Few industries as large as the global automobile industry have been through the sort of disruption electric vehicles (EVs) have brought upon the industry. Rapid gains in battery technology have made EVs affordable and practical. Governments across the world have made commitments to put an end to polluting internal combustion engine (ICE) based vehicles in the not too distant future. The industry has responded too with most incumbent car makers setting goals for going 100% electric. Yet, it isn’t going to be a smooth ride as these twin pieces in last week’s The Economist highlights – the tricky business of setting up charging infrastructure.
“The 6m pioneers who opt for Evs this year will still represent only 8% of all car purchasers. That figure must rise to two-thirds by 2030 and to 100% by 2050.
The current number of public chargers—1.3m—cannot begin to satisfy the demands of the world’s rapidly expanding electric fleet. According to an estimate by the International Energy Agency (IEA), a forecaster, by the end of this decade 40m public charging points will be needed, requiring an annual investment of $90bn a year as 2030 approaches. If net-zero goals are to be met, by 2050 the world will need five times as many.
Governments’ current pledges to phase out ICE cars and shift to EVs are, it is true, not quite consistent with net-zero. Even if roads turn electric less speedily than they should, though, the sums the world needs to spend on charging infrastructure are still stupendous. In a slower scenario envisaged by Bloomberg NEF (BNEF), a research firm, in which EV sales keep rising as battery prices fall but reach just under a third of all vehicles sold by 2030, roughly $600bn of investment would still be needed by 2040. That would pay for fewer chargers than the IEA foresees—24m public points alone by 2040 (and 309m in total, see chart 1). If net-zero is to be achieved by 2050, BNEF puts the cumulative charging investment required at a whopping $1.6trn.
The European Commission, for example, thinks every ten EVs require one public charger. According to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), there are now five EVs per charging point in the EU and China, and nine in America.
That is in theory. In practice, a survey of chargers in China by Volkswagen (VW) found many inoperable or “ ICED” chargers (those blocked inadvertently or deliberately by fossil-fuelled cars). Only 30-40% of China’s 1m public points were available at any time.”
That gives a sense of the scale of the problems. The article then talks about the challenges to building infrastructure at that scale.
“Two types of charger are good enough to top up vehicles, or give them a boost overnight at home or during the working day. The slowest, providing up to 8km of range an hour, can do the job. So do “level 2” chargers that provide 16-32km. Both are easy on the wallet. Drivers can use dedicated sockets that cost a few hundred dollars (and are often subsidised by governments) to tap the cheapest electricity tariffs.
Nonetheless, home and workplace charging only gets you so far. As ev ownership spreads from wealthier households to people living in flats or dwellings without the ability to plug in, a public network becomes vital. In America, Europe and China demand for public charging is expected to increase (see chart 3). Public chargers come in three varieties. A common kind is kerbside charging, via converted lampposts or other dedicated points, where cars might park overnight. Then there is “destination” charging, of the sort that is becoming more widely available in car parks at shopping centres, restaurants, cinemas and the like. Both kinds are level-2, with installation costs usually between $2,000 and $10,000 per point.
Fast charging, which typically adds 100-130km of range every 20 minutes, is vital on main roads for drivers making long inter-city trips and in cities for a quick emergency jolt. Commercial vehicles driving longer distances, such as taxis, need fast charging, too. But since charging firms need to recoup hefty costs of $100,000 or more per fast charger, using such facilities is pricey.”

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