Takeaways From GreenBiz Group’s VERGE 22

The transportation industry is on a fast track to contribute to the ambitious goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. Widespread electric vehicle (EV) adoption is moving farther beyond early adopters with each new driver and fleet that goes electric. An issue putting this momentum at risk, however, is an inconsistent and unreliable charging experience. While the transportation electrification industry in the US has experienced some growing pains, the market is responding to learnings and evolving. The question is, how can the industry collaborate to improve the US public charging experience, and ensure drivers and fleets have access to reliable and user-friendly EV charging infrastructure at the speed and scale necessary to meet the climate moment?

This question was the focal point of the “Improving the EV Charging Experience: A Workshop with Industry Stakeholders,” hosted in partnership with the ICF Climate Center at GreenBiz Group’s VERGE 22 conference, the leading climate tech event accelerating solutions to the most pressing challenges of our time. I had the opportunity to plan and lead the workshop, in partnership with Erika Myers, executive director of CharIn North America, and Vartan Badalian, transportation analyst at GreenBiz Group. The three of us hosted a candid conversation among 50 transportation electrification industry stakeholders to understand the current landscape and identify solutions to ultimately improve public EV charging for the long term.

The solutioning portion of the workshop was focused on installing more plugs in more places, and prioritizing a data-driven, sustainable approach to boosting reliability for EV charging infrastructure. It’s important to note that these two priorities go hand in hand when navigating a path forward to improving the EV charging experience. While there may never be a perfect balance, the ideal future will avoid two extremes: a huge number of unreliable public stations versus very reliable public charging stations that are few and far between.

Here’s a closer look:

More plugs are needed — everywhere.

Today, tens of thousands of EV charging stations are available across the US, installed in public areas, near workplaces, and at homes. But, to support widespread EV adoption, drivers need access to a robust network of charging stations, everywhere. Range anxiety — whether real or perceived — is still a primary industry barrier and EV drivers need ample options to build range confidence.

The top questions raised at the workshop focused on how the industry can deploy enough DC fast chargers without triggering problems for the grid, how local agencies can administer supportive ordinances, and how incentives and rate structures can improve the business case for EV charging station hosts. The group recognized that charging at home and work may be sufficient for many EV drivers, as well as depot charging for fleets, but there is a need for public charging, particularly to enable longer distance travel.

The bottom line: EV charging stations should be installed in four main places: where future users live, work, shop/play, and fuel. If the industry prioritizes the first three places, then the fourth will become a reality in the future. This focus, along with improving and promoting incentive programs and educational initiatives, will help close gaps across EV charging deserts.

The reality is that the US isn’t going to have more plugs everywhere right away. Intentionally advancing equity with EV charging infrastructure placement must be front-of-mind now, even while EV adoption is relatively low in many areas and among disadvantaged communities.

Prioritizing a data-driven, accountable and sustainable approach to increasing reliability.

In a nutshell, the current EV charging experience for users nationwide is unreliable. Drivers are frequently facing slower charging speeds than advertised, long charging wait times, and even broken chargers upon arrival. There are too many barriers to charging reliability in the current landscape.

Workshop participants brought up questions about who should be responsible for increasing reliability, how can reliability be equally ensured to support all kinds of technology, and how can the industry support workforce development to diagnose and remedy operational issues. Are there near term solutions for reliability that can be quickly implemented? How might the charging station operator business model change to ensure maximum station uptime?

There is not a one-size-fits-all approach or solution to enhancing reliability of EV charging systems. There are often multiple broken links in the chain of EV charging infrastructure, and the industry needs to consider how those are interrelated. Workforce development; increasing transparency of how to define, measure and evaluate reliability; and universal open standards, equipment interoperability, and standardized testing and certification are critical across hardware and software systems to ensure a reliable charging ecosystem.

This is just the beginning for improving the nation’s EV charging infrastructure.

Many workshop participants dedicated the past decade (or more) of their careers to advancing EVs and charging infrastructure, and the progress deserves recognition. The camaraderie and collective optimism was palpable. And while the workshop represented just a small fraction of the transportation electrification industry and perspectives, it is clear we have a big job ahead to improve EV charging infrastructure nationwide for today’s drivers, as well as tomorrow’s.

Our workshop ended with identifying effective, actionable outcomes on which to focus. The need for careful planning for charging stations, consideration of electric grid impacts, and prioritizing equity were top of mind for attendees, echoing key themes across ongoing industry discussions. Perhaps the most notable takeaway was that there is no one stakeholder responsible for ensuring reliable public charging. Whether it’s through workforce development programs, educational initiatives, policies, or technological investments, forward movement from industry leaders across every segment and category is pivotal to improve the EV charging experience for all.

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