Overview Of Plug-In Electric Car Charging Infrastructure In The U.S. – Part 2


Chevy Bolt Charging

Chevy Bolt Charging

*Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 in a two-part series on charging. Check out Part 1 here.

At age 18 I bought a new 1978 Honda CB-750F. The CB750 was the first four-cylinder motorcycle from a major manufacturer and was also the motorcycle that coined the term “superbike.”  The 1978 model year was the first year for the double-overhead cams four-valve layout and it had a top speed of 125 MPH.  Mine was black and I had black leathers and helmet to match. It was the first “vehicle” I ever bought new and it was my ticket to freedom. I cherished it.

This anecdote may seem an incongruous start about EV infrastructure.  Except that understanding the man-machine relationship is key to understanding why infrastructure is the gateway for EV adoption for the masses.  Let me explain.

The 2% Problem

Long-time EV advocate Chelsea Sexton recently said that if car buying was a rational decision, we’d all be driving white Honda Civics. Car buying is an emotional decision; it’s the used car salesmen’s secret weapon.

Every EV advocate has tattooed on the inside of their eyelids the statistic that nearly 70% of US drivers can do more than 90% of their driving all-electric.  Therein lies the problem; 90% is not 100%.

In one way or another car ownership means freedom to every single car owner in the world.  The majority of the car buying public is not going to compromise that freedom and embrace electric mobility until they can be convinced that an EV will satisfy 100% of their driving needs 100% of the time.  Not 90%, or 99% or even 99.99%. This statement about EV acceptance is simply a reflection of human nature and is supported by established trends about technology adoption.

Public Charging

Public Charging

Part 1 of this series detailed what I called the 98% problem; the statistic that demonstrates that EV drivers today mostly charge their cars mostly at home or work. Part 1 was an effort to demonstrate the need to focus on infrastructure at employment centers and multi-unit housing.  The remaining 2% of charging is done with public infrastructure. In other words, charging infrastructure at home or work fulfills 90% of the needs for 70% of US drivers.

Yet the 2% problem is equally important to give potential buyers the confidence they need that an EV can satisfy 100% of their driving needs, to become the only vehicle they need and to give them the freedom to use their car any way they wish. One solution to the 2% problem are plug-in hybrids (PHEV).  PHEVs are a gateway drug to pure battery electric (BEV) but there are only two PHEVs with any kind of range and one has been purposefully emasculated by the very agency that should be giving them away like candy. The 2% problem is really about cutting the hydrocarbon habit completely and giving the BEV the legs it needs to stand on its own.

Public Level 2, 2.0

I’m just going to get it out there.  Free charging sucks and much of the public Level 2 charging infrastructure is wasted effort and opportunity.  It’s not that free couldn’t work (cough, cough, Tesla Supercharging Network), but it isn’t working anywhere else.

Rocklin Supercharger - Image Credit: Robert Huston

Rocklin Supercharger – Image Credit: Robert Huston

Free is an interesting economy.  Sometimes a commodity is so ubiquitous that you can’t give it away. (Ever walk past a drinking fountain without taking a drink?)  But in other circumstances, that same commodity can have significant value. (Ever buy a bottle of water? What would you pay for a bottle of water if you were lost in the middle of Utah’s Salt Flats in the middle of July?)

The problem with status quo free Level 2 (in, say, a mall parking lot) is when there is far more demand than supply.  Charge rage is real and as has been noted, unless the location is willing to scale the supply with demand, it is better to have no EVSEs than it is to have too few. Until that blessed day that virtually every parking spot is wired, paying for access to charge your EV will make overcrowding and charge rage at public charging infrastructure go away overnight.  Note that I said when you charge in public you are paying for access; you are not paying for energy.

Destination charging is a perfect example of “best practices” when it comes to placement of Level 2 charging infrastructure.  Examples are hotels (think road trips), theme parks, zoos and anyplace you may stay for a few hours.

But when the Level 2 charging becomes the destination, that’s messed up.

