April 21, 2020 § 4 Comments

A New York Times piece on April 17, 2020 contends that lack of charging infrastructure will hold back electric vehicle (EV) adoption.  This argument is not new, but the slant is.  The usual argument for more charging stations is “range anxiety” (the fear of running out of juice). This one is entirely premised on car owners with parking spaces with little or no access to charging stations.  Single family dwellings need only decide between slow 110 V and faster 220 V charging capability.  Apartment dwellers face the issue noted in the piece: nowhere to charge conveniently. 

According to Chris Nelder, a manager in the EV space at the Rocky Mountain Institute, about 40% of Americans do not live in single-family homes.  He is quoted in the article as saying, “We should stop waffling and start building some charging infrastructure”.  I am sure he meant substantial charging infrastructure.  Just “some” already exists.  The point is that a high proportion of potential EV owners need access to charging.  One Manhattan resident interviewed in the story referred to his area as a “charger desert”.  Hence the title of this piece.

Public charging stations would face at least two issues needing resolution.  We will discuss each and finish with an alternative with no onboard charging. 

Speed of charging: Charging stations may be Level 1, Level 2 or DC fast charging.  Level 1 charging is done at a line voltage of 120 V and would be prohibitively slow for public charging stations.  Level 2 chargers operate at 220-240 V and are the minimum for such installations. With some assumptions, one could expect about 25 miles worth of charge in an hour (more miles in an hour for an all-electric like Bolt or Tesla).  DC fast charging is a different animal.  Here, the AC/DC conversion is done outside the car and a lot more watts can be delivered to the (DC) battery, at a voltage that is double again that of the Level 2.

Logistics:  How many charge stations, at which locations and how would a driver know one was available, these are all practical considerations, but not unlike those for gasoline stations.  Taking the analogy further, the charge stations likely would be much like gas stations, and with DC fast chargers comparable time for a mere top up, if not a complete fill. Even a complete fill should really be 80% of capacity because one should not take a battery down to single digits prior to recharging.  Any rechargeable, including your cell phone one.

Battery exchange electric vehicles (BEEV):  In Battery Electric Vehicles, BEV’s (all electric; really the only way to go, in my opinion) the battery modules are almost always located at the bottom middle of the chassis in a flat profile.  If designed appropriately, they could be swapped out and fully charged ones put in place. This was suggested by the charismatic Israeli entrepreneur Shai Agassi over a dozen years ago, but the concept was ahead of its time in many ways, and was hampered by many factors, including battery cost of about USD 1000 per kWh. USD 1 billion and 1500 vehicles later, his startup Better Place declared bankruptcy in 2013. Today, according to Tesla’s Elon Musk, we are close to USD 100, an amazing drop in just ten years(see figure).  My calculations, with reasonable assumptions, for a 200-mile range BEEV, has the fully loaded fuel cost to the consumer that breaks even at under USD 2 per gallon of gasoline, closer to USD 1.50.

The true allure of the model is not even the per mile cost.  It is that the BEEV consumer is not saddled with the capital cost of the battery, which at USD 100 per kWh is around USD 6000 for a 200-mile range.  A BEEV sans battery ought to cost less than a comparably sized gasoline vehicle because it does not have an IC engine and transmission and gearing.  The buying decision becomes much easier and directly on the merits of the vehicle, which an EV wins hands down on performance.

On point for this piece is that the car owner no longer cares about charging equipment or remembering to charge during low rate hours (garage owners) or charging infrastructure (everybody, especially the ones in charger deserts).  At the “fill stations” gasoline pumps are replaced by underground robots.  The Tesla Model S demonstrated a 90-second swap (car was on a raised platform) at the unveiling in 2013, three weeks after the Better Place bankruptcy declaration.  Elon Musk, while decidedly not drinking any of the Better Place Kool Aid, instituted the design feature but not for immediate use (some gamesmanship, perhaps, by a fellow Israeli?).  The battery pack could have onboard intelligence which accounts for residual charge to be credited against cost of the replacement pack.  The battery charging can be done in controlled atmospheres and at troughs in electricity usage, and the charged packs taken to the fill stations.  When feasible, solar power could be used, because the recharge units can be anywhere within a practical distance of fill stations.  From a systems standpoint there are even more pluses such as battery improvements incorporated as they become available, which would be infeasible with consumer ownership.

If electric vehicles cost much the same as equivalent size conventional vehicles, and the fully loaded “fuel” cost is comparable as well, and recharging is as simple as today’s trip to the gas station, the proverbial Katy may have to bar the door to large scale adoption of EV’s.  Some combination of BEEV’s and regular BEV’s with fast charging will deliver a cleaner energy future.  Charger deserts will be served up with multiple oases.  And they will not be mirages.

Vikram Rao

April 23, 2020



  • Mark Bahner says:


    Yesterday’s price for Louisiana Light crude oil was negative $35 a barrel. And I think used car prices dropped by 11 percent last month. I think that’s the largest monthly drop…perhaps since records have been kept.

    So I’m figuring that by summer, at least some used car places will have a advertisements like, “Come to Lucky Eddie’s and get a great deal on a pre-owned car! And then we’ll come to your place and fill your swimming pool with gasoline! Lucky Eddie’s! Our deals are innsaannnne!”

    I’m guessing that will hurt EV sales.


  • Bob Reuss says:

    There are many possible paths forward and we will see development in all of them. The Tesla already comes with console software that shows you all the locations of charging stations and estimated how many miles of normal use you have left and directs you to a “filling station” that’s appropriate. The thought of purchasing the vehicle and the use of a battery as two separate things is very clever and would surely drive demand for the vehicles priced in line with IC vehicles. We have moved from $4.00 gas to $1’85 in the last 10 years though and the car dealers are essentially “giving away” new vehicles.

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