During the past decade the world has become painfully aware of 2 things:
1) that oil is a finite resource and
2) that the roughly 1 billion gasoline powered cars on the road have been wreaking havoc with the climate.
As such, a solution to both problems that has been nibbling at the margins of public discourse over the past 30 years has finally come to the fore in a big way: the electric vehicle or EV. In the past 7 years EV sales have risen from a paltry 20,000 per year worldwide to nearly 750,000 annually. There are now millions of electric vehicles on the roads of the world and it is estimated that by 2040 (a mere 22 years from now) there will be upwards of half a billion electric vehicles navigating the streets and highways of planet earth. That’s great. But is there any way we can hasten the transition?
Table Of Contents
- Ramping up Forecasts for EV Charging Stations
- Can More be Done? for EVSE
- The Need for More Commercial EV Charging Station Installations in Public Spaces
- Assigning Responsibility EV Charging Station Installations
- The Role of Government in Hastening the Development of the EV Charging Infrastructure
- The California Model for EVSE
- The Coming Golden Age
- Potential Roadblocks
Ramping up Forecasts for EV Charging Stations
In 2016 most experts were forecasting that by 2040 EV sales would constitute up to 35% of all new car sales. Today, a mere 2 years later, new estimates put that number at 52-54% of all new car sales by 2040. So what happened? Why the sudden ramping up of forecasts? Has commercial EV Charging Station installation suddenly taken off? And if not, then what happened over the past 2 years that now has analysts believing EVs are going to outsell gas powered cars by 2040? A couple of things:
1) Big Auto Has Bought In
First of all most major automakers have seen the EV light and announced their intentions to go all in with electric vehicles. This new found corporate faith in a technology the major car makers actively worked to suppress for years is thought to derive in no small way from the success of Tesla. Elon Musk’s line of electric cars has lit a fire in the public consciousness and Tesla’s success has also grabbed the attention of Big Auto. For proof you need look no further than recent headlines wherein Volvo announced that beginning in 2019 all their new models will either be hybrids or 100% battery powered.
That announcement sent shockwaves through the automotive press and put the pressure on other big auto companies to follow suit. One day after Volvo’s announcement the government of France put forth an ambitious plan aimed at ending the sale of gas and diesel powered cars by 2040. Once the moratorium on fossil fuel driven cars is in place it’s thought it will take another 10 -15 years to phase out legacy gas and diesel cars.
Improvements in Battery Technology
EVs are typically powered by lithium-ion batteries. The same type of battery that powers your smartphone, tablet and laptop. Just bigger. Up to now lithium-ion batteries for EVs have been expensive to produce. But analysts see that situation changing as the manufacturing infrastructure is upgraded, the technology of the batteries themselves improves and supplies increase. This recent trend toward higher quality and lower costs means that you can expect that by the mid-2020’s electric cars will not only be the environmentally aware choice but they’ll actually be cheaper than gasoline powered cars as well. A development experts see as effectively signalling the end of fossil fuel hegemony on the roads. Keep in mind too that these projections don’t rely on any new supportive legislation. The way most analysts see it, lower costs and improvements in battery technology alone will drive a spike in demand.
Can More be Done? for EVSE
While it’s heartening to see analysts predicting faster, more widespread acceptance of electric vehicles beginning in the near future it begs the question if there are any moves that can be made either by government or private industry to hasten that acceptance. With climate change upon us the only real question now is how far will we allow it to go? And with oil becoming harder to find and more expensive by the day anything that lessens our dependence on fossil fuels is both environmentally and politically expedient. So how about it? Are there measures that can be taken to speed up the transition to electric vehicles? And if so, what are they?