Thank God for companies like Chargepoint that placed Level 2 EVSEs in places like Whole Foods & Walgreens, because without them, the EV adoption rate would invariably be less than it is today. But as National Car Charging CEO Jim Burness recently reminded me, the general public will not behave the same way as early adopters have.  

The best use for Level 2 is private homes, multi-unit dwellings, places of employment and destination charging.  

In summary, public Level 2, 2.0 looks like this:

  • Multi-unit dwellings, places of employment
  • Destinations like hotels, theme parks
  • Charging cannot be a destination in and of itself
  • Paying for access will eliminate pressure on overused infrastructure and ensure that it is available for people who need it
  • Unless a location that is offering access to charging infrastructure is willing to scale as demand increases, it is better to have no infrastructure than not enough
Perhaps This One Works?

Perhaps This One Works?

It’s The Network, Stupid

The 2% problem isn’t complete without a reliable network of DCFC along corridors. The vast majority of EV driving in and around population centers can be accomplished with Level 2 at home and work; but this does not give an EV the freedom to travel at will. To give the EV legs to stand on its own and give the car buying public confidence to embrace electric mobility means the freedom to take a road trip whenever and wherever one chooses.  That means DC fast charging.

I could describe the attributes that make up the perfect DCFC network; it even already exists.  Tesla’s Supercharger network is everything that the “other” DCFC networks are not:

  • Well located along corridors
  • Available amenities like coffee, dining and restrooms
  • Multiple charging spots
  • Reliable
  • Available 24/7

Aside from Tesla’s notable effort, all other DCFC locations are ad-hoc.  There are multiple entities deploying them, and like your aunt who gave you socks for Christmas, they mean well. Unfortunately, well-meaning is not a synonym for effective.  A sole DCFC in a side lot of a car dealership does not a network make.  PlugInsights went so far as to say that failure to build a robust, top-down, planned network represses EV sales. The same report goes on to say that two-thirds of Model S owners said that the Supercharger network was extremely influential to their purchase decision.

DCFC = Freedom. And Not.

Nothing says range anxiety like passing the point of no return when the charger behind you is further away than the one in front of you, especially a charging location you’ve never visited and only read about on PlugShare.  Anyone who has taken an all-electric roadtrip knows exactly what I mean.  And chances are those same people can also describe the sinking pit of hopelessness when arriving at a DCFC that doesn’t work or is otherwise occupied.  Early adopters may suffer through this kind of despair inducing experience, but those further down the technology adoption curve will not.

The purposes of car ownership are as diverse as the people owning them.  Nevertheless, every vehicle on the road serves to give freedom to its owner in one form or another. The masses will not embrace electric mobility until the EV can symbolize that same freedom that any other car can give.  Surveying the current EV landscape it is easy to swoon to the promise of the Chevy Bolt, or start doing virtual high-fives over the 400,000 Model ≡ reservations. Nevertheless we must look forward, plan and take action and improve the state of the infrastructure — not the grid, but the charging infrastructure itself. Until the vast majority of owners can reliably charge at home or work, and a robust, top-down, planned DCFC network is established, EVs will continue to exist only for the technologically adventurous.

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59 Comments on "Overview Of Plug-In Electric Car Charging Infrastructure In The U.S. – Part 2"

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Wow! Great article. Hits the nail squarely on the head. This article embodies exactly what I myself have been keen to express. Check out my blog:


Very well written. Tesla has built an incredible Supercharger network and others are scattering theirs all over. My thought has alway been, put 3-5 DC fast chargers in every, thats EVERY single gas station in the country. I don’t care what company puts their chargers where, just make them fast and make ALL chargers standard. Just like ICE vehicles now, those “gas” stations will be used by any EV that needs charging.

Yes, Tesla has built their network to serve their cars (265 mi range), and others have built networks to serve Nissan LEAFs etc. (~80 mi range).

When we have some significant numbers of Chevy Bolts and next gen Nissan LEAFs in 2-3 years lets say, then 100 kW or higher fast chargers will be installed by EVgo and others. Only then, and only in proportion to those EVs out there.

