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Does the power grid have enough juice to keep up with EV sales?

The rapid rise in demand for electric vehicles (EVs) throughout the world is a boon for the green economy and could play a significant role in helping to keep within the Paris Agreement's 2 degrees Celsius target — but the race is on to ensure the infrastructure is there to ensure these vehicles don't run out of juice while on the move.

According to a new report, a dramatic surge in U.S. sales of electric vehicles is expected this year which will require a rapid increase in fast public charging network capacity across the country in order to keep up with the changing demands of EV drivers.

Led by investment firm Vision Ridge Partners, which bought charging network EVgo last year, the study projects a 75 percent growth in EV sales in 2017 alongside increased demand for public fast-charging networks in order to ease range anxiety associated with battery vehicles. The study, carried out by Navigant Research, highlights the 20 percent year-on-year rise in U.S. EV sales seen in 2016, and projects that by 2021 battery electric vehicle sales could be as much as 500 percent higher than they were last year.

And, while many EV car owners will have the capability of powering up their vehicles at home, increasingly drivers will need to be able to charge their vehicles in public places in order to ensure they have enough battery power to complete their journeys.

[Learn more about connected transportation and mobility at VERGE 17 in Santa Clara, California, Sept. 19-21.]

The report also warns the sharp rise in EV ownership could increase pressure on existing charging network infrastructure in the U.S. far beyond the current capacity, which — due to charging speed, availability and network size — is "insufficient to provide necessary range assurance for many drivers."

As a result, the report recommends a widespread rollout of DC fast chargers across the U.S. that are capable of delivering a near-full EV charge within 30 minutes, with more chargers in and around public places such as supermarket car parks where drivers leave their vehicles for longer time periods.

"By providing drivers access to public charging stations, this network of fast chargers would reduce range anxiety, support drivers who may not have access to a home charging network, and allow BEV [battery electric vehicle] drivers more flexibility, proving that BEVs do not limit drivers and can be easily integrated into their regular lifestyle," said Lisa Jerram, principal research analyst at Navigant Research. "Moreover, a comprehensive public fast charging network would support additional BEV sales, creating a virtuous cycle of increasing charging stations and BEV ownership."

The report follows news this week EV manufacturer Tesla plans to double the size of its own global supercharging network in order to pave the way for the release of its mass-market Model 3 vehicle, which is set to hit the roads later this year following a huge number of advance orders.

The company has 5,400 rapid "supercharger" points in its roadside network and a further 9,000 "Destination Chargers" in hotels, resorts and restaurants that are all free for Tesla customers to use. But the firm's latest plans would see those numbers rise to 10,000 and 15,000 respectively, with the expansion focused largely in the U.S. 

Following the Tesla announcement, Jonathan Levy, director of policy and strategy at Vision Ridge Partners, said Tuesday's research vindicated his company's decision to invest in EVgo, which operates around 700 fast chargers in the U.S. "Today's report further demonstrates the critical role public fast charging will play in the future of advanced transportation and unleashing massive growth in the electric vehicle market," he said.

The findings echo similar concerns raised by car manufacturers and energy firms in the U.K. and Europe about charging capacity for electric vehicles, despite a flurry of recent EV chargepoint installation announcements. A recent report from think tank Green Alliance, which was backed by E.ON and Siemens, warned that from 2020 a surge in sales of EVs and solar panels could place intense pressure on the U.K.'s grid.

However, moves are underway to expand the U.K.'s charging network. With EV sales up more than 27 percent in the U.K. this year, the Source London EV charging network this week said it was on track to deliver 1,000 chargers across the U.K. capital by the end of 2017, while the network's operator — BluepointLondon — announced a joint agreement with SSE Energy to ensure 100 percent of the power provided to its EV customers through the charge points comes from wind or hydropower sources. 

A dramatic surge in U.S. sales of electric vehicles is expected this year which will require a rapid increase in fast public charging network capacity across the country.

Separately this week, charge point specialist POD Point announced a partnership with property services firm Saville to jointly promote the benefits of installing EV charging infrastructure at the real estate giant's U.K. retail sites. Transport for London said it would invest in $23 million in installing 300 chargepoints across the capital to support plans for a new fleet of plug-in taxis. But evidently, many in the industry — including Tesla, Siemens and Renault-Nissan — are still anxious. In March, a new partnership of these EV manufacturers, NGOs and energy trade bodies came together to form the Platform on Electric Mobility to urge EU member states to rapidly accelerate the rollout of electric car and rail infrastructure, with more publicly accessible charging stations one of their top demands. The group said only around half of EU member states so far have submitted their EV charging infrastructure plans, as required under the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive 2014.

Rising demand for EVs is evidently boosting green business opportunities for associated fast charging infrastructure and clean energy suppliers. Meanwhile, as commentators long have predicted, the potential for EVs to integrate with smart grid technologies could have a transformative impact across the economy, in much the same way as mobile phones revolutionized countless sectors two decades ago. However, the vision of all-electric road transport is still a long way from reality, and for now the race is on to ensure electric vehicles and charge points speed towards their eventual destination together.

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