How GM, Ford, Tesla are tackling the national challenge of charging EV

More people than ever are buying electric vehicles. There are about 2 million electric cars on the road in the United States, which is six times more than in 2016, but the number of electric cars is still a very small part of the more than 280 million in operation. Some factors, such as the initial cost and range of the battery, are largely production and innovation challenges that are addressed within companies. But another source of consumer resistance opens up a complex set of issues that will need to be addressed at the macro level – the availability of charging stations and the electricity grid that can handle them.

Currently, cars and trucks combine to produce about one-fifth of greenhouse gas emissions. To meet the zero net emission targets in the coming decades, consumers will have to buy a lot of electric vehicles and will need a lot of space to charge them. Ministry of Energy actively monitors the total number of public charging stations (the total number of charging ports is higher) in the country, the number now stands at 55,000. If that sounds like a lot, keep in mind that there are nearly three times as many gas stations. Also, keep in mind that though EV charging times vary considerablythey are significantly slower than gassing, so congestion is a significant problem at charging stations.

According to a recent one Report by McKinsey & Companyabout 20 times more charging stations will be needed than are currently available, up to 1.2 million public chargers.

Where competition has been an important part of EV’s innovation, public and private cooperation will help develop the EV charging infrastructure. The Biden administration announced recently new standards for EV charging in line with its goal of installing 500,000 additional charging stations by 2030 and $ 7.5 billion set aside by Law on the two-party infrastructure represents the successful first investment in electric car chargers. The minimum standards will help create the basis for states to build charging station projects that are accessible to all drivers, regardless of location, EV brand or charging company.

“Public funding is particularly important for charging highway corridors, given the challenging business case as the EV market continues to grow,” a GM spokesman said.

Infrastructure does not have the appeal of scattered new vehicles like this Chevy Silverado EV or Ford’s electric F-150 Lightning pickupand, as the GM spokesman explained, there is a continuing need for cross-sectoral cooperation and political support to streamline authorization, proactively engage electricity utilities, accelerate location and network interconnections, and remove other barriers to infrastructure deployment.

“It really requires an all-deck approach,” he said.

Part of the lack of charging infrastructure is related to the nature of the purchase of electric cars so far. Tesla represents 80% of the US electric car market With entry-level Tesla costing about $ 50,000 and 80% of Tesla owners charging at home, the development of public charging stations is out of step with future needs.

But there are signs that this is changing.

Tesla, which has used its own patented technology for its Supercharger network, moves away from this model. Last July, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that Tesla had set up its own network because it did not exist. “We created our own connector because there was no standard at the time and Tesla was just a manufacturer of long-range electric cars. That said, we are making our Supercharger network open to all other EVs. ”

As GM sees, the sheer number of chargers, while important, is only part of the story.

“We believe that the focus should be on building a comprehensive charging ecosystem that allows convenient, reliable and affordable access to charging for all, and that is what are we trying to do with Ultium Charge 360“said the GM spokesman. This includes expanding access at home (including multifamily housing), in the workplace and in strategic public places, as well as for additional uses such as fleets.” It also means getting the right chargers in the right places to meet customer needs and build confidence both now and in the future, ”he said.

At the Future of the Car conference in May, Musk said Tesla would add CCS connectors to his Supercharger network: “It’s a little more complicated in the US because we have a different connector than the rest of the industry, but we’ll add the rest of the connector industry as an option to US Superchargers,” Musk said. Combined charging system (CCS) is standard across Europe, and the addition of a Tesla adapter gives Tesla owners access to more charging options, combined with allowing access to the Supercharger network to non-Tesla owners.

In April, Musk – whose relations with the Biden administrationand Democratic Partyhe was tense – he sat down with Biden’s representatives and GM CEO Mary Barra will discuss the EV charging infrastructure. Ministry of Transport described the event in joint terms: “Broad consensus that charging stations and vehicles should be interoperable and provide a seamless user experience, no matter what car you drive or where you charge your EV,” a statement from DoT said.