Hopefully many gas stations will install fast chargers like the half dozen being installed at Spinx gas stations in South Carolina by EVgo. Nissan was the go getter and financier for that project.

At least Elon gave us Tesla’s plan for new charging infrastructure as part of the Model ≡ reveal. I have an incredibly hard time taking the Chevy Bolt seriously as a mass-produced car if their plan is to rely on a haphazard network of single chargers.

Right. IMO the Chevy Bolt and others like it (perhaps LEAF 2.0) will only appeal to mainstream drivers when there is something of a network like Tesla’s coverage and reliability in place. Perhaps in about 8 years it will be there. That’s my guess.
(IE: Close to 300 fast charge locations with multiple chargers per location at 100 to 150 kW.)

They will still have problems planning trips, finding chargers, finding working and not in use chargers, etc. Tesla has that all figured out already.

I still think that by mid 2020s there will be something of a 100 kW+ DCFC network in place that will serve CCS and CHAdeMO cars well enough to enable relatively reliable freedom of travel.

OP John Higham said: “…In one way or another car ownership means freedom to every single car owner in the world. The majority of the car buying public is not going to compromise that freedom and embrace electric mobility until they can be convinced that an EV will satisfy 100% of their driving needs 100% of the time…”

That’s spot on and is why Tesla’s expanding supercharger network is becoming a huge competitive advantage for Tesla.

Nissan charging is impractical as you have to have a lady holding the charging stick while it is being charged. (as per top picture), Nice though.

At least the other lady was on a cell phone while laughing.

If she were always there at the charging station, I might want to charge my car more often.

There’s another problem not really listed here:

The Business Case for Fast Charging.

This is particularly true of charging stations located along interstate highways. There is simply not enough demand for any company to want to build out such a network, being how expensive they are to install and maintain, compared to how little they will get used (at least at first.) I would love for there to be some Chademo and CCS stations between DF/W, Austin, and Houston. In total, they’d probably need between 12 and 15 stations to make the Texas triangle driveable with an EV like the Leaf. But I bet those stations wouldn’t get more than 10 charges per year on them for a while. There is no way it could be profitable.

And there is a similar problem even facing L2 and DC fast charge station in the city: most people charge at home. Imagine if people could fill their gas tanks at home. How many gas stations would be left in business?

That is exactly what Tesla has done. They have made investments in highway corridors outside the big cities to enable travel throughout the country.

Certainly another forward-thinking company could do the same. They haven’t because no one wants to be the first to disrupt their own sales.

Tesla was able to do it because of the commitment and $ of their founder/CEO, and the comparative lack of any marketing budget. Tesla doesn’t advertise, so they can put that kind of money into this kind of activity which, gee whiz, ends up being pretty good marketing (as anyone who has ever seen a supercharging station can attest).

This is very true, and there was a similar conundrum in California in the late 1960’s/early 70’s – gas range anxiety on the newly-constructed I-5 between LA and the Oregon border. The freeway went through vast stretches of farm and semi-desert land that had zero freeway-exit type gas stations, mini-marts, or restaurants. You had to exit and usually drive 10-20 miles to the nearest town to get stuff. I-5 also didn’t have a lot of traffic, then, either, as it was not continuous. Why build a big new gas station for just a few customers a day? You’d have to get off and dodge over to an existing 2-lane road for a while. It took quite a few years for the chicken-egg issue to slowly evolve to the at-every-exit travel-center I-5 now has.

Charge stations will have to go the same way. It would be SO good if all the corporate members of the SAE who are so keen on CCS (GM, Ford, BMW, etc.) each just put in $100M (perhaps through Chargepoint, etc.) to build out that top-down open protocol network.

Well said!! And we all need to realize (and have the patience) that these robust networks will only be built as the EVs that will use them become available in some number…. just like starting in maybe around 2012 DC fast chargers started to be installed for the current generation EVs.
The recent grant of 9 million for the three corridors in California represents a start IMO. They will be put in with the future higher power charging capability in mind that next gen EVs will need.