The Need for More Commercial EV Charging Station Installations in Public Spaces
Over the past 100 years since the dawn of the automobile age more than 12,000 gas stations have appeared on the roads of Canada and more than 100,000 in our neighbor to the south. The “filling station” which started as a place with a couple of crude pumps and a guy with a greasy rag in his back pocket who would check the oil for you has turned into a mainstay of the modern psyche. Gas stations today typically have convenience stores, fast food restaurants and souvenir shops attached to them and the guy with the greasy rag in his pocket has been replaced by the self-serve, pay-at-the-pump card swiper. As a result you can refuel without ever having to interact with a human and you can pick up some chicken nuggets at the drive thru on the way out. There’s no reason why recharging stations can’t take the baton from the gas station and run with it. All that’s needed is the political and economic will to make it happen.
While their numbers are increasing as you read this commercial charging stations can still be a challenge to find and that needs to change; both to enable greater usage of the EVs currently on the road and to lay the groundwork for the coming transition to mostly electric cars and trucks. Currently there are nearly 5,000 commercial charging stations in Canada. While that number represents real progress and a significant uptick in the past few years more could and should be done to strengthen the EV charging network with the goal of bringing it in line with current gas station figures within the next few years. With electric car sales expected to increase ten-fold in the coming decade it’s obvious that both government and business leaders need to get busy today to ensure a smooth transition from gas stations to EV charging stations.
Assigning Responsibility EV Charging Station Installations
Talk to the folks at GM and they’ll tell you the need to ramp up Chevrolet EV charging station installation is beyond debate. Other EV manufacturers will say the same thing. Yet questions regarding who is ultimately responsible for creating the EV infrastructure remain. Since oil companies were private enterprises government didn’t need to be involved to any great degree in the establishment of the gas refuelling network. It was as simple as companies seeing an opportunity to sell more of their product. With EV charging stations it’s not so cut and dry. The electric utilities that supply the power to charging stations are under more or less direct public control in Canada. As such setting up a commercial charging station would seem to require the direct participation and consent of those public utilities, at least on some level.
Nonetheless one would think that, given current demand and projections for robust growth in that demand, that commercial developers would be lining up to establish charging stations. The fact that some potential developers are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach is due mostly to the fact that at the moment, it’s hard to glean a profit from a commercial charging station. But not everyone is waiting to see how things go. Some private companies have stepped into the void and are leading by example with Tesla being the most high profile.
Tesla Wall Connector installation is currently ongoing with Elon Musk committed to building his own EV infrastructure comprised of charging corridors throughout North America. These will ensure Tesla owners are never left with a dead battery at the side of the road. Other Big Auto companies have stepped up to the plate recently as well. Nissan EV charging station installation is currently underway in partnership with BMW. While Volkswagen has committing more than $2 billion in capital toward the development of yet another network of charging stations.
In a nutshell, the situation with EVs is different from that with gas powered cars, where you had one type of private company supplying the vehicles and a separate private industry supplying the fuel. With EVs it may come down to electric car manufacturers being the ones who also develop much of the refueling infrastructure.
The Role of Government in Hastening the Development of the EV Charging Infrastructure
Even with promises from Big Auto and the actions of forward thinkers like Musk at Tesla commercial EV Charging Station installation will still need government involvement if it’s to truly get off the ground. The Province of Ontario has been doing its part for years in trying to hasten the adoption of electric vehicles. And the federal government in Ottawa has recently announced its own ambitious plan to increase the number of ZEVs (Zero Emission Vehicles) on Canadian roads over the next 15 years. Governments at every level can also spur the adoption of EVs by offering rebates, grants and other incentives to companies and individuals who purchase EVs and to private developers for their level 2 charger installation efforts.
The California Model for EVSE
Most of the improvements in auto safety and air quality that have been made over the past half century can be attributed to public policy initiatives. For instance; making air bags and seat belts (and their usage) mandatory has saved countless lives while public policy directives relative to both fuel economy and emissions have created far more fuel efficient vehicles and cleaner air for everyone. So what does this have to do with California?
