How Much Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Do We Need?

Regardless of the mixed reactions to Tesla’s new Cybertruck, the electric vehicle revolution is here. Some analysts have predicted that within twenty years, half of new vehicles sold will be electric. For the future of the planet, we may need them to be. One core tenet of climate change mitigation is fairly simple in concept, even if difficult in practice: electrify everything. Quickly phasing out polluting technologies—such as the internal combustion engine—and replacing them with electric batteries that are charged by renewable energy sources is our best shot to reduce emissions fast enough to limit some of the worst effects of climate change.

One thing standing in the way of our electrified future is—or as will be discussed below, may be—the lack of charging infrastructure. Electric vehicles today travel about 200 miles per charge. This is a shorter distance than most gasoline-fueled cars. And gasoline-powered cars need a five minute fill-up after traveling a few hundred miles, which is much less onerous than the hour or two that it would take to restore the 200 mile range on your electric vehicle even with the best available chargers.

But how much of a problem is the lack of infrastructure, really? The average driver only rarely takes road trips of several hundred miles. Indeed, the average car only drives forty miles per day. Level 2 EVSE charging infrastructure is relatively inexpensive to install in most homes, and powerful enough to charge a vehicle overnight. Given how cheap it already is to charge a vehicle at home, it’s no surprise that most existing public charging stations are rarely used.

This ease of charging at home is likely to be a key long-term difference in infrastructure needs between the incoming era of electric vehicles and the past era of gas-powered vehicles. It would be implausible to install a gas pump in your home garage, making publicly available filling stations placed throughout cities and towns a necessity. When it comes to electric vehicles however, far fewer stations should be needed on the surface streets because the vast majority of people driving on them will be able to get more than enough charge by simply plugging into a wall outlet each day.

Of course, EV charging infrastructure will still need to be built out in order to maximize the uptake and utility of the next generation of cars. While the vast majority of people drive no more than a few dozen miles on a daily basis, most will also expect to take the occasional long road trip during the useful life of their car. Even as modern EVs push towards a 300 mile battery range, having to stop for an hour or more to recharge every few hours will continue to be seen as impractical.

This means there will continue to be a need for superfast chargers. The good news is, speedy chargers are already on the horizon. Late last year, Porsche and BMW unveiled a prototype charging station that will supply roughly sixty miles of battery life in just three minutes, about the length of time it takes to fill up a gas tank today. Venture capital investments in EV charging infrastructure totaled $1.7 billion from 2010 through the first quarter of 2019, and the total amount rose every year from 2015 through 2018.

Such investment, and the continued technological improvement it brings, will be necessary for the EV takeover of the vehicle market to reach its full potential. But thanks to increasing battery ranges and the ease of charging at home, the need for buildout with day-to-day use in mind may not be so great as previously thought.