Over the next ten years, Ford plans to increase the cost of electric cars by as much as $ 20 billion. Its BlueOval charging network is the largest public charging network in North America, with nearly 20,000 charging stations with over 60,000 plugs. Speaking of the rapid acceleration of its EV plans, That’s what Ford CEO Jim Farley said at a recent electric car launch event, “It’s something no one would have believed just two years ago.”

The culture around EV refueling stations differs significantly from that at petrol stations, with the proliferation of refueling at home raising questions about equity and access, as well as the division between urban and rural areas, according to Institute for Environmental and Energy Research. There are significant parts of rural America where one can drive for a while without seeing an EV charging station, while gas stations highlight the landscape at regular intervals. GM and Ford will have to be a big part of this essential effort to combat “charging deserts.”

GM, through its Dealer Community Charging Program, will distribute up to 10 charging stations to its EV dealers. This will add about 40,000 stations evenly distributed across the country, especially in underserved areas. This will help put many consumers in the charging range: nearly 90% of Americans live within 10 miles of a GM dealership. As part of a $ 750 million initiativethese stations may be distributed at the discretion of GM’s offices in their communities.

“We want to give customers the right tools and access to recharging where and when they need it,” GM President Mark Royce said in a statement last October about his goals, “as we work with our dealer network to accelerate the expansion of affordable recharging.” in underserved, rural and urban areas. “

GM expects most of the charging to take place at home, which is convenient for most customers. McKinsey estimates that the United States will need 28 million private chargers by 2030. GM’s Ultium smart chargers, which will be available later this year, will give consumers and businesses the opportunity to turn costs into leases and loans. for vehicles.

It also places recharging in public places where customers already spend 30 minutes to several hours – such as grocery stores and gyms – to allow for more convenient public recharging. An example of this is GM’s collaboration with EVgo to install 3250 DC fast chargers in large urban areas by the end of 2025

As challenging as the issue of charging deserts is the issue of urban infrastructure, where even willing buyers – many of whom are also apartment dwellers – can have significant challenges in finding convenient and reliable charging stations. In urban conditions or in the case of urban fleets, a major problem is the lack of garages or other facilities where separate charging stands could be located. According to Yuri Dworkin, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer engineering and a member of the C2SMART Tier 1 transport center in NYU Tandon, a key solution is public charging infrastructure, which must be high power (to ensure high charging power and thus charging speed) and multiple charging (to ensure that many electric vehicles can be charged simultaneously).

“If you can buy a relatively cheap electric car (if you collect all the incentives and tax breaks), the purchase price is affordable for a huge number of people living in urban areas of the United States, and the real restriction on adoption is actually access to public charging infrastructure,” he said. Dworkin.

The main car manufacturers are calling for an extension of these government incentives for EV purchases. Meanwhile, recent infrastructure funding is an “important step forward” for electric vehicle infrastructure, Dworkin said, but more as an opening to further research than as a cure-all.

There are many “techno-economic challenges,” Dworkin said, that need to be addressed outside the direct control of car companies. The main ones are permissive restrictions and, more importantly, restrictions on the electricity network. “Allowing is still a challenge and it could take months for an EV charging station to be approved,” he said. “And there is a need to ensure that the grid is able to supply electricity to EV charging stations; this requires the development of tools to decide where the EV charging infrastructure needs to be deployed to meet consumer demand and grid constraints.

The actions of inherited carmakers such as GM and Ford highlight the cultural change built into the transition to EV and can drive a change in national car culture. Although later in the game by Tesla, the big car manufacturers represent the basic concepts of the car, long woven into the American imagination: freedom, opportunity, escape – none of them perform very well if you can not keep your battery charged. As GM and Ford pick up the pace of electric vehicle production, and Tesla expands access to its charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, more imagination can move with them, making charging more easily available along the way.

“This is Ford Motor Company … Model-T. This is what we are doing. We are not a new start.” Farley recently told CNBC.

By Trevor Lawrence Jokims, specifically for CNBC.com

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