There’s more to electric vehicle (EV) adoption than sustainability. The EV revolution doesn’t move as fast as it could not because most car owners and fleet managers think global warming is a hoax. Even the most passionate gearheads would agree that decarbonizing motoring is a net positive for the world because of the looming threat of climate change.
EV infrastructure — or its inadequacy — is a large part of why internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles still dominate American roads.
What Is EV Infrastructure?
EV infrastructure refers to the structures, machines and equipment needed to support EV operation. For plug-in hybrid EVs (PHEVs) and battery EVs (BEVs), it’s charging stations. For fuel cell EVs (FCEVs), it’s hydrogen fueling stations.
Why Is EV Infrastructure Important?
EV infrastructure is important because it underpins zero-emission motoring. If the authorities and the auto industry want the public to choose eco-friendly vehicles over gas- and diesel-powered ones, powering EVs shouldn’t break a sweat. Otherwise, zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) will be too impractical to use, let alone buy, and mass adoption will be a pipe dream.
5 Roadblocks to Widespread EV Infrastructure
In an ideal world, you can drive your EV anywhere in the United States without fear of running out of juice.
In reality, you must strategize how, where and when to recharge or refuel your emission-free car to keep it from quitting on you at the worst time. It’s an inconvenient truth because the infrastructure necessary to power millions of electric motor-equipped vehicles is insufficient because of five roadblocks.
1. Limited Capital
Funding the construction of millions of public charging and hydrogen stations is a massive financial commitment. In most cases, the government must take the lead before the private sector can feel confident enough to invest heavily in EV infrastructure.
Fortunately, the federal government has been willing to pick up the tab. The Biden administration plans to spend $7.5 billion to build a network of a half-million public EV charging stations nationwide through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
In addition, American states have financial incentives — grants, loans, rebates and tax credits — in store for EV owners. Some aim to reduce the cost of setting up a home charging station. Private chargers play a crucial role in expanding EV infrastructure throughout the country.
Moreover, the California government sets aside $20 million of its annual budget until 2030 to hit its target of having a network of at least 100 hydrogen fueling stations statewide.
2. Stark Inequity
As of January 2024, there were less than 61,000 available public charging station locations in the U.S., including Puerto Rico and other overseas territories. This figure represents just 5% of the 1.2 million public charging stations needed to meet the federal government’s zero-emission goals.
Even worse, about 45% of these station locations were in just five states — California, Texas, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania. In addition, the Golden State accounted for more than 25% of the existing network.
Granted, the bulk of EV infrastructure must be in the nation’s most populous areas, but such a massive imbalance could hinder cross-country or even interstate road trips.
In addition, the current number of public stations can simultaneously charge about 160,000 EVs only. The narrow coverage of EV infrastructure may hurt EV sales since buying a car with an electric motor you can’t publicly charge doesn’t make sense.
Thankfully, EV charging is trending in the right direction. The amount of alternative fueling stations has increased by almost 90% since 2020. The EV movement deserves credit for such momentum. EV charging stations represent an 84% slice of the pie.
Aside from the $7.5 million budget for constructing half a million public charging stations, the federal government plans to spend an additional $7 billion to create seven regional clean hydrogen hubs — an ambitious plan expected to draw up to $43 billion in private investment.
These energy facilities can spur the development of a nationwide network of hydrogen fueling stations. Almost 100% of the existing EV infrastructure for hydrogen-powered vehicles is in California. Mass adoption of FCEVs may follow once the clean hydrogen hubs begin generating commercial output.
3. Lengthy Charging Times
The value of an extensive network of public charging station locations decreases when a charging port needs hours to restore an EV battery’s capacity.
Level 2 charging can add up to 35 miles of range per hour, whereas direct current (DC) fast charging can supply 10 miles per minute. A Level 2 charger and a piece of DC fast charging equipment need about six hours and more than 20 minutes to charge a 200-mile BEV to 100%, respectively.
Fully charging a BEV at a public charging station isn’t as fast as filling up an ICE vehicle’s tank yet. Luckily, destination chargers represent a neat workaround.
Destination charging adds range to your parked vehicle, reducing the need to plug it into a public charging port. Destination chargers are as fast as residential ones but involve no waiting time since you hook up your EV to them when you’re not going anywhere.
Wireless charging is another avenue worth exploring. The Europeans are already building EV highways that can charge vehicles in motion. The construction of a Swedish road with dynamic charging capability begins in 2025. It can serve as proof of concept for American auto stakeholders.
FCEVs take as fast as 10 minutes to refuel. These ZEVs help ICE car owners transition to sustainable motoring more quickly because they offer a similar experience at the pumps. The charging time issues associated with PHEVs and BEVs may be less of a concern when FCEVs become more popular.
4. Charger Problems
Charger incompatibility exacerbates current EV infrastructure limitations. Fast chargers don’t support most plug-in hybrids and some BEVs, forcing many EV motorists to settle with slower Level 2 chargers.
Furthermore, customer satisfaction with public charging is declining due to charging speed, station location inaccessibility, long lines and equipment failure.
Expanding the public charger network is one thing. Ensuring the charging ports will work when used is another. The Federal Highway Administration acknowledges these issues and has standardized federally funded EV charging infrastructure. This guidance helps EV stakeholders design interoperable chargers and identify ideal charging station locations to improve driver experience.
5. Conflicts of Interest
EV adoption goes against the economic interests of regions earning money from other alternative fuels. For example, the top 10 ethanol-producing states host less than 10% of all publicly available charging stations in the country. To put things into perspective, less than 430 PHEVs and BEVs can simultaneously charge in the Dakotas, which produced nearly 2 billion gallons of ethanol in 2022.
EV infrastructure expansion in these states will trigger heated political debates. Only time will tell whether their policymakers can find a way for ZEVs to proliferate without killing the demand for alternative fuels. There’s hope as long as people are talking — and there has been progress.
For instance, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has declared transportation electrification in the public interest. It has approved programs to attain this goal, including financing home chargers and promoting utility-owned fast chargers.
No EV Infrastructure Obstacle Is Insurmountable
EV adoption comes with growing pains. Living through them can be frustrating, but it’s part of the process. In the future, when the EV infrastructure is widespread enough to power millions of vehicles on the road, America will look back and laugh at this roller coaster ride.