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Published on May 3rd, 2014 | by Rocky Mountain Institute

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EV Charging Station Infrastructure Costs

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May 3rd, 2014 by  

Originally published on Rocky Mountain Institute
By Josh Agenbroad and Ben Holland  

Electric vehicles seem to have finally gained a solid foothold. With continued adoption, there will be an increasing need for access to charging locations. We recognize that many drivers today do most of their charging at home, but many others still require access to a robust nationwide charging station network before even considering the purchase of an electric vehicle. But high costs of equipment and installation are currently impeding the build-out of such a network. Therefore, cost-effective solutions are needed to ensure future investment in charging stations.

We recently interviewed over a dozen companies involved with charging station infrastructure—including utilities, automakers, cities, research institutions, and charging station companies—to pull back the veil on current EV charging station infrastructure costs. From there, the next post in this series can then explore charging station business models and strategies to reduce those per-station costs.

We’ve broken down the cost into several categories: 1) the actual charging station hardware, 2) other hardware and materials, 3) electrician and other labor, 4) mobilization, which we define as time for the electrician and others to prep and get to the worksite (often including an initial on-site consultation), and 5) permitting.

This is a look at raw infrastructure costs. We did not include: a) general and administrative overhead, which can easily contribute 20 percent or more to costs but which also reduce rapidly with experience, b) other miscellaneous costs, such as wage requirements for federally funded projects, which can add 15–25 percent to costs, and c) financing (and other costs of capital/debt) for charging station owners.

Similarly, we don’t include federal, state, and local EV charging station incentives that could reduce per-charging-station infrastructure costs, such as the federal EV charging station infrastructure tax credit that expired at the end of 2013, Connecticut’s EV charging station grant program, and the plug-in EV charger rebate program with the city of Anaheim, CA.

AT-HOME CHARGERS

When charging at home, many EV owners are content to charge overnight plugging into their regular home 120V outlet using level 1 equipment that is included with the vehicle. However, for those who desire level 2 speed or other features, a typical installation will cost a little over $1,000 (Figure 1). Over half of that cost is the charge station itself. Manufacturers are now offering level 2 home chargers for as low as $450, down from well over $1,000 in the early days. More expensive stations offer additional features like charge management, smartphone compatibility, or even grid integration.

Installation by an electrician—installing a 240V circuit from an existing breaker panel and making the connection to the station—accounts for most of the remaining cost, including materials, labor, and mobilization. A new breaker panel isn’t usually required, but in some older homes or if the existing panel is full will add approximately $500.

PUBLIC AC CHARGERS

Public stations are more expensive than home chargers and costs vary over a larger range depending on the type of installation, number of stations, and site specifics.

Single-port charging station hardware usually costs about $2,300, but can be as high as $6,000 for some features and brands. Public stations are heftier and often pedestal mounted. Extra features include LCD screens, advanced payment and data tracking communication, and dual-port power routing capabilities.

Unlike home stations, where hardware is the dominant cost, installation is the major contributor to public station cost (60–80 percent of total). Distance to the breaker box is usually the most important factor for determining installation cost, typically ranging from 50 to 100 feet. Runs longer than 150 feet are usually too expensive to justify station installation.

Parking garage installations are the easiest and most economical public charging stations and typically cost about $6,000 (Figure 2). Conduit and wiring can be wall mounted. Curbside and surface lot stations tend to be much more expensive than parking garage installations (Figure 3) because they frequently require costly ($25–$100/ft) trenching or directional boring to run conduit and wire to the station.

Installing a multi-port station, or multiple stations at once, reduces the cost per charger (second column of Figures 2 and 3), but demand must exist to justify the extra capacity. Cost is reduced mainly because a single trench/bore, conduit, and wire can be used to service the adjacent stations. Multiple stations are more likely to require a breaker box upgrade, and the feeder wire that is run from the box to the stations will be slightly more expensive, but the added cost can be divided across the extra stations. There are other efficiencies in mobilization, repetition, permitting, etc.

