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The US needs a robust EV-charging infrastructure. Who will build it?

April 22, 2021

Akshay Singh
Partner at Strategy&, PwC US

Over the next several years, scores of new models of electric vehicles (EVs) are planned to launch. But as automakers move from design to production, one variable looms large: the build-out of a national public EV charging infrastructure. There’s a lot at stake. According to the Alliance of Automotive Innovation, automakers are putting some $250 billion in EV development. The success of this enormous investment depends on cracking the public-charging infrastructure nut. In late March, the Biden administration unveiled a $2.25 infrastructure stimulus package that proposes grants to state and local governments — as well as the private sector — to install 500,000 EV chargers by 2030. These plans could give the national charging network a needed boost.

Powering millions of electric vehicles will be a daunting task 

So who’s going to develop an infrastructure to juice EVs over the next decade and beyond? By 2030, the number of EVs on America’s roads are projected to number 18.7 million, according to Edison Electric Institute, up from the current 1.4 million. Indeed, it’s an ambitious project to make sure charging keeps pace with EV adoption. Just consider that the current fueling infrastructure took over a century to build. In order to accommodate the charging needs of potentially millions of EV owners, it seems unlikely automakers will take a page out of Tesla’s playbook and develop a nationwide, proprietary charging infrastructure, given the enormous capital outlays needed. Since 2012, Tesla has stuck over 20,000 EV chargers into the ground. That’s about 20% of the 100,615 public EV charging outlets in the US as of March 2021, according to the US Department of Transportation. A 2021 PwC analysis (Electric vehicles and the charging infrastructure: a new mindset?, which will also be discussed during the Automotive News Congress Conversations webinar series) forecasts that when EVs comprise 5% of the national fleet (up from almost 2% today), we’ll need 235,000 new public charging outlets to make fueling EVs as convenient as conventional vehicles today. Meanwhile, the verdict is still out on how attractive EV charging infrastructure business models are. The same PwC analysis estimates it can cost up to $96,000 to install just one fast-charging Level 3 or Level 4 outlet, and that’s not including other costs such as property leasing or fees for connecting to the power grid.

EV-charging will mean wide-ranging collaborations

While still very much a work in progress, the development of a national EV charging infrastructure will most likely be a tag-team effort, achieved through partnerships and consortia that help spread the costs — and the risks. The main stakeholders in the mix include federal, state and local governments, electrical utilities, certain retailers (e.g., supermarkets, big box retailers, restaurants, parking garages), EV charging equipment makers and the major automakers (or original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs). Each player in this group is a potential beneficiary of mainstreaming public EV charging — whether it be meeting net-zero decarbonization goals and mandates or supporting a business model to achieve top- and bottom-line expectations.

Examples of these cross-industry and public-private partnerships are already appearing. Electrify America is on its way to build out a network of nearly 3,000 fast-charging outlets across the US. It has so far installed more than 1,900 DC fast chargers.

Utilities, retailers and automakers look to be major stakeholders   

Utilities stand to become major developers, too. Take, for example, a consortium of utilities and energy companies operating in the Midwest developing a network of charging stations across the Midwest. Its network of charging stations would stretch 1,200 miles from Detroit to Colorado. In July 2020, New York’s Public Service Commission followed California and other states investing in charging infrastructure when it approved a $700 million program (funded by utilities customers’ electricity bills) to help build more than 55,000 chargers by paying for part of the transmission upgrades and site preparation work needed to install them.

But some EV OEMs are taking charge in making sure there are public chargers for their customers — albeit in targeted markets. EV truck maker Rivian, for example, plans to install more than 10,000 Level 2 chargers spread across Colorado’s 42 state parks by the end of 2023, with chargers compatible with all modern EVs. In August 2020, General Motors announced it would team up with an EVGo to build 700 fast-charging stations (with 2,700 plus) through 2025, focusing on some metro areas, with some of the funding chipped in by utilities, governments and public-private partnerships.

Retailers, too, are well positioned to get into the charging game. Walmart, for example, continues to grow its network of chargers in parking lots; as of 2019, it has worked with charging vendors to install 1,138 charging stations at 288 retail locations in 37 states, — allowing shoppers to charge up while they shop.

In Europe, competing OEMs are joining forces to build a high-power charging network across Europe’s major highways through IONITY,  a joint venture of five major European and American automakers.  

Meanwhile, stateside, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation — an auto trade group representing most major global automakers — is pushing for pro-EV policies as well as policies that support charging. These include extending and expanding tax credits for charging station investments and easing building codes to allow for more snag-free charging installation.

Given the activity of so many players in the EV ecosystem as well as the momentous societal push for EoE (electrification of everything), it’s difficult to predict precisely how the future of EVs and charging needs will unfold over the next decade. One thing does seem clear: The success of EVs will be predicated on the success of a charging infrastructure build-out — and the partnerships and collaboration across a wide swath of stakeholders working together to develop it.

1“Automakers urge U.S. support for EV charging, R&D, incentives”, Reuters, December 15, 2020.
2Edison Electric Institute website.
3“Four Energy Companies Join Group Supporting Midwest EV Charging Network”, NGTnews.com, March 16, 2021.
4“Rivian charging network a backcountry counterpart to Tesla’s supercharger juggernaut?” greencarreports.com, March 21, 2021.
5“Electric car charging station numbers are rising; GM and EVgo to add 2,700 more”, AP, August 3, 2020.
6“2020 Walmart Environmental, Social & Governance Report”, Walmart company website, accessed on April 14, 2021.