DCFCs Can’t Be the Blanket Solution for EV Charging

By Eric Roseman

While public fast-charging networks have dominated much of the electric vehicle (EV) charging discussion and while public investment is important to the ultimate success of EVs, the Biden administration’s plan to quintuple the number of public fast-charging stations ignores one of the important facts about the issue. Primarily, EV owners prefer to charge vehicles at their place of residence, necessitating the prioritization of home and multifamily communities. 

Many of the highly publicized chargers planned by the Biden administration are DCFCs, sometimes referred to as Level 3 DC charging, which utilizes a three-phase 480V AC electric circuit to deliver a direct current to the EV. Currently, popular opinion is that in order to spur greater EV adoption, the nation needs a greater availability of DCFCs and is starting to put more focus on reliability standards as well.

There are just over 110,000 public charging stations available in the United States, of which about 23% are unusable due to various failures including unresponsive or unavailable touchscreens, payment system failures, charge initiation failures, network failures, or broken connectors. There’s no argument in the industry on the reliability issue – unreliable chargers are the single largest challenge in the EV space. That problem persists whether you’re talking about DC fast charging or other public chargers such as level 2 charging.  Irrespectively, the country needs more reliable public chargers. There’s a misconception that EV charging should be like fuel stations — available on every corner and that’s been necessitated by gas stations which are only necessary because people need gas for their vehicles and can’t store it at home. If gas was readily available at everyone’s residence or place of employment, there would only be the need for a fraction of the stations we have and that’s where policy needs to adjust.

The heavy focus on DCFCs is misguided and the majority of investment dollars should concentrate on multifamily communities, workplaces, curbside, retail and hospitality in that order of priority. Only 10% of the currently proposed funds would be needed to meet public changing demand. More than 80% prefer to charge at home or at their jobs and while there is an investment in those sectors, it’s not nearly at the level needed. An increased availability at these crucial charging locations, will be the true impetus for increased EV sales.

A three-year study by Idaho National Laboratory revealed that more than half of EV owners charge exclusively at their residence. Of the people who don’t charge exclusively at home, their jobs and their residences were still their most preferred places to fill their car’s EV batteries.

This isn’t to suggest that DC fast-charging public EV chargers are unnecessary. They reduce distance anxiety, facilitate long-distance driving, and can cover remote geographic areas. Public charging also remains highly popular in areas where people park for extended periods of time, such as airports, shopping centers and movie theaters. The country simply doesn’t require that many charging stations because EVs don’t function like fuel vehicles. Convenience stores or public spaces with a dozen charging stations are a misguided investment of public money. Following the above list of priorities is the best path toward achieving the widespread adoption that the nation hopes to achieve.

Why should multifamily be a priority for the investment of EV charging stations? About 45% of Americans would consider an EV or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) for their next purchase, according to the YouGov Global Automotive Profiles released in November 2021. In the group, 40% were aged 18-34, and almost two-thirds of that group currently rent their homes. The largest segment of EV buyers is the 35-49 age group, which accounts for a quarter of EV sales, and more than 42% of that age group are renters as well. When the people driving the EV market are also the people driving the multifamily industry, it’s obvious where the installations should be focused.

The Idaho National Laboratory study also recommended that workplaces be the second area of focus for EV charging stations, given its popularity among current EV drivers. As far as DCFCs, the study showed that the highest usage of those was at interstate highway exits, and they were used just as much by local drivers as long-distance travelers – likely due to the lack of availability of every-day usage stations at home or work.

The Biden administration would like to see EV sales surpass the 50% mark by 2030, and that’s an attainable goal. Our greatest odds of achieving that number are to increase  investment in charging stations where the drivers are and multifamily communities would be the right place to start.

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