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Let’s Help The Biden Admin Get The Most From 500,000 Charging Stations

In this article, I’d like to kick off a project to make a top-knotch crowdsourced EV charging plan for the administration. The writer and fans of CleanTechnica know a lot about EV charging, so we are a natural fit for the job.

Photo by Cynthia Shahan, CleanTechnica

During the campaign, Joe Biden promised to build 500,000 new charging stations if elected. Unless Trump does something insane (this is 2020), Biden is going to take office next month. Bloomberg says the plan could help sell up to 25 million EVs in coming years, but the administration is going to need a lot of help to get the plan right. That’s where we come in!

In this article, I’d like to kick off a project to make a top-notch crowdsourced EV charging plan for the administration. The writers and fans of CleanTechnica know a lot about EV charging, so we are a natural fit for the job.

I’m going to start with a basic guide to EV charging infrastructure planning concepts for people new to the topic, and then show everyone the rough draft of a national EV charging system map. At this point (mid-December 2020), it still needs a lot of work, but it’s embedded and will be updated as we complete and refine it. If you view this in January, you’ll see a better map than described here.

Once we get everyone’s input and data, I’ll make a final article aimed at Biden Administration officials with all of our recommendations and the final map. At that point, we will ask everyone to share it and send to relevant officials for consideration.

Draft Charging Infrastructure Planning Guide

When planning to build EV charging infrastructure, there are several important things to consider. There are different types of chargers, differing needs in cities vs rural areas, and EV charging stations differ from gas stations in key ways. Here’s a quick guide to these topics:

There are three types of charging stations that will make up a coherent national EV charging network: Level 2 charging, Slow Level 3 charging, and Fast Level 3 Charging

Level 2 charging stations are a step up from Level 1 chargers (normal wall plugs). They run on 208-240 volts, like a dryer or kitchen stove. The important thing about these stations is that they can charge a car overnight while the driver sleeps or during a workday at the driver’s workplace. These usually use what’s called a J1772 plug, but some use the proprietary Tesla plug (adapters are available).

Because you can charge an EV at home or at work, this is where 90% of the action is. The United States has approximately 168,000 gas stations, but they serve both local drivers and people passing through. For EVs, this is a good thing because Level 2 stations are the cheapest to install. It also means that not nearly as many faster chargers will be needed for long trips, because they mostly serve long distance travelers.

Out of 500,000 chargers, this will probably be 400,000 of them. At $1000-2000 for most simple installations (more for complicated setups), it helps save money for the faster charging stations.

Level 2 stations will need to be installed at homes, workplaces, apartments, and street parking. Some will also be useful at parking garages and any place taxis and TNC vehicles (Uber, Lyft, etc.) frequent, like airports and entertainment districts.

Slow Level 3 charging will be the second most common type of station. Instead of providing AC power to the car, Level 3 stations give the car DC power that goes directly into the battery pack for speed. These types of stations output 50-75 kilowatts (kW), and add around 150-200 miles of range per hour.

For Level 3 Charging, CCS and CHAdeMO plugs should be installed, with more CCS plugs available. Almost all new EVs (not including Tesla) use the CCS standard, while a few Japanese models (often the Nissan LEAF) and Tesla vehicles can use CHAdeMO to charge (Teslas use an adapter, but generally use proprietary Tesla stations).

These slower L3 stations are best placed in cities and towns at places drivers tend to spend 30–60 minutes. Examples include grocery stores, malls, movie theaters, big box stores, and airport parking. These are also very useful for electric taxis and TNC vehicles when placed in airport queues and entertainment districts, but are needed in suburbs just as much.

Some drivers who can’t charge at home will utilize these stations to “top up” once or twice a week for local driving, so they could also prove useful in neighborhoods where there is higher density housing or in apartment parking lots/structures themselves.

Larger cities will need hundreds of these for serious EV adoption. Smaller towns might only need a handful to get started (as most charging happens at L2 stations).

Fast Level 3 charging is best for long trips, so you’ll want to position these along interstate and U.S. highways, along with some state highways. Fewer will be needed compared to L2 and slow L3 stations, but these will take up most of the funding.

Power output for Fast Level 3 charging stations is 150–350 kW at present. These stations add hundreds or thousands of miles of range per hour, and the idea is to keep travelers moving after spending only a few minutes charging up, or while stopping for a meal.

Along Interstate highways, the fastest chargers will be needed because EVs use more power to move at higher speeds. The volume of traffic on Interstate highways also means at least 4 “stalls” will be needed at each station to get started, with more to be added later. Rural highways can start with slower 150 kW stations and two stalls per location, due to lower speeds and lower traffic volumes.

Growth will need to be planned for when setting up a station. The administration should work with electric companies and site hosts to save power capacity and room for additional stalls in the future, including space for other operators (e.g., Tesla, Electrify America, EVgo, ChargePoint) to set up their chargers.

Choosing Interstate and Rural Locations

The most important thing about choosing fast Level 3 sites is to spread them out to where they will be needed for travelers. Commercial operators are often tempted to place their stations in cities where there are already EVs, but that approach tends to add capacity where it’s not needed as much. The lack of rural chargers stunts growth both among rural buyers and those who travel between cities, so any serious administration initiative should avoid that mistake.

Rural routes should have a station every 50–75 miles where conditions are fair and terrain is mostly flat. Add hills, mountains, or extreme weather conditions, and stations will need to be closer together to make sure drivers don’t get stranded from unexpected energy use.

Another important thing to consider is avoiding duplication. If a route already has good charging infrastructure, federal dollars would be best spent covering gaps on these routes and covering routes that don’t have any stations yet.

Our Charging Infrastructure Map

CleanTechnica’s writers and readers are working on a map to help guide administration officials with this process. We looked at present charging infrastructure and suggested locations that would help establish or beef up infrastructure on Interstates. So far, we’ve plotted locations where stations are needed in the western continental US.

In the near future, we will be adding Interstate highway locations (350 kW, 4 stalls) in the eastern US and Alaska. Next, we will add locations where rural highways could use a station (150 kW, 2 stalls). These locations will be added and updated as we gather more local knowledge from our readers, so you can be assured the plan is as thorough as possible.

You’ll notice that the map above has big gaps in it. That’s because many places (particularly on the west coast) already have some infrastructure. We don’t recommend building more in these places until all highways are covered with at least some basic capacity.

Other Suggestions

When working with manufacturers, it might be good to use the charging network to encourage higher efficiency. If EVs are more efficient, they’ll charge faster on the network, have a lower environmental impact, last longer, and won’t overrun network capacity as easily. One way this could be done is to reward the buyers of more efficient EVs by giving them some free or reduced cost charging.

To save funds, the federal government should not operate the network after building it. It is probably best to work with existing EV charging companies, like Electrify America, EVgo, and ChargePoint (among others) to build, operate, and maintain the stations. This makes the best use of existing expertise and helps the network eventually be self-sustaining and hopefully cover its own growth in the future.

On the other hand, if federal dollars are going to be put in, the company building, operating, and maintaining the locations should be contractually obligated to do so for at least ten years and a backup entity should exist in the event the operator goes out of business.

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Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.


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