PUBLIC DC FAST CHARGERS

Level 3 stations allow much faster charging and many in the industry suspect they will eventually overtake Level 2 as the predominant method. However, their current cost is an order of magnitude higher than a Level 2 charger (Figure 4), costing $50,000–100,000 per station.

There are two main contributors to their high cost: 1) expensive equipment and 2) frequently the need to install a 480V transformer. Level 3 station hardware can be an order of magnitude higher than Level 2, although Nissan has recently designed a station with slightly lower capacity for about $13,000. Transformer cost adds $10,000–20,000, but with some searching locations that don’t require a transformer can sometimes be found. Electrician and other labor and material costs for level 3 chargers are only slightly higher relative to other increases.

Permitting, mobilization, and project overhead can also be much higher for a level 3 station—40 hours of time or an additional $10,000 would not be unusual. In one case, getting approval required attendance to a city planning commission meeting plus additional conversations with the city fire chief.

NETWORK AND OPERATING COSTS

Data and payment communications and capabilities can also have a significant impact on cost. Some packages are subscription-based and cost about $250 a year. For instance, ChargePoint offers a service plan that allows station hosts to set pricing, monitor usage, and enable drivers to locate and reserve stations online or through a mobile app. These costs vary depending on the intelligence of the station and the desired business model of the host or operator. There are valid arguments for and against installing stations with networking intelligence, which we’ll explore in future posts.

We didn’t include maintenance costs in our analysis, but studies suggest about $300 for a public Level 2 station and $1,000–2,000 for a Level 3 station.

In the next installment of this series, we’ll take a look at strategies and business models that can help to reduce these per-station infrastructure costs, thus making it more economically viable to realize a nationwide network of public EV charging stations.

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About the Author

Since 1982, Rocky Mountain Institute has advanced market-based solutions that transform global energy use to create a clean, prosperous and secure future. An independent, nonprofit think-and-do tank, RMI engages with businesses, communities and institutions to accelerate and scale replicable solutions that drive the cost-effective shift from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables. Please visit http://www.rmi.org for more information.



  • Gene_Frenkle

    We should start with the assumption that EVs will have a range of 120-200 miles in the next generation of vehicles. So these vehicles will only need a few kWh away from home. The vehicles have chargers on board, so what is really needed is just outlets for the cars to plug in to. Dryer outlets are all that is needed at restaurants and malls, motels just need RV outlets, and offices and long term airport parking just need standard outlets.

    • jeffhre

      We should not forget that a “charging station” is essentially an elaborate outlet. Speaking of which, workplace and other longer term parking locations need only a 120 volt outlet (in the US) to make perfectly adequate EV charging stations.

      • Bob_Wallace

        True, 120 vac is all that is (generally) needed.

        But thinking about it for a while, 240 vac would be better. If the chargers are “smart” then the utility could use them as dispatchable load and get more flexibility with the same kWh delivered.

        And in some cases EV drivers could share an outlet if there aren’t enough. Swap at lunchtime.

        The cost of running 240 and 120 isn’t all that different.

        • Gene_Frenkle

          We just need outlets available for EV owners to plug in to at first, so the cheapest way to get the most outlets is for them just to by typical dryer or standard wall outlets. 10 outlets at a mall would only be a capital outlay of thousands of dollars and at first charging for the electricity would not be necessary because it would be such a small amount. The next EVs will have a range of 120-200 miles that allows many to simply not plug in, but if they do need to plug in for everyday driving less kWh are needed.

          • jeffhre

            If installed during routine construction and maintenance activities, the price for a group of outlets could easily drop to a few hundred dollars – not bad when overall commercial facility costs are often approaching or even beyond the billion dollar mark!

        • jeffhre

          I’m pretty sure we’ll see that eventually, in most of the rest of the world :)

          Unless commuting miles go way up or EV efficiency goes way down, it won’t make much difference for someone who is parked for eight hours though.

        • jeffhre

          One company (Germany based, I forget the name) is building out smart 120 V outlets that charge the vehicle owner for the power and cost the building owner nothing. They plan to introduce them soon in the US.

      • Gene_Frenkle

        Exactly, so the metric is lowest costs for the most outlets. The electricity costs would be very low for the initial round of outlets so charging for the electricity is not even worth it…a mall figures out how to include electricity in the rent already with light and air conditioning.

        • jeffhre

          Yes, on a triple net lease for small tenants and added monthly charges that are imperceptibly small for larger ones.

  • Ronald Brakels

    Here in Australia every caravan park has 15 amp 240 volt power and there’s an awful lot of them. But I’m not sure if this will do us much good as a ready made electric car charging system as we may not get cars that can take advantage of it. And it’s not exactly impressively fast being only about a third better than a standard domestic power point.

  • videovic

    To round out this discussion, i just wanted to point you to a canadian company hell bent on electrifying canadas roadways. They see the demand coming.
    They have an ‘adopt a charger for 2,000 dollars’ program for its 80 amp level 3 charge kiosks.
    Check out sun country highway canada (.ca).

    • CaptD

      Investing in Solar is a no brainer for all those with the money to do so, since it makes them look both Green and cool.

  • CaptD

    This is another great article! by the RMI.

    One thing I noticed is that once more residential chargers are installed, I bet we will see many of them posted on the web, so that anyone with a iOS App can signup to use them for an agreed upon price, which would help make the cost to install them much less.

  • Offgridmanpolktn

    A comparison that will make these investments seem very minor could be the consideration of the costs to build a gasoline dispensing station. Along with end of use or restoration of site when the station is no longer needed.
    Even decades ago it ran into the multiple millions of dollars for a small town I lived in to have the storage tanks and contaminated soil removed from the site of a shut down two pump station at what had been a small family owned repair shop that after going bankrupt the village had taken over for back taxes.

    • Bob_Wallace

      *Just ran across this -*

      *”The first few years here in California will be a critical period for hydrogen fuel cell technology. California has stepped up with the offer to invest $200 million dollars to build 100 stations”*

      *http://www.greencarcongress.com/2014/05/20140502-tmsh2.html *

      Total gas stations in the US 121,446.

      About 250 million licensed drivers in the US.

      About 2,060 drivers per gas station.

      Cost of hydrogen fueling station $2 million.

      Cost of hydrogen fueling station by driver $970.

      About 50% of all drivers already have a place to plug in.

      • CaptD

        Bob – It seems to me that the US along with many State Gov’t.’s are doing their best to spend lots of money so that they can say they are promoting the use of eVehicles, while in reality they are not really helping to make it easier for drivers to convert to eVehicles ASAP and stop using either gasoline and/or diesel fuel.

      • A Real Libertarian

        Bob, links.

  • JamesWimberley

    Most of the world has 220-240v mains voltage, so home chargers should work out a little cheaper than in the USA. Here’s a UK vendor offering one for £629 ($1060), so no saving yet.

    480v is rare in residential distribution, but much more common at workplaces. Many employers and retailers will therefore soon be able to offer level 3 charging at reasonable cost. These are not very elaborate gear (compared to say a washing machine) and the price should drop fast with mass production.

    • CaptD

      James – And once the charger is connected, that business could also allow others to use it when it was not needed by the Companies own vehicles, which would lower their total costs, while at the same time attract customers that might come to recharge and shop while they are waiting. Parking lots, shopping malls, golf clubs, country clubs and even some truck stops are all perfect candidates since they already have commercial electrical service.

    • Bob_Wallace

      ” These are not very elaborate gear (compared to say a washing machine) and the price should drop fast with mass production.”

      I suspect the curbside costs are way out of line not so far out in the future.

      Already cities have installed electronic parking meters. The conduit is in, a larger gauge wire might be needed, but the basics are in place.

      Replace the meter with a meter/metered-outlet combo. Let people plug in at night (most parking spaces don’t charge after 6PM). A Level 1 (120 vac) outlet will serve most drivers. The Leaf will charge 5 miles per hour using a simple outlet and its onboard charger. 50 miles when parked for 10 hours.

      Cardswipe, ‘vehicle parked’ detection stuff shared with the parking meter. Let the meter report over-parked during the day and “Not an EV” in restricted spaces.

      Parking lots. Cut a slit trench. Drop in conduit, pull wire. Use ‘plug and play’ wiring harnesses to minimize electrician time. Nose to nose parking means one outlet station for every four EVs.

      (It’s time to start requiring conduit runs in new parking garages and lots. Small cost during construction.)

      With the lower voltage of the US and a few other places I doubt there’s going to be much demand for public 240 vac L2 charging. (That’s what the industry was saying at least a couple years ago.) Especially as we move to higher range EVs.

      If someone screws up and doesn’t have enough power to get home then they can stop for a few minutes at a L3. Their car will warn them when they getting close to being out of range for either a L3 or home.

      • CaptD

        Bob – Great comment, I’d add that soon charging will be add to the draw to a particular location, those that can afford an eVehicle will also be able to meet in locations that allow charging. In most locations in the US, a charging location would probably be even more popular than an outdoor seating area and cost less…

      • Omega Centauri

        As usual Bob has his head on right. Charge stations could be low cost, they don’t need to be hi tech; the tech is already in the vehicle. All thats needed is a secure plug that won’t be stolen (a portable level one charger from the car is apt to be stolen), and if the juice isn’t free, a mechanism to charge for the service.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Keep it simple. The charging station needs to be nothing but a metered outlet with some basic communication abilities.

          Create some sort of locking mechanism for the station cable that secures the cable to the car until charging is complete or the driver terminates with pin/card swipe/whatever. No problem with someone unplugging you.

          You can buy a Kill-A-Watt for <$20 that records kWh and a bunch of other stuff. That level intelligence along with card swipe and ability to upload billing info via the cell phone system. Are we talking $40 mass produced yet?

          Get the cost of hardware and installation down to a minimum. Then a very small per hour charge on top of the cost of electricity will pay off the station and return a profit to the owner.

          • CaptD

            I can see the charger location also charging a tiny fee that will be used as a road tax because eVehicles don’t pay for it at the gas pumps like ICE cars do. This would get States to promote installing lots of chargers in the hopes that many drivers would use them, and pay the additional road tax.

    • Ronald Brakels

      Once people in countries with European style current can purchase electric cars that take advantage of that current, most people won’t bother to get home chargers as a normal power point could fully charge a Leaf sized battery overnight.

    • Omega Centauri

      I can’t see a need for employer based 480V charging. Most work days run 8 hours (plus lunchbreak), lots of time for level2 or even in many cases lavel1 to fully charge an EV. Retailers, maybe, although I think from the retailers point of view he would rather you have a reason (waiting for the charge to complete) to linger in the store, you might find something else to buy.

      • JamesWimberley

        Omega C has a point on the employers. But any business with a delivery or service fleet will want level 3 for that, so it’s fairly cheap to offer to the workforce. Retail and food have lots of part-time workers along with 1-hour customers. We’ll see a mixture.

        Question for the cognoscenti. IKEA and WalMart, and soon many other retailers, have numbers of solar car parks, with wiring conduits and inverters. They could tap in to the DC output of the panels for ev charging, but that only works in daylight. Or convert it all to AC, then back again at the car chargers. Is there a good half-way house?

        • Ronald Brakels

          Currently I think the answer would be to whack on another solar panel to make up for inverter loses. Currently it should definitely be more economically efficient to install more panels than to pay the cost of wiring things up to run more efficiently. In the future when we know what we are doing better and the standards are all worked out I presume we will have a DC plug on our solar inverters to DC charge electric vehicles, but for now the answer would surely have to be to just install another solar panel.

          • Omega Centauri

            PV inverters don’t work at a standard input coltage, but rather select from a range in an attempt to dynamically find the maximum power point. I think a DC charger wants to operate at fixed voltage. I think the charge station owner would opt to cut his costs, and go with the AC charger, which can also work without sun.

          • CaptD

            Owners of charging stations with large roofs could do both and then save as much as possible depending upon the amount of sunlight available and/or time of day.

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