s no ex­act ra­tio of the num­ber of charg­ers needed per car. But he says work­places should have one charger for ev­ery 2.5 elec­tric cars and re­tail stores need one for ev­ery 20 elec­tric cars. High­ways need one ev­ery 50 to 75 miles, he says. That sug­gests a lot of gaps still need to be filled.

Au­tomak­ers and gov­ern­ments are push­ing to fill them. The num­ber of pub­licly avail­able, global charg­ing spots grew 72 per­cent to more than 322,000 last year, the In­ter­na­tional En­ergy Agency said. Nav­i­gant Re­search ex­pects that to grow to more than 2.2 mil­lion by 2026; more than onethird of those will be in China.

Tesla Inc. - which fig­ured out years ago that peo­ple wouldn’t buy its cars with­out road­side charg­ing - is dou­bling its global net­work of Su­per­charger sta­tions to 10,000 this year. BMW, Daim­ler, Volk­swa­gen and Ford are build­ing 400 fast-charg­ing sta­tions in Europe. Volk­swa­gen is build­ing hun­dreds of sta­tions across the US as part of its set­tle­ment for selling pol­lut­ing diesel en­gines. Even oil-rich Dubai, which just got its first Tesla show­room, has more than 50 lo­ca­tions to charge elec­tric cars.

But there are pit­falls. There are dif­fer­ent types of charg­ing sta­tions, and no one knows the ex­act mix driv­ers will eventually need. A gro­cery store might spend $5,000 for an AC charge point, which pro­vides a car with 5 to 15 miles of range in 30 min­utes. But once most cars get 200 or 300 miles per charge, slow charg­ers are less nec­es­sary. Elec­tric cars with longer range need fast-charg­ing DC charg­ers along high­ways, but DC charg­ers cost $35,000 or more.

That un­cer­tainty makes it dif­fi­cult to make money set­ting up charg­ers, says Lisa Jer­ram, an as­so­ciate direc­tor with Nav­i­gant Re­search. For at least the next three to five years, she says, deep-pock­eted au­tomak­ers, gov­ern­ments and util­i­ties will be pri­mar­ily re­spon­si­ble for build­ing charg­ing in­fra­struc­ture.

There’s also the ques­tion of who will meet the needs of apart­ment dwellers. San Fran­cisco, Shang­hai and Van­cou­ver, Canada, are now re­quir­ing new homes and apart­ment build­ings to be wired for EV charg­ing. But with­out govern­ment sup­port, plans for charg­ing sta­tions can fal­ter. In Michi­gan, a util­ity’s $15 mil­lion plan to in­stall 800 public charg­ing sta­tions was scrapped in April af­ter state of­fi­cials and ChargePoint ob­jected.

Solie, the elec­tric car owner in Wis­con­sin, likes Europe’s ap­proach: Gov­ern­ments should set bold tar­gets for elec­tric car sales and let the pri­vate sec­tor meet the need. “If the US were to send up a flare that pol­icy was go­ing to change... in­vest­ments would be­come very at­trac­tive,” he says. —AP

In this photo pro­vided by Nils Hen­ningstad, Hen­ningstad poses next to his Tesla Model X while charg­ing the elec­tric car at a public charg­ing sta­tion on Thurs­day. —AP

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