DCFC stations, if placed where the PUBLIC needs them, are profitable.

Nobody needs a fast charge when they are at their Nissan dealer or Whole Foods Market (where most DCFC stations are in California).

DCFC stations are (as the OP stated) required at optimal locations by interstate freeways to allow long distance travel. Folks will want bathroom breaks, rest stops, food, etc. DCFC’s placed at these locations can and will pay for themselves. Think bigger than just the charging fee.

As it is today, the non-Tesla DCFC business model is broken. eVgo charges something like $10 for the equivalent of 2 gallons of gas and it only has 1 pump and it takes 30mins to pump that “2 gallons”. On and that sole pump may not always be available either. Then you’re screwed.

Who would pay for that inconvenience? As much of an EV advocate I am, I’d rather drive my ICE.

$10 is not that unreasonable for a DC fast charge. You’re not paying for the energy as much as you are paying for the convenience. And as rarely as I have used it, $10 would be acceptable. Also keep in mind, I think the longest I’ve ever stayed at a DC fast charge station is 15 minutes. I have never needed to do a 100% charge at one.

I agree. You are not paying for electricity, you are paying for usage of a high speed DC fast charger. Snd those things are expensive to buy & install.

“Tesla’s Supercharger network is everything that the “other” DCFC networks are not: Reliable”

Tell that to the folks who had to have their Teslas towed from the Indianapolis SC to a local mall to be charged at 25 miles of range per hour.


I just read that story. Clearly some ****-up that is not reflective of the status quo at Tesla. The driver seemed to understand that.


I think the vast majority of cars today on the road go beyond 100 miles from the house during its life cycle–with a large portion of commuter cars.

A 200mile EV will largely extinguish range anxiety of any daily commuter+errands without the need to charge publicly–supercharger or not.

I would argue that DC will be more prevalent and effective local marketing tool to get foot/car traffic as the masses expand into EV than a national supercharging network.

If I’m roadtripping, I’m going to be in our minivan (or rental) — not the M3.

In SD, there’s one supercharger in Qualcomm. That’s useless to me (and I’m 2 miles away from it). I’ll charge at home and pay the $5 for the complete charge — time = $ in many people’s cases too.

Thankfully, some of us are already stopped using gasoline and other fossil fuels for our daily personal transport.

My household has several all-electric cars, including the Tesla Model S (plus two Model 3s coming), and like you, I live nearby the San Diego Supercharger. I rarely use it now, nor would I in the future.

If I wanted to take any trip (and I just returned from a 2000 mile 10 day trip in my Toyota RAV4 EV), I will drive an EV. I will support public charging infrastructure. I won’t use gasoline or support gasoline infrastructure.

I can do all that without the San Diego Supercharger.

I completed a coast-to-coast trip just 6 months ago, all without gasoline.

supercharger access has never been free.

Correct – you have to buy a Tesla.

and pay the fee to activate supercharging….

Every Tesla available right now comes with supercharging included.

Two thoughts:
– If you don’t own an EV then you just don’t get that 99% of your charging is done at home. We almost never use public charging and you wont either.
– Little has been said about longer term charging, at work for instance. Level 1 charging is quite adequate in these situations – and much cheaper to deploy and maintain.

I do far more than 1% of my charging away from home, but that is because of three reasons:

1) We have two electric cars, one of which is my daily commuter, and we only can charge one at home at a time

2) the commuter can only make 2 roundtrips before needing a charge

3) the other car is mostly reserved for regular overnight trips out of town to a destination 100 miles away. We do a lot of DCFC and public level 2 charging.

Should have mentioned the home charging is all level 1 in our case. I love me some old-fashioned wall outlets!

If you do own an EV you get that only charging at home can severely limit where you can go. I can’t go from the burbs across the neighboring metro area and back without public charging, let alone traveling to any nearby cities, regional parks, etc.

A world full of big battery cars that can fast charge using Level 1 and 2 chargers at workplaces is not a good fit for many people or workplaces. Tesla has the right idea so far.

