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Is Charging Infrastructure Key to Wider EV Adoption?

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More widespread adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) could reduce carbon emissions and help counter global warming. Yet while the number of EVs on the world’s roads has surged over recent years, they account for just 2 to 3% of all vehicles.

Advancements in battery technology have led to meaningful increases in the average EV’s driving range, making EVs more viable and attractive to consumers. However, wider adoption still hinges in large part on factors outside the cars themselves, including an infrastructure of electric vehicle charging stations.

The Weak Link in Wider EV Adoption

In many areas, public charging infrastructure is insufficient to meet demand. Data suggests that growth in electric vehicle sales has vastly outstripped the addition of new public charging points. Given the proportionately small number of electric vehicles on the roads, companies and investors have thus far been relatively reluctant to embrace capital-intensive charging infrastructure. Some charging infrastructure also has limited compatibility—in other words, Tesla chargers only work with Tesla cars. The Trump administration’s support for EVs was also relatively muted.

Without the prospect of enough new charging ports available in the coming years, drivers are already increasingly wary of electric vehicles as they weigh the difficulty of charging out on the road. In fact, research from MIT suggests that the availability of charging at or near home is the No. 1 factor in whether people consider electric vehicles a viable option.

Yet data indicates that nearly 40% of US households lack private driveways and would rely completely on public charging points if they switched to EVs. This figure may be even higher in countries with more apartment dwellers and older homes.

Policymakers and companies are taking steps to highlight the necessity of expanding EV charging infrastructure.

Renewed Hopes for Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure

There are signs the tide could be turning as policymakers and companies take steps to highlight the necessity of and opportunity for expanding the availability of electric vehicle charging stations. In the US, President Biden has pledged to create 500,000 new charging points over the next decade as part of his plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions and meet Paris Agreement goals. In Europe, Germany has also prioritized the building of more EV charging stations as part of its coronavirus stimulus efforts.

Although helpful, governmental initiatives like these are likely to fall far short of what is required for electric vehicles to become the dominant means of road transport over the coming decades. Economics consulting firm the Brattle Group estimates that the number of electric vehicles in the US could jump to 35 million by 2030—but that this would require more than 2 million public charging stations. This would mark a colossal leap from the current 1.8 million electric vehicles currently on US roads served by just 100,000 charging stations.

Energy giant Shell recently announced it would roll out 500,000 EV charging points over the next four years as part of its plan to become a carbon-neutral business by 2050. Rival BP is following a similar strategy: last year the company raised $25 million for California startup FreeWire Technologies to support its work pioneering charging points with lower installation costs. Signs like these indicate that the boom for electric vehicle charging infrastructure has only just begun.

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