Stakeholders discuss keys to successful deployment of national EV charging network

Published on January 22, 2022 by Todd Spencer

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The National EV Charging Summit on Jan. 20 brought together transportation electrification experts to discuss the government and industry partnerships that are critical in creating an ambitious national network of public charging stations in the coming years that will help to hasten the decarbonization of the transportation sector.

Funded in part by $7.5 billion from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law last November, the national charging network is designed to reduce range anxiety in American car consumers and accelerate the adoption of EVs in order to help limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, create jobs and improve air quality.

The Biden Administration wants half of the vehicles sold in the United States to be EVs by 2030 – along with a clean energy grid in place to power them. The infrastructure law, the largest investment in EV charging in U.S. history, aims to put the nation on the path to a network of 500,000 chargers that make EVs more accessible to Americans. As part of the administration’s EV Charging Action Plan, the Department of Energy (DOE) and Department of Transportation (DOT) will establish a Joint Office of Energy and Transportation focused on deploying EV infrastructure.

The virtual summit hosted by the National EV Charging Initiative included a panel discussion on the numbers and types of EV chargers that will be needed to support scaled EV adoption in the United States.

Nick Nigro, founder of Atlas Public Policy and moderator of the panel, queried participants about what success will look like for the future national EV charging network.

Britta Gross, managing director of the Carbon Free Mobility Global Program at Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), said, “The key with the network is to drive consumer confidence in EVs and in the market so we can convince tens of millions of consumers out there to make that shift to an EV sooner, rather than later.” When we look at climate goals, she says, “Now is that moment to convince folks.”

The best way to build that confidence, she said, is to build a network with a strong backbone in DC-fast chargers, not just Level 1 or Level 2 chargers.

“Success,” she said, “is when in two or three years we can talk to Americans and communicate that we now have a completely built-out, reliable, user-friendly, high-speed charging network that covers all 164,000 miles of the national highway system including the urban cities it connects with and the rural communities that intersect with the highway system.”

Representing the nation’s investor-owned electric companies, Brian Wolff, executive vice president of Public Policy and External Affairs and Chief Strategy Officer at the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), said that partnership was vitally important to the success of the EV charging network.

“It’s going to take partnership to be able to work with that joint office at DOT and DOE. It’s going to take partnership to be able to go and shape these programs at DOT so that they’re ready to go. That means going into commissions together to help shape programs in every state at the commission level and making sure the grid is ready and able.”

Wolff named utilities, local communities, charging infrastructure companies, smart grid partners and technology companies as some of the players that will need to cooperate and collaborate to create the vision described by RMI’s Gross.

Wolff said that some electric utilities are already thinking about who they should be inviting to the table and to commissioner meetings to make the best case for deploying the infrastructure needed to make the EV charging initiative a reality.

“For electric companies, we don’t need to go this alone, we all need to do this together,” Wolff said. “We’ve got to carry those [various] people and get in front of the commissions now to be able to start laying that groundwork and making that case for building it now, having a ready grid now, and that vehicle-to-grid integration now.”

EEI estimates that more than 100,000 EV fast charging ports will be needed to support the projected 22 million EVs that will be on U.S. roads in 2030.

With that goal in mind, EEI formed the National Electric Highway Coalition in December 2021 to help provide EV fast charging ports that will allow the public to drive EVs along major U.S. travel corridors by the end of 2023. The coalition currently consists of more than 50 investor-owned electric companies, one electric cooperative, and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Nigro from Atlas Public Policy pointed out that California electric companies have been very important in getting charging infrastructure installed throughout the state, which leads the country in EV adoption.

In California, early on, he said, “utilities were left on the sideline with the hope that the private market would work it out on its own. Clearly that wasn’t happening, and utilities took a very strong leadership role in building out infrastructure in the leading state in the U.S. – and they’re playing an increasingly stronger role in other leading markets.”

For his key to success for the national charging network, President and CEO of CALSTART John Boesel said it was “incredibly important that whoever gets this federal funding is also putting in money of their own. The owner-operator of the EV-charging system needs to have skin in the game.”

EEI’s Wolff said the demands on utilities would be transformational and compared it to the wide adoption of air conditioning in the United States, and how the grid adapted to accommodate that new consumer demand.

“[During] the broad-scale adoption of air conditioning, the grid was really able to modify and grow from that adoption. This is that moment, too. I know it sounds really old and archaic, but we really need to use that [in commission meetings] because it’s really the last time we had a huge infrastructure expansion. And I think we all should use it because we’ve got to get these commissions thinking about how to really get in front of this. We need a grid that’s ready for it.”

As for how this massive project advances and truly accelerates the decarbonization of the transportation sector, RMI’s Gross said, “We need to help the [new federal] joint office lay out real requirements for what has to happen – not just casual guidance, it’s got to be really firm. We’ve got to have a mechanism to tie funding to proven reliability and performance of the new network.”

“And then finally, let’s not just measure success by how many chargers get in the ground. We’ve learned a lot over the last 10 years. It’s about getting the network right.”