energy insights

Charging Stations Critical to EV Transition

Electric vehicles have rolled out of the shadows of obscurity and into the limelight of prominence with every major automaker in the world stepping into the new frontier of electrification.

Manufacturers have introduced dozens of new EV models in the U.S. and dozens more are expected in the future as American enthusiasm for clean energy transportation continues to grow.

The industry has overcome many hurdles since the first Tesla cleared the factory floor in 2008, but a major obstacle often overlooked is the charging station. In comparison to gas stations, charging stations can be few, far between, and can take hours to deliver a full charge.

That may not be a problem for drivers who use their EVs to commute to work or for short, cross-town trips, but for those who long for the open road, the dearth represents a ubiquitous challenge and a constant source of range anxiety.

But a national network of charging stations is growing, and federal funding for more stations is on the way. Meanwhile, oil giants Shell and BP are among a field of corporate giants delving into the EV charging business.

The young industry has even attracted Alliance Resource Partners LP, one of the nation’s largest coal producers. In May, the Tulsa-based company announced it had become a shareholder in Francis Energy, another Tulsa-based company that has been building charging stations across Oklahoma since 2015. Alliance inked its deal with Francis, which has generational roots in the oil industry, and now the coal producer will help the charging company expand into other states.

Meanwhile, the infrastructure bill passed by the Biden administration last November includes $5 billion to build a national network of 500,000 charging stations across the country.

The spending initiative drew an immediate response from fuel marketers’ association, SIGMA, and NATSO, a trade group representing 4,000 travel plazas and truck stops. The groups urged the administration to harness its memberships in the national charging station buildout.

“To have any chance of being successful, the refueling experience for alternative fuels should be as similar as possible to today’s refueling experience. We should work with consumer behaviors and habits rather than against them,” the associations said in a joint letter.

That’s good news, but according to a U.S. News and World Report analysis published in April, all charging stations are not the same. There are three levels, and only the top level, the DC Fast Chargers, are consequential in making long-range travel viable for electric vehicles, and right now, DC Fast Chargers can be hard to find.

According to the analysis, Level 2 chargers are most prominent in the public domain, but they can take up to eight hours to fully charge an EV. On the other hand, DC Fast Chargers are designed to charge an EV to 80% of capacity in 20 to 40 minutes and to 100% of capacity in 60 to 90 minutes.

“According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, there are currently over 46,000 public EV charging stations in the U.S.,” U.S. News says in its report.

There are about 41,000 Level 2 charging stations, and only about 6,000 DC Fast Charging stations, and most of them are only open to Tesla drivers, the report says.

Elon Musk, in an attempt to help address the charging time issue, stated last year that Tesla would make its fast chargers available to all EV buyers.

Now that EV sales are increasing year by year, the government and the corporate world are beginning to recognize the need for charging stations and the business opportunities they present. Meanwhile, heavyweights like Shell, BP and Tesla are among early leaders, making investments in the buildout.

And that may be enough to crack another barrier and open a new door to the mainstream for EV owners across America.