DETROIT – When the electric car revolution arrives, will there be enough places to plug in?
There are now 26,000 electric vehicle charging stations open to the public in the U.S., with more than 84,000 plugs.
But the country, and the world, will need thousands more if drivers are going to adopt vehicles powered by batteries alone. And because they're being asked to invest before that demand arrives, automakers and charging companies are struggling to raise the numbers.
Currently, electric vehicles make up only about 1.3% of total new vehicle sales in the U.S., according to the Edmunds.com auto site. Electrics are much bigger in other countries, accounting for 2.6% of global new vehicle sales last year, the International Energy Agency says.
With more than 40 fully electric vehicles on the market in the U.S. or coming within the next three years, however, auto and charging company executives say the demand is on the way.
“The automakers, more and more of them, are committing to manufacture electric vehicles,” said Mike Moran, spokesman for Electrify America, a network of charging stations being built with $2 billion in settlement money from Volkswagen's diesel emissions cheating scandal.
On Friday, General Motors and charging company EVGo announced plans to add about 700 fast-charging stations, tripling the number on the EVGo network over the next five years. They wouldn't say how much they'll invest, but they plan to add 2,700 fast-charging plugs.
They'll focus on 40 unspecified metropolitan areas, with emphasis on California, Texas, Florida and Illinois. And they'll build the stations near where people go to run errands, like grocery stores or pharmacies. Typically a fast-charger can refill a battery in 30 to 40 minutes, so the idea is for charging to be done while people are shopping.
“We've done extensive consumer research in understanding what's important to the customer,” GM CEO Mary Barra said. “Clearly having a robust charging infrastructure is something that our customers have told us is important.”
Fast-charging stations have higher kilowatt capacities than home chargers, and they're important to quickly recharge batteries on newer electric vehicles that can travel 300 or more miles on a single charge. But the bulk of the nation's public charging network is much slower. The U.S. Department of Energy says there are 3,884 public fast-charging stations in the country now with 14,858 outlets.
As more electric vehicles are sold, more fast chargers will be needed, especially for people who live in apartment buildings who can't charge at home, said Cathy Zoi, EVGo's CEO.