With plug-based vehicles expected to make up 50% of the new vehicles sold by 2030, the lack of a robust public charging network is a major stumbling block, according to a new study by J.D. Power. However, today’s EV owners also raised a number of concerns about the chargers now available, especially what they’re being charged to plug in.
Tesla’s Supercharger network was the clear winner among EV owners, according to Power’s inaugural U.S. Electric Vehicle Experience Public Charging Study, though Volta and ChargePoint also scored well.
EV sales doubled during the first half of 2021 and are expected to increase even more rapidly as more long-range products come to market and costs start to come down, according to industry analysts. But, even though most owners today charge at home, public charging is expected to be critical to achieving widespread acceptance of battery-based vehicles. That’s why President Joe Biden has been pushing for funds to place 500,000 public chargers across the U.S.
An inadequate network
The J.D. Power study measured responses from 6,647 current owners of plug-in hybrids and battery-electric vehicles on 10 different topics. These included the ease of finding and then using public chargers, their speed, their cost, and even what owners have to do while waiting for a charge to be completed.
The study confirmed today’s public charging network simply isn’t adequate to meet a broad national rollout of plug-based vehicles. There are only a handful of locations where chargers are readily available, while there are virtually no places to plug in in many other parts of the U.S.
“Public charging infrastructure is a key component in the overall adoption of electric vehicles by the broad population,” J.D. Power’s Brent Gruber said. “The industry needs to make significant investment in public charging to assure a level of convenience and satisfaction that will lure potentially skeptical consumers to EVs.”
Quick chargers score well with owners
There are two primary forms of public chargers. Level 2 systems operate at 240 volts and typically require vehicles to be plugged in for 8 hours or more to go from near empty to a full charge. Level 3, or quick chargers, put out either 400 or 800 volts and anywhere from 50 to 350 kilowatts of energy. With some vehicles, such as the Porsche Taycan, a charge can take as little as 20 minutes to reach 80% capacity. Most public chargers today are Level 2, but quick chargers are expected to dominate going forward.
Where fast charging is available, most owners seemed satisfied with the ease of plugging in, giving such locations a score of 737 on a 1,000-point scale. Though slower, Level 2 chargers scored 716 points, specifically in terms of ease of use.
But how satisfied owners were depended upon whether or not they had to pay for their energy. Not surprisingly, free chargers scored notably higher than pay systems.
A variety of frustrations
Owners expressed a variety of frustrations about today’s public network. These included not only a lack of places to plug in, but also the long lines they can experience when they do find a charger. Anecdotal reports on social media have indicated waits can run to several hours in some locations.
“Owners are reasonably happy in situations where public charging is free, doesn’t require a wait and the location offers other things to do — but that represents a best-case scenario,” said Gruber.
The study found other concerns. About 58% of those surveyed cited situations where they either had trouble powering up a charger or found it completely out of service.
The number of companies setting up public charging networks continues to grow, but three stand out, based on the Power study. Tesla’s network ranked highest overall, with a score of 689 for Level 2 chargers, while Volta ranked second, ChargePoint third, with scores of 674 and 660, respectively. Tesla scored a leading 733 for its Supercharger network. Those quick chargers currently are available only for Tesla owners, but the company plans to begin making its network available to vehicles from other manufacturers. Chargepoint was second among quick-charge providers.
There currently are 43,514 charging stations in the U.S., according to the Department of Energy, with 105,671 plugs motorists can tap.
The Biden administration is seeking $7.5 billion from Congress to begin a more rapid build-out of the public network, with a goal of 500,000 chargers by 2030. But a study by AlixPartners estimates $50 billion would be needed to get there.
Several key charging companies have gone public to raise capital, including ChargePoint and EVgo. Volta is preparing to enter into a reverse SPAC merger that would help it raise an estimated $2 billion.
“One thing is clear,” said Power’s Gruber, “the more chargers that can be deployed, the better.”