The electric vehicle charging problem

Andy Ollendorff, Contributing Writer

The future of the automobile industry is in electric and hybrid vehicles.  Each year more people switch from gas-powered cars to electric ones.  According to IEA, in 2019, over 2.1 million electric cars were sold around the world, which accounted for 2.6% of total car sales, which shattered previous records.  While this trend is projected to continue and is supported by many governments around the world, there are many problems with electric vehicles that need to be sorted out now before electric cars become more mainstream.  The largest problem that needs to be addressed is the fact that electric vehicle charging in America is inadequate and overly difficult.  If the government truly wants electric cars to become the vehicles of the future, then they need to step in and set regulations for the charging of electric vehicles. 

Although electric cars are considered the future of the automobile industry, some factors limit their potential growth, most notably charging.  According to a poll conducted by AutoNation in 2019, 83% of consumers said they would not buy an electric car because they are concerned about battery life and charging anxiety.  As time goes on and technology innovates, the battery life of electric vehicles will undoubtedly improve.

However, the problem with more people buying electric vehicles is the lack of charging stations.  The average American lives only four minutes away from the closest gas station while they live 31 minutes away from the closest Tesla Supercharging station.  As of September 2020, there were 27,128 electric charging stations compared to 156,065 gas stations in the US.  According to the Breakthrough Institute, there will be an anticipated need of 9.6 million additional electric vehicle charging ports in the US by 2030, but there are only about 78 thousand in service today.  

The issue that comes with building more charging stations is the economic problem of supply and demand.  Charging stations, expensive to install, need to be profitable; on the other hand, there needs to be enough charging stations spaced out over the country to push more people to buy an electric vehicle in the first place.  President Biden has announced a plan to build more than 500 thousand charging ports by 2030 which will help increase the amount of charging stations and in theory, will usher in a new environmentally conscious way of driving.  

Although this will address the need for more physical charging stations, it fails to set charging standards. 

As of right now, there are four different plug types for charging an electric vehicle, creating a huge problem for consumers who cannot rely on a charging station having the correct plug.  For example, a Tesla could use the Tesla plug, the J1772 plug with an adapter, or the CHAdeMO plug with an additional adapter, but could not use the CCS plug at all.  

The case for Tesla, the most popular electric car brand, is seen across the electric vehicle industry.  Every electric car has a different charging port and therefore, can only use a specific combination of the plugs.  This is the equivalent of going to the gas station for fuel, but failing because the nozzle did not work for their car.  Not only would those car owners need to find a nozzle that fits their car, but they would also have to find a station that has that particular type of nozzle since most stations do not have each kind.  

As a result of having no standards for plug types, the widespread adoption and growth of the electric vehicle market has been delayed.  If a universal charger was implemented, then every electric car would be able to use any charger at any station in America.  Implementation of a universal charger can be done successfully and easily, as seen in Europe, where the EU, Norway, the UK, and Switzerland have mandated that all electric charging stations must have a standard CCS adapter.  

Europe’s implementation of a universal plug for its charging stations has yielded phenomenal results.  The amount of charging stations has nearly doubled, despite a smaller number of electric cars per capita for a similar population.  The US’s charging infrastructure is so awful compared to Europe that the farthest that one can be in Germany from a charging station is 30 miles, while it is impossible to drive from Dallas, TX to Denver, CO in an electric car due to a lack of charging stations.  Even if this gap was filled it would not matter because not every car would be able to use the plug at the station (due to no universal charger). 

“There should be a standard electric charger because it will make it easier for people to travel long distances, while also providing an easy transition from gas to electric-powered cars,” said junior Maxwell Meehan.

The US government does give people a tax credit of up to $7,500 if they own an electric car; however, based on studies the financial component of owning an electric car is not the problem that people have.  Instead, the widely cited problem is the charging component.  If the federal government regulated electric vehicle charging, like it regulates other industries, through the implementation of a universal plug, more people would likely buy electric cars, thus contributing to a greener Earth.  

“Electric cars are the future, so the industry and its parts should be prioritized by the government,” said sophomore Alli Greilsheimer.

Until the federal government mandates a specific type of electric charging plug as the standard in the US, most people will continue to buy internal combustion, gas-powered cars solely because the refueling infrastructure is standard and widely accessible.