Casually glancing through the automotive press and websites, I am delighted to see more coverage of non-Tesla BEVs yet exasperated at the number of bloggers and journalists that pair the new crop of BEVs with a grim picture of the ‘public charging infrastructure’. Their simple solution: Let (Electrify America, EVgo, Tesla, the government, or some other company) solve the problem with (150kW/350kW/a gazillion kW) stations that can charge our ($90,000/$100,000/non-existent) vehicles in (5/10/20) minutes under certain* conditions. (* never explained in the articles.)
The buzz has reached the non-EV public. I used to be asked range questions. Now I am asked how I can drive out of my local area without a (150kW/350kW/a gazillion kW) station? People honestly ask to see one of these fantastic stations. I feel most of the well-intentioned inquirers are surprised when I tell them that except for longer drives, I charge the BOLT at home. I am sure they think I am crazy; they are perfectly convinced from the Internet they need the (150kW/350kW/a gazillion kW) stations before they could consider a BEV.
Even though I think it would be cool to have a (150kW/350kW/a gazillion kW) station in every existing gas station, I also wonder if we know what we are getting into. If we want it and will pay for it at the charger, I assure you investment money will come in. With money will come marketing and lobbying to make the investment pay off. That marketing and lobbying will affect our choices and future infrastructure.
Have we thought about what we are getting into?
Why don’t we walk through some simple math and finance to see what a full high-speed charging infrastructure could look like? At the least, we can start a good discussion.
To get the thinking going, let’s be very aggressive and build a high-speed charging infrastructure for 2 million non-Tesla vehicles. Two million vehicles are 10-20 times more BEVs than we have now. These vehicles will charge on a ‘gas station’ like basis, with no or minimal L2 charging while parked. This answers the common plaint by the press pundits: “We are not all rich and cannot afford to install personal parking chargers, street chargers would be extremely expensive, L2 chargers will be vandalized, these would require new taxes, landlords would face bankruptcy, etc., etc. We need a full network of high-speed chargers before EVs can be considered practical”
It’s also a good a good assumption most owners will generally replace a petroleum mile with an electric mile. We would expect the same 18,000 miles per year or a total demand of about 5,300 kWh per vehicle per year. Over 2 million vehicles, this is about 10.5 Terawatt Hours (TWh = 10^12WH), or under 3% of the 2016 total electricity sales. This should not crash the grid… (See figures for calculations).
How many fast-charging points would be needed to be convenient and not strand the new BEV owners? We can make an educated guess that the new BEVs will have at least a 160-mile range. A good battery range means the new owners would only need to charge every 3 days if they want to replicate a petroleum, run-to-near empty, ‘fueling’ strategy. Charging every three days means 1/3 of the 2 million show up at their local fast-charging point in any one day. Let’s imagine they can spread themselves out over a 12-hour day (I know this is unlikely, but it’s nice to let people sleep). That means we need at least 56,000 charge ports, and more like 100,000 ports to avoid long queues. (Ports are not locations; a location will have more than one available charging port.) We are near to having the same number of charge ports as gas stations. Mission accomplished!
Yet we must pay for this. Whether it comes from subsidies or private investment, the drivers will pay for it in taxes or charging fees.
Let’s put in a bit under 100,000 non-Tesla charging ports. The (150kW/350kW/a gazillion kW) stations are probably not cheap due to load-balancing, water cooled cables, peak-load local storage, trenching, and other capital costs. Making 100,000 of them will drive costs down. For the sake of analysis, the total installed cost may be between the cost of a Tesla supercharger and a 50kW CHAdeMO, or $125,000. Our new infrastructure will cost $12 billion. I know this is a big number, but it is about half of what GM paid out in stock buybacks to satisfy their hedge-fund partners (HBR, 2015). The money is there if the public will pay for it and it goes to someone’s benefit.
Capital needs to be accounted for. There is no getting away from this. Any entity that owns the chargers will need to account for depreciation. Similarly, maintenance and administration need to be funded so that customers are not frustrated by out of service charging ports, and payments are recorded. Public financial information from companies such as BLINK, EFACEC, and ABB, as well as press releases from EVgo advise setting depreciation, maintenance and administration costs at about 25% of capital value per year. The annual base-costs are then $3 billion per year just to keep investors happy and the charging stations working.
(There may be some tax credits that make it easier. However, the tax shortfall needs to be filled, as do potholes that are normally ignored in state budget crunches caused by tax credits.) (See the attached figure)
Each driver or our 2 million new vehicles needs to spend at least $1,500 per year to cover that $3 billion in annual costs. Because the ‘gasoline model’ driver will be at a charger every three days, they may see a hook-up fee, or pay a monthly membership fee to offset the company’s costs. Maybe that’s acceptable for the speed or convenience; perhaps it's much cheaper than gas.
But $1,500 per year? Isn’t that getting close to the cost of a good L2, parking area charger?
But, all those parking area L2 chargers would be expensive, right? OK. Let’s provide one L2 charger for each new owner. I assume that a box that’s mainly a cable, a chip, and a relay would be less expensive in quantity. Let’s be generous and assume $1,500 all-in with installs. Over 2 million cars mean a cost of $3 billion, or about $9 billion less than the (150kW/350kW/a gazillion kW) station solution. (See figure)
Count me in as one who would like to see next-generation generation solutions speed the move from ICE to an EV future. We would have a lot more fun driving! However, technologies create social and systems changes that we should be aware of.
We should just think a little deeper about what we are wishing for.