EVs need to be able to be bought and used by Renters. 97% of plug in vehicles in CA have been sold to people wealthy enough to own a home.

Yet the subsidies are paid by 100% of the population.

UCLA Luskin survey showed that 2/3 of potential EV buyers RENT their home.

So we have 2/3 of the market unabel to access charging and so 2/3 of the market not buying EVs.

This comes up in every easy EV infrastructure debate.

Not everybody lives in a single-family detached home that just happens to have electricity in the garage. There are people who drive cars who are retired, at school, living in condos / apartments, unemployment etc.

We can’t eliminate half the US population from EVs because they are not suburban home owners who commute to a job.

ad hoc does not have a hyphen.

“PHEVs are a gateway drug to pure battery electric (BEV) but there are only two PHEVs with any kind of range”

PHEVs generally have 400 to 500 miles of range, the i3 being an exception. If he is only talking about EV only range then it depends entirely what threshold you happen to feel makes your argument better.

Realistically it has to be matched to the owners needs which could vary from 10 miles on up.

My first new vehicle was a motorcycle, and that thing was ticket to even more tickets. SparkEV with lower range at higher speed means keeping it low speed is beneficial, especially with sporadic DCFC. I haven’t had a ticket since getting EV, saving me a bundle of money. Neener neener to CHiPs!

What does this have to do with charging infrastructure? If there are as many DCFC as gas stations, EV may become tickets to even more tickets, especially for young people. That instant torque without revving is hard to resist, especially if you can charge in next off ramp.


This quote from the article is right on:

“The best use for Level 2 is private homes, multi-unit dwellings, places of employment and destination charging.”

And I believe the most important public charge network is the fast charge network. Level 2 is great, but it only helps when it’s there at the destination. It serves the purpose of reducing or eliminating time spent fast charging for a pure electric vehicle. A reliable comprehensive fast charge network provides the safety net that is always there to use whenever needed.

I just read the PlugInsights Survey:


Basically saying that for public infrastructure, fast charging will be more important and needed than Level 2 in the future.
Interesting, cuz that’s exactly what I’ve been seeing too.

The survey also concludes that failure to build a reliable fast charger network from the top down could seriously repress PEV category sales. (I know, it’s in the article too).

“The survey also concludes that failure to build a reliable fast charger network from the top down could seriously repress PEV category sales.”

Only one company figured this out. And they figured it out years ago. They’ve been rewarded with 400,000 orders for their EV.

A very good article. Agree mostly and many good comments as well.

I think it should be forwarded to policy makers so they can understand how to “efficiently” allocate funding.

My prediction is that erev will become the dominant ev technology for centuries and all these charging arguments will not be very relevant.

Charge at home and work and go anywhere anytime and never worry.

I am sorry but that’s a bit like predicting day light for tomorrow. Of course, BEV’s are the future …. There’s nothing else more accessible on The very far horizon.

How do you plan to force all employers to provide charging points, for free I assume you meant.

…and you can only drive an EV if you are gainfully employed.

Shaft, your prediction may be correct for some time into the next decade, but not too much more than that IMO. BEVs are on track to be a compelling choice for mainstream consumers by mid 2020s, and by then a Tesla like fast charge network will most likely be in place. So you are partly right in that EREVs and PHEVs will dominate in the short term.

Not sure exactly what to think after reading the article.

I’d prefer to have someone like SVEN do a cost analysis of things, since these issues are almost never mentioned.

Supercharging can always avoid discussions of cost as long as Wall Street Loves Tesla.

But I’m curious about the cost issue where I am, since fast charging is apparently only occuring outside the Tesla space near downstate NY, nowhere near me.

John, not to dive too far into the weeds on a minor mention, but you accused CARB of “emasculating” the i3 REx. That is an unfair accusation; the only reason the BEVx category exists is because BMW lobbied CARB to create it, and BMW is the only manufacturer that has made (or intends to make) a car that meets that criteria.


BMW was perfectly able to release the Euro-spec i3 REx (with fully functional hold mode and a larger gas tank) in the States. They lobbied for the BEVx category and intentionally crippled the car because their priority was maximizing ZEV credits, not selling the most compelling car they could.

