Emerging best practices for electric vehicle charging infrastructure

Published: 2017.10.04

Dale Hall, Nic Lutsey

This report provides a global assessment of charging infrastructure deployment practices, challenges, and emerging best practices in major electric vehicle markets. Although most early adopters charge their vehicles at home, public charging is an important part of the electric vehicle ecosystem, and is the primary focus of this analysis to help inform questions about government policy and funding. We analyze public charging infrastructure in the top electric vehicle markets globally, including a statistical analysis on the relationship between public charging and electric vehicle uptake. Our analysis is at the metropolitan area level to better discern local infrastructure variation, practices, and circumstances.

We find that charging infrastructure availability varies greatly at a local level. We offer four high-level conclusions on the fast-developing charging infrastructure around the world.

Public charging infrastructure is a key to growing the electric vehicle market. Using a multivariable regression of 350 metropolitan areas, we find that both Level 2 and DC fast charging infrastructure are linked with electric vehicle uptake, as are consumer purchase incentives. We therefore corroborate other research on the importance of developing charging infrastructure in unison with electric vehicle deployment. The leading electric vehicle markets of Norway and the Netherlands have more than 10 times as many public charge points per capita as average markets, and leading markets in California and China had three to five times the average. Yet the significant charging variability across the hundreds of cities analyzed in this study points to major differences across the electric vehicle markets regarding the role of public charging. As the global electric vehicle market grows—likely by at least a factor of 10 by 2025—so too will the need for much more public charging infrastructure.

There is no universal benchmark for the number of electric vehicles per public charge point. Electric vehicle owners in California more frequently have access to home and workplace charging, and one public charger per 25 to 30 electric vehicles is typical. In the Netherlands, private parking and charging are relatively rare, and one public charger per 2 to 7 electric vehicles is typical. This ratio ranges from 3 to 6 in major markets in China, and these cities typically had the highest percentages of rapid charging. Given the wide variation of public charging availability across markets with higher electric vehicle uptake, and their differing housing and population density characteristics, it seems clear that there is no ideal global ratio for the number of electric vehicles per public charge point. Comparisons of similar markets still offer an instructive way to understand where and how charging is insufficient. Lagging electric markets can strive toward the leading benchmarks of comparable cities, while top markets continue to set new benchmarks as the market and its charging infrastructure coevolve.

Multifaceted and collaborative approaches have been most successful in promoting early charging infrastructure buildout. Governments at the local, regional, and national levels around the world have used varied strategies to promote public and private charging infrastructure. Successful programs have transparently engaged many stakeholders through integration of driver feedback on charger deployment, implementation of smart charging systems, distribution of funding to local governments, creation of public-private partnerships, and consultation with electric utilities. To address changing needs in this growing market, governments create and fund programs that target difficult market segments, such as curbside charging stations, multi-unit dwellings, and intercity fast charging.

Barriers to the deployment of the ideal electric vehicle charging network remain. Despite all the electric vehicle improvements entering the market, charging infrastructure still suffers from fragmentation, inconsistent data availability, and a lack of consistent standards in most markets. Open standards for vehicle–charge point communication and payment may mitigate some of these issues by enabling interoperability between charging networks, increasing innovation and competition, and reducing costs to drivers. As demonstrated by successful efforts in the Netherlands, governments may wish to require data collection and the use of open standards for publicly funded projects to help market development.