Sober Heads Argue Against a Rush to Fast EV Charging, but It’s Coming Anyway
Automakers and governments see a strategic and geopolitical necessity
According to one prevailing view of the future, the combustion-rooted landscape to which we have become accustomed over the last century — gasoline stations always at hand if we need them, grouped in threes and fours on some urban corners — will go the way of the buggy whip. Instead, when people are in electric vehicles and running low on juice, this outlook predicts, they won’t scan the horizon for a service station, but will already have charged up at home or work. Of course, if they absolutely must plug in, sockets delivering 20 or so miles of charge in an hour will be virtually everywhere.
That’s not what many automakers and utilities see coming. Citing surveys and their own instincts, they say most people won’t make the shift to EVs at all unless they first see visible, conveniently located fast-charging stations that will pump out a hundred or more miles in a half-hour or less. In other words, the future is more or less a gas station experience.
This conviction-filled debate has so far been fairly affable, even though one side or the other seems to be by definition at risk of overspending billions of dollars in capital investment. Either way, the public looks unlikely to be the loser: We aren’t likely to know who is right until the middle of the decade, and perhaps longer — but by then, whoever prevails, there will be sufficient charging infrastructure for the needs of those who want an EV.
J.D. Power, the market research firm, has data supporting the “roll out fast-charging now” advocates. Stewart Stropp, the firm’s senior director of automotive retail, told me that, in a survey of people intending to buy a new vehicle in the next 12 months, just two of every 10 were contemplating an EV. Of those not considering one, their top reason was charging station availability. Mark Boyadjis, global technology lead for automotive at IHS Markit, described a 2019 survey by his firm with similar results: The top reason people chose not to buy an EV or plug-in hybrid — at 40% — was the time required to charge.