I believe this was also mentioned in the comments of your i3 article that you linked, so I’m not sure why you continue to blame CARB for BMW’s market choices.

Agree. Now that the i3 sales have suffered and not delivering the desired number of credits maybe BMW can snap out of it and bring the Euro-spec i3 this side of the pond along with the improved battery range. Hopefully it is not too late.

The issue of cost/profitable business plan is probably the most important one. Tesla covered it by combining the Model S with access to the SC network. If any other car companies want to sell EV’s in meaningful numbers, they are going to have to form a consortium of manufacturers, and bring in some entrepeneurs who have the money to patiently wait for the investment to pay off. And the payoff would be down the line, when BEV’s take off, they receive a royalty from every sale and then a % of the charging fee a driver pays. But this would take people with vision and willingness to risk it. Even a 200 mile BEV will occasionally have need for QC’ing, and that would generally mean highway and destination set ups. As in the SC locations, make them comfortable places to spend 15-30 minutes, restrooms, snacks, etc. It can be done, under the right circumstances. But I can’t see any of the current players (aside from Tesla)that would be willing to do this.

Funny thing is that the science to settle the infrastructure network question was published in 2008 already by MIT’s John Sterman and cooperators. They did it for hydrogen, but that does not matter. The argument was the same: Use top-down planned fuelling infrastructure in remote locations (read: along distant highways/interstates and destination charging in view points, tourist sites and the like), not in urban centers. This matters the most for adoption, since people want to be able to go where they feel like without much planning. The subsidies that are currently paid to buyers would thus better be invested in the SC infrastructure than in shaving off 15% of the costs for the cars (in the case of Leafs/BMWs). But is seems that only Tesla is able/willing to accept the science and also put their money where their (and the science’) mouth is: the long-distance and destination charging infrastructure. I don’t know why the others don’t seem willing to learn here, but I am sure it is a mixture involving: fear of change, short-term corporate bonuses, lack of vision, lack of insight, lack of willpower, lack of engineering skills etc. And what happens typically to those who lack in so… Read more »
This article and the associated PlugInsight survey have jumped to a ridiculous conclusion on little or no relevant data. They ask a minority of long-range Tesla drivers about route charging and conclude that, “further investment in public Level 2 charging is wasteful.” To summarize: 1) Public L2 is seldom used (<5% of charging events according to all BEV owners) 2) Often broken (according to 58% of Tesla owners) 3) Often occupied (according to 64% of Tesla owners) 4) And yet, 1/5 of all BEV owners really depend on public L2. So obviously we should abandon the cities and redirect our resources to DCFCs in remote areas? Is that correct? I don't believe that this is a zero-sum game. Urban vs rural. If anything, overcrowding at public L2 stations is exactly the signal retailers need to realize that there is a growing population of EVs. A mall without parking is a mall without customers. If they can afford to provide acres of asphalt they'll understand the need to provide adequate charging. Perhaps I'm unique, but all things being equal, I'll patronize the retailer who provides public charging. It didn't take too long for a few pricey hotspots to multiply into ubiquitous… Read more »
You are correct that its not urban vs rural. But long range cars like the Model S (and the next gen 200 mi cars) do not depend on Level 2 at retailers etc nearly as much as the shorter range cars. Level 2 destination chargers are a great help to have around to use, but only if they exist at your destination, and are available and functional. I view destination chargers as a good thing, their purpose being to reduce or eliminate time spent fast charging. So the fast charge network is the safety net that’s there to use when destination charging is not, wether it be in the metro or rural areas. It’s function is very important and can actually serve more cars for the cost than Level 2. Certainly longer range cars open up the possibility of intercity travel, and herein lies the focus of this Part 2 of the articles. In the NEXT DECADE, Level 2 will probably be more valuable for sub 100 mile EVs and plug-in hybrids in the metro areas, while DCFC will be primarily valuable for next gen EV intercity travel and in metro areas as well. Both are important to accomplish the… Read more »