California accounts for approximately half of all EV sales in the US, including hybrids and 100% battery operated vehicles. And there’s a reason for that: public policy. 1990 California introduced legislation requiring auto makers to develop and offer for sale either electric or hydrogen powered vehicles. If an auto maker failed to sell enough EVs to satisfy the law they had a choice: they could either pay a sizable fine or purchase EV credits from companies that were in over-compliance with the law.
This policy has spurred development of hybrid and battery technology, spurred Big Auto to offer more EVs for sale in California and laid the groundwork for companies like Tesla to flourish since selling EV credits to companies who were not in compliance with the law represented an entirely new potential revenue stream. (Indeed, in some quarters Tesla is reported to earn as much as $140 million selling EV credits to other companies.)
The point however is not to toot Tesla’s horn incessantly but to demonstrate what can happen when public policy provides a roadmap to the future. Since 1990 California’s ZEV mandate has been a major driver of innovation in EV technology and led directly to a number of new EV related patents. There is no reason that with proper leadership that’s willing to embrace bold public policies Ontario and the rest of Canada cannot follow suit and become EV leaders.
The Coming Golden Age
Efforts like these will serve to rapidly expand the ability of EV owners to charge wherever and whenever they need to but most such efforts are yet in their relative infancy. Still, many industry analysts foresee a kind of golden age of commercial EV Charging Station installation right around the corner. Not only do they see the number of charging stations increasing exponentially if all the various players do their part, they also foresee technological advances driving down both the cost of a level 2 charger installation and the amount of time it will take to achieve a full charge. Whereas currently it takes about 4-6 hours on average to charge an electric car with a level 2 charger industry experts see that time decreasing to as little as 15 minutes in the years ahead. Still not on par with filling the gas tank but far more reasonable and actually in line with the amount of time folks currently spend on a typical gas station/convenience store/fast food stop.
Commercial level 2 charger installation policy initiatives coupled with a willingness on the part of business to embrace the looming EV revolution will no doubt lead to a surge in commercial charging stations nationwide. Yet several potential roadblocks will need to be dealt with before the process can reach critical mass and take on a life of its own. Those potential roadblocks include:
- A lack of variety: There is no doubt that style is one reason Tesla has become as successful as it is. Prior to Tesla hybrids and EVs were, by and large boring from a design perspective. It didn’t matter that a particular EV justified itself from an environmental standpoint, many were reluctant to buy because they didn’t see anything that spoke to them aesthetically. Fortunately the days of the electric box are coming to a close. Models like the Porsche “Mission E”, the Audi “Q6 e-tron Quattro” and the Jaguar “I-Pace” SUV are joining the Tesla Model 3 and others in providing car buyers with that visual kick they crave.
- The perception of non-existent limits: Even an overnight, level 1 charge – which is essentially like plugging your electric car into a standard home outlet – will typically provide up to 50 miles of range. However, since many people are not great at estimating distances there are a significant number who will think 50 miles isn’t enough to get their errands done. Even though it is usually far more than the average person needs for things like shopping and picking up the kids as school etc. This perception, or more accurately, misperception that EVs aren’t able to provide the range owners require will need to be changed in order to jar loose pent up demand.
- Inability to charge the EV at home: Many EV owners charge their electric car in their garage overnight. However, a sizeable percentage of people don’t have garages to charge in. They may not own property either. These folks tend to park overnight on the street. This is especially true in big cities and only serves to focus attention on the need for greater commercial EV Charging Station installation. If a person knows a commercial charging station is just a few miles away they won’t be reluctant to buy an EV and park it on the street.
The world around us is changing quickly. Electric vehicles, once the exclusive domain of speculative films about the future, are here to stay. By the time your now young children are at university EVs will be the dominant type of motorized conveyance (and chances are a good many of them will also be self-driving, but that’s another story). All that’s needed to hasten the transition to a more environmentally sustainable EV future is corporate will, public confidence in the technology and public policies that encourage widespread commercial EV Charging Station installation and reward innovation.