Eeny Miny Moe: Where Should the EV Charging Stations Go?

I don’t envy the folks charged with determining where the public charging infrastructure should be installed to support the rollout of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs). The lucky owners of the first Volts and Leafs that are delivered during the next few weeks and months will primarily rely on home charging, but that will be complemented by public locations.

So far in 2010 we’ve seen many announcements about relationships between the charging equipment (EVSE) vendors and retailers, such as Best Buy and Cracker Barrel restaurants installing charging equipment from Ecotality, NRG Energy selecting AeroVironment as a partner for its charging network in Houston, Sheraton Hotels in Toronto and Montreal getting chargers from Coulomb, and Eaton’s charging equipment being chosen for deployment in South Carolina, to name a few.

But are these type of retail locations really the ideal to enable the early PEV adopters to plug in and maximize their electric driving range? Figuring out where and how many charging stations are sufficient is no easy task. Will PEVs truly be taken for longer rides on major thoroughfares, such as the plans for a charging “corridor” along I-5 in Oregon, or are urban gas stations with chargers that enable Leafs to be charged in mere minutes more likely to get action?

The DOE-sponsored EV Project has assigned the task of figuring out how on how to invest in taxpayer -supported public charging infrastructure to Ecotality, which is also providing the equipment. They are producing reports about expected EV and EVSE penetration for each of the regions, and are incorporating data from traffic patterns, work commuting patterns, historical hybrid-electric data ownership, concentration of business, and other factors. For example, in Oregon, Ecotality estimates that for 2011, there will be two charging stations installed for each PEV sold, but that ratio will drop to 1.3:1 by 2020.

The long term ratio of 1:3 to 1 is slightly higher than Pike Research’s forecast for the U.S., which we project will be approximately 1.15:1. Approximately 80 percent of all charging will be accomplished at home because of the convenience and lower cost PEV owners are likely to use their vehicles for commuting and leisure travel and from close in suburbs and within cities, and most of that can be done with minimal need for public charging.

Charging at places of employ and at park and rides, where suburbanites can park and then take mass transit for the rest of their journeys, are expected to have high utilization rates. Charging facilities at gas stations and suburban retail locations are more likely to be underutilized because they are not central to where people will need to spend a long time to charge, or close to where drivers will be when their vehicle batteries will be sufficiently depleted to warrant a charge. If you live in the suburbs, and go out to shop (and it’s not downtown) you’re probably not more than 20 miles from home, so a lengthy charge isn’t required. Also, one of the conveniences of buying an electric car is not having to go to a gas station, and we don’t see PEVs being used for long trips very often during the next few years.

Annual EV Charging Equipment Sales, U.S.; 2010-2015

While having a highly visible public charging infrastructure is an important psychological factor in reducing “range anxiety,” expect some of the chargers we’re hearing about to be largely inactive during the next few years.

Article by John Gartner.

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