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EV charging infrastructure hits the big time

But along with a tidal wave of Wall Street and federal funding, many challenges remain for how to roll out charging infrastructure in a cost-effective manner that will support an electric vehicle transition for all communities,


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Electric vehicle charging — long only the concern of early adopter EV owners, Google campus commuters and Tesla — is emerging into the spotlight this year like never before in American history.

And Wall Street is paying attention. ChargePoint, a 14-year-old charging player, started trading Monday on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol CHPT. ChargePoint CEO Pasquale Romano, who rang the bell virtually (thanks, pandemic), described his company in a statement as "the first publicly traded electric vehicle charging company operating across continents." 

It won't be the last. EVgo, a rival that focuses on deploying fast-charging stations, is set to go public in the coming weeks as well. Tesla, which owns and operates one of the largest fast-charging EV networks in the world to support its EV customers, has seen its stock soar over the past year — turning CEO Elon Musk into one of the richest men in the world. 

Part of the enthusiasm is that, with the Biden administration in Washington, D.C., the U.S. federal government appears poised to aggressively invest in EV charging infrastructure. The new administration is laying the groundwork for its next big priority: a major infrastructure bill that could include the largest U.S. government funding measure committed for EV charging.

But along with a tidal wave of Wall Street and federal funding, a lot of challenges remain for how to roll out charging infrastructure in a cost-effective manner that will support an electric vehicle transition for all communities — not just wealthy homeowners. Investors, policymakers, automakers, utilities, companies and city planners are all grappling with what the optimal and evolved future of EV charging will look like.

A few things are clear. Consumer EV owners do the vast majority of their charging at home using Level 2 chargers, which are slow (several hours) to use and pretty inexpensive to install. EV owners are fueling up their EVs as they charge their cell phones, and a lot of home charging is just topping off batteries overnight. 

A small number of consumer EV trips — such as a road trip — might require stops at a fast charger, which can fill up a battery in 30 minutes or less. Fast chargers are expensive to install and require a lot of electricity. They're more like the gas station model for EVs. 

At the same time, fast chargers are beginning to be desired by those with EV fleets, such as ride-hailing drivers and corporate fleet managers on campuses. As fleet managers expand their use of EV trucks and vans, fast chargers will help with encouraging EV adoption and making drivers more comfortable.

Likewise, public fast chargers for consumer EV owners will help grow the overall market for EVs, as the Wall Street Journal emphasized in a column last weekend. EV owners might use public fast chargers less frequently than home charging, but just having the option for a fast charge on-the-go can help convert a new EV customer. 

Clearly for EVs to move into the mainstream, we'll have to have a combination of the cell phone charging model and the gas station fueling model.

And then there's the tech and business model innovation that likely will emerge as the sector matures and creates entirely new charging models: wireless charging; battery swapping; batteries that move EVs for 500 miles on a single charge. As electric vehicles proliferate over the next decade, the charging model that eventually will dominate could look very different from what it does today. 

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