Industry analysts have tried to compare the petrol and diesel infrastructure with electric car charging infrastructure in the past, but it’s a hard comparison to make due to the important part that home charging plays in EV ownership.

Now the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released a new study to try to better understand the needed charging infrastructure to support a larger fleet of electric cars.

They estimate that “approximately 8,500 strategically located fast-charge stations, with an average of three plugs each, are needed to provide a minimum level of national coverage for 7 million electric vehicles” – visualized above.

Eric Wood, lead author of the study (embedded below), said about his findings:

“The potential number, capacity, and location of charging stations needed to enable broad PEV adoption over the coming decades hinge on a variety of variables. NREL’s analysis shows what effective co-evolution of the PEV fleet and charging infrastructure might look like under a range of scenarios.”

The scenarios are based on mixes of different plug-in cars (PHEVs and BEVs). NREL analyzed the charging requirements of those vehicles based on urban and rural markets.

  • Cities (486 Census Urban Areas, population greater than 50,000, 71% of U.S. population)
  • Towns (3,087 Census Urban Clusters, population 2,500 to 50,000, 10% of U.S. population)
  • Rural Areas (regions not covered by Census Urban Areas/Clusters, 19% of U.S. population)
  • Interstate Highway System Corridors (28,530 miles of highway).

Here’s the mix used in NREL’s study:

Basically, NREL sees that about 8,000 fast-charging stations would be needed to provide a minimum level of urban and rural coverage nationwide for 7 million electric vehicles.

With a market growing to 15 million vehicles, NREL sees the total number of “non-residential charging outlets or “plugs” needed to meet urban and rural demand ranges from around 100,000 to more than 1.2 million.”

Here you can access the study in full: (PDF).

Electrek’s Take

The study is interesting when looking at the required infrastructure to support long distance travel for passenger electric cars, which is actually not the biggest segment of travel for cars – even gas-powered ones.

But it’s the one part of the EV charging infrastructure that is overlooked so far as charging network operators have been focusing on deploying level 2 chargers. DC fast-charging stations along popular routes are what is needed to support long-distance travel.

Tesla’s Supercharger network is the best example, but we are now finally starting to see more fast-charging stations, even higher-powered ones, being deployed by other automakers and third-party network operators.

Where I don’t get on board with the study is the mixes of PHEVs and BEVs, which I think disproportionately favors PHEVs, something we are actually not seeing currently in popular EV markets and a trend that is likely to continue in my opinion as more BEVs hit the market in the coming years.

What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below.

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