DETROIT (AP) — Around the world, support is growing for electric cars. Automakers are delivering more electric models with longer range and lower prices, such as the Chevrolet Bolt and the Tesla Model 3. China has set aggressive targets for electric vehicle sales to curb pollution; some European countries aim to be all-electric by 2040 or sooner.
Those lofty ambitions face numerous challenges, including one practical consideration for consumers: If they buy electric cars, where will they charge them.
The distribution of public charging stations is wildly uneven around the globe. Places with lots of support from governments or utilities, like China, the Netherlands and California, have thousands of public charging outlets. Buyers of Tesla’s luxury models have access to a company-funded Supercharger network. But in many places, public charging remains scarce. That’s a problem for people who need to drive further than the 200 miles or so that most electric cars can travel. It’s also a barrier for the millions of people who don’t have a garage to plug in their cars overnight.
“Do we have what we need? The answer at the moment is, ‘No,’” says Graham Evans, an analyst with IHS Markit. Take Norway, which has publicly funded charging and generous incentives for electric car buyers. Architect Nils Henningstad drives past 20 to 30 charging stations each day on his 22-mile (35-kilometre) commute to Oslo.
He works for the city and can charge his Nissan Leaf at work; his fiancee charges her Tesla SUV at home or at one of the world’s largest Tesla Supercharger stations, 20 miles away.
It’s a very different landscape in New Berlin, Wisconsin, where Jeff Solie relies on the charging system he rigged up in his garage to charge two Tesla sedans and a Volt. Solie and his wife don’t have chargers at their offices, and the nearest Tesla Superchargers are 45 miles (72 kilometres) away.
“If I can’t charge at home, there’s no way for me to have electric cars as my primary source of transportation,” says Solie, who works for the media company E.W. Scripps.
The uneven distribution of chargers worries many potential electric vehicle owners. It’s one reason electric vehicles make up less than one per cent of cars on the road.
“Humans worst-case their purchases of automobiles. You have to prove to the consumer that they can drive across the country, even though they probably won’t,” says Pasquale Romano, the CEO of ChargePoint, one of the largest charging station providers in North America and Europe.
Romano says there’s no exact ratio of the number of chargers needed per car. But he says workplaces should have one charger for every 2.5 electric cars and retail stores need one for every 20 electric cars. Highways need one every 50 to 75 miles, he says. That suggests a lot of gaps still need to be filled.
Automakers and governments are pushing to fill them. The number of publicly available, global charging spots grew 72 per cent to more than 322,000 last year, the International Energy Agency said. Navigant Research expects that to grow to more than 2.2 million by 2026; more than one-third of those will be in China.