Electric vehicles (EVs) will probably supplant gasoline cars, including hybrids, eventually. One barrier has been the perceived scarcity of places to charge them. But options for public EV charging stations in the US are growing.
Owners of electric vehicles can charge them at home or at a charging station. Some workplaces provide charging stations their employees can use during the day. These methods give owners plenty of chances to charge their cars for commuting and driving around town.
But traveling longer distances needs EV charging stations available to any EV driver in publicly accessible areas. They can be in parking garages, commercial locations, or, like gas stations, just off streets and highways.
They divide into two major groups:
Networked stations connect the car’s computer system to the internet. Electric vehicle service providers (EVSPs) manage networks. They use them to communicate with drivers, other EVSPs, utilities, etc. Information includes location information and real-time station status. Networked stations normally collect payment.
Non-networked stations, on the other hand, have no internet connection or communication abilities. They are often offered as an amenity for people who have already paid for parking or are otherwise patronizing a business.
As of the first quarter of 2020, California had the largest share of public EV charging stations (31.5%). The South Central region (from Arizona east to Arkansas and Louisiana) had the smallest (8.0%). The Northeast region (New England plus New York) experienced the largest growth (10.1%) and the North Central region (the Dakotas south to Kansas and east to Indiana and Michigan) the smallest (4.1%).
The technology of charging EVs
So far, charging an EV takes much longer than filling a car with gas.
- Level 1 charging stations operate at 120 volts. They provide 2-5 miles of range per hour of charging. Home charging stations count as level 1.
- Level 2 stations operate at 240 volts. They provide 10-20 miles of range per hour of charging.
- Level 3, the fastest charging, comes from direct current stations operating at 480 volts. They provide 180-240 miles of range per hour. This technology is also known as Direct Current Fast Charging (DCFC)
The majority of public EV charging stations operate at level 2. A growing number offer DCFC. Most level 1 stations are in drivers’ homes.
Level 1 charging is the slowest but most easily available. It uses standard household current, the same outlets you plug a lamp into. EV owners who use level 1 need to top off their car every night. They get 20-50 miles of range for 10 hours of charging. It works well enough for people who don’t drive more than that in a typical day. But for a longer trip, level 1 charging will take about 40 hours to provide a 200-mile range.
EV owners can also use level 2 charging at home. It just requires having a plug like the ones for a refrigerator or dryer. An electrician must install it—and first determine if the home’s electrical panel can accommodate it. An overnight charge of just 8 hours provides a 200-mile range.
Not all EVs can take DCFC, and not all that can use the same connection. Tesla has its own connector. Nissan and Mitsubishi use a different one. All other EVs use a third system.
The cost of charging EVs
We’re used to considering miles per gallon for fuel efficiency. For EVs, the equivalent metric is kilowatt hours per 100 miles. Gasoline prices can fluctuate widely throughout a year. Electric prices are both more and less stable, however. They don’t change as much from season to season, but rates can be vastly different at different times of day. For charging a car at home, the price depends on when you charge it.
Public charging stations often charge by the hour. Therefore, charging a car with a slow onboard charger will cost more (for less electricity) than one with a fast charger.
Finding EV charging stations
Finding a charging station away from home is less complicated than it used to be. Smart phone apps and EVs’ built-in navigation systems will locate them.
Anyone living in California or certain other parts of the country will have no problem finding a choice of charging stations. Anyone in parts of the country with a small share of charging stations should learn if stations exist where they’ll drive before buying an EV.
But public EV charging stations are becoming more common. A new partnership will push them into a part of the country not yet known for easy access to them.
The TVA has entered a partnership with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to develop a network of DCFC in Tennessee. The TVA operates in seven states. So it has recently expanded its reach by forming the Electric Highway Coalition. Other members are American Electric Power, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Entergy Corporation, and Southern Company.
It is the first effort by multiple utilities to establish a network of public EV charging stations in the US. Each company will add to this new network in its own service territory. In all, the project will build DCFC in southern states from Texas to Virginia, plus Ohio, Indiana, and a corner of Michigan.
If the effort inspires other utilities to similar cooperation, it will hasten the adoption of public EV charging stations where they are now scarce.
EV charging stations, and especially DCFC, are becoming more easily available. It will eliminate a major obstacle to adoption of EVs. The coalition expects to save about a million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year. That equals the amount sequestered by a million acres of forest. It will accomplish more than that if the utilities wean themselves from burning fossil fuels.
Electric Highway Coalition to add EV fast chargers to connect Gulf Coast, Midwest and Atlantic state destinations / Renewable Energy Magazine. March 3, 2021
Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Trends from the Alternative Fueling Station Locator: First Quarter 2020 / Abby Brown et al., National Renewable Energy Laboratory. October 2020
How Long Does It Take to Charge an Electric Car? / Rebecca Lindland, JD Power. March 26, 2020
The true cost of powering an electric car / Edmunds. September 29, 2020