A significant obstacle to widespread EV adoption is the need for reliable and accessible charging infrastructure.
The electric-vehicle revolution is well underway, but before EVs can replace gasoline-powered vehicles, it’s necessary to solve significant technical, logistical, and political challenges. Specifically, a significant obstacle to widespread EV adoption is the need for reliable and accessible charging infrastructure.
One place that has seen great success in accelerating the adoption of EVs is the European Union. Many consider the EU’s current EV legislation as the gold standard, and as such, it represents an important learning opportunity from which other countries can draw.
In this article, we look at some current EV and charging challenges. We also discuss the legislation that may be necessary to resolve them and the lessons we can learn from the EU’s efforts.
CURRENT EV AND CHARGING CHALLENGES
The United States has several obstacles to overcome, ranging from technical to political, before reaching widespread adoption of EVs.
Lack of natural resources
Among these challenges, one of the major concerns is the lack of abundance of natural resources required to produce EVs. Specifically, the production of EV batteries relies heavily on a small number of raw materials—namely, cobalt, lithium, copper, and nickel. While lithium-ion battery production has increased significantly in past decades, the demand for EV batteries is severely challenging the supply chain that underlies the industry.
Today, this increased demand coupled with pandemic-related supply chain shortages is leading to a shortage of these necessary raw materials. This results in non-trivial socioeconomic roadblocks because material scarcity drives up the price of EVs and makes replacing traditional automobiles with EVs less economically feasible for the consumer.
Charging infrastructure challenges
Beyond the material challenges facing EV production, another major issue in the U.S. is developing the charging infrastructure necessary to make a transition to EVs. From a consumer perspective, a major concern preventing the shift from gasoline-powered automobiles to EVs is range anxiety: the fear of running out of battery charge. It has become abundantly clear that solving this range anxiety is going to be one of the most critical factors in enabling EV adoption. To this end, developing a widespread and easily accessible EV charging infrastructure is a necessary pursuit.
However, designing the charging infrastructure poses several technical challenges that are yet to be solved. Specifically, as more charging infrastructure is added, the increased load is expected to put an unprecedented strain on the grid. The highly unpredictable charging patterns of EVs matched with their high concentration in urban and suburban areas can make it extremely hard to maintain balance (i.e., equal production and consumption of electricity) within the grid. While some states currently have the excess capacity available to keep up with the anticipated increases in demand caused by EVs, many others do not.
Unless legislation lays out a clear plan for phasing out gasoline-powered automobiles and incentivizes people to follow suit, it is going to be tough for many consumers to adopt EVs.
To address the shortages in raw materials, the U.S. needs to push legislation to support and open more mining facilities. However, beyond just mining capabilities, this legislation must be written in an environmentally friendly way, incentivizing companies to open more sustainable mining operations that feature higher efficiencies and produce less waste. By subsidizing these efforts, the U.S. government may be able to bring more of the necessary EV battery materials to market. The goal would be lowering the cost of vehicles and consumers being more open to adopting EVs in place of gasoline vehicles.
Looking at EV charging challenges, many believe that the U.S. government needs to help subsidize the development of charging infrastructure in each state. Although the past year has seen good progress in that direction, additional steps are necessary.
For example, beyond just adding charging stations, we need to think about ways to enable EV charging without overstressing the grid. Legislation to fund and support improved grid production capacity will be crucial to avoiding a grid unbalance. It is best if the increase in production comes from sustainable sources such as solar and wind energy. Further, legislation should support the development of technologies such as load balancing and vehicle-to-grid (V2G), which allow the EV charging infrastructure to communicate to the grid to ensure safe operation.
LEARNING FROM THE EU: THE IMPORTANCE OF EDUCATION
Recent infrastructure bills in the U.S. have shown momentum, but these efforts pale in comparison to what’s being done currently in the EU.
Impressively, the EU has implemented strong legislation that is pushing for the complete phase-out of gasoline-powered vehicles, including an agreement to ban the sale of all non-zero-emission vehicles by 2035. The fervor for the legislation is reflected in the actions of EU citizens. According to certain reports, 21% of vehicles sold in the EU in August 2022 were EVs.
One thing that can be learned from the