There are a lot of myths, misinformation and misleading concepts when it comes to electric vehicles, frankly on all sides of the conversation. But one of the most annoying is when articles in the mainstream US press compare the number of EV charging stations to the number of gas stations.
It is idiotic and I wish it would stop.
For starters, EVs comprise only 0.29% of the number of autos on the roads in the US today. Why should the number of EV charging stations be compared to this much larger stock of vehicles?
Yes, a lot more charging stations are needed to drive adoption, but expecting the same refueling/recharging penetration for EVs as ICE vehicles at this stage of the market is unrealistic. And there is no reason to believe that EV charging stations will not be added to coincide with local market EV adoption rates.
With that said, here are 6 reasons that a straight-up comparison of the number of gas stations in the US to the number of EV charging stations is simply idiotic:
1. Current EV Market Share is Tiny: In the US today there are approximately 270 million automobiles and an estimated 150,000 gas stations. While I could not find any reliable numbers to support this, I’m using an estimate that an average of 8 pumps are available at any given time for concurrent refueling at a typical modern gas station. Dividing 270 million autos by 1,200,000 pumps = a ratio of 225 autos per available pump.
There are roughly 794,000 EVs in the US as of this writing, and about 48,472 public charging stations (individual connections) by my analysis (as of December 31, 2017). This does not include residential or private charging stations. Doing the math this means that there is a ratio of 16 EVs to 1 charging station.
With the current stock of EVs in the US, there are then actually 14 times more charging stations per EV than available gas pumps per all autos.
2. Residential (Home) Charging is Where a Significant Percentage of Charging Will Occur: If you live in a home with a garage, the vast majority of your charging will be done at home, especially as the median range of EVs heads toward 300 miles in the next 5 years. The “need” to charge at “away from home” locations becomes mostly for infrequent and long road trips. For ICE vehicles, there is simply no comparison to having a personal gas station at home.
If we assume that 75% of current EV owners have a charging station at home, then there are another 595,500 charging stations in the US, for a total of roughly 644,500 charging stations. At that level the ratio of EVs to charging stations would be 1.23 to 1.
Gas stations don’t come close to matching the ratio of EV charging stations to EVs.
3. Market alignment: Auto ownership in the US is ubiquitous, but EV adoption varies widely by market. For example, 5% of new auto sales in California are EVs versus 0.12% in North Dakota. And several cities in Northern California see EV purchase rates between 10-20%.
Assessing the number of needed EV charging stations needs to reflect these regional EV penetration rates and so broad national comparisons with gas stations is simply misleading.
4. Charging Is A Different “Refueling” Paradigm: Gas stations are a place we go to spend typically under 10 minutes to fill our gas tank, maybe use the restroom and/or buy a drink or food from the associated convenience store or quick-service restaurant. Stop and get back on the road as quickly as possible. Speed is the goal.
Because EV charging takes anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours, the mindset for EV drivers is to plan around the charging time to do something else WHILE your EV charges. This includes shopping, eating at a restaurant, maybe seeing a movie, staying overnight at a resort, etc.
As a result, the vast majority of EV charging stations will be co-located with businesses looking to attract customers with 15 minutes to 2 hours (or overnight) of available dwell time. In the future we generally won’t think of EV charging centers like we do traditional gas stations. That said, most gas stations now have evolved into convenience stores that use the gas pumps to attract customers to also purchase more profitable food and beverage items.
The one exception might be fast-charging centers located on major highways where the speed of getting back on the road in 15 minutes or less will be key to many drivers. But even there, I expect we will see a heavy co-location with restaurants, services and shopping.
The secondary aspect of this new paradigm is time to charge. Longer charging times means there will be a need for more individual charging connections at a charging location because you simply can’t turnover EVs like you can gas cars that require only about 5-8 minutes to fill.
The model of the future may be mega-charging centers with perhaps hundreds of charging stations that are built as combination vehicle and human recharging centers with restaurants, stores, entertainment, car detailing, personal care services, and more. They will be powered by combinations of the local grid and their own massive microgrids. These mega charging/leisure centers will be fewer in number than gas stations, but located very strategically.
5. The Future: Longer Range + Faster Charging Changes Charging Location Mix: The median range of BEVs available today in the US is 115 miles, but based on announced EVs I predict the median range will increase to about 290 miles by 2022. And around 2027, as EVs using solid-state batteries likely start to reach the market, the median range of new EVs could easily approach 500 miles.
Combine long-range EVs with fast-charging to 80% in 15-20 minutes and the number and mix of charging stations shifts. Longer-range EVs means that people with chargers at home will only need to charge away from home on those handful of super long trips they might take each year. So the key need for charging in the future likely revolves around two locations: Urban and suburban centers for those without access to a garage and home charging station and major highway routes.
6. Stations Versus Pumps Versus … Stations: The EVSE industry has made several terminology errors that make EV charging seem more complex and confusing than it should be. And one mistake is misaligning the term “stations.” In the gas and diesel world you drive to a gas station and fill your gas tank from a “pump.”
In the EV world apparently you go to a charging station and charge your car at a … charging station. There currently does not appear to be any agreed upon or widely understood name for the locations where charging stations (connections) are installed.
By my analysis there are 17,526 locations in the US with a total of nearly 48,472 public charging stations (as of December 31, 2017). That is about 2.8 charging stations per location.
Most gas stations these days have 8, 10, 12, 16 or more individual pumps and several islands where you can fill your tank. So fundamentally, when a reporter compares gas stations to charging stations they are comparing apples (locations) to oranges (individual connections).
May I suggest the EVSE industry standardize on a term like “charging centers?”
Clearly the US and every country in the world needs a lot more charging stations to support a growing number of EVs in each respective market. And there is of course a chicken versus egg problem in that unless consumers see that an adequate number of charging stations are available where they live, work and travel for leisure, they will be less likely to switch to an EV from their ICE vehicle.
But please, let’s stop the insanity. The number of EV charging stations should not be compared apples to apples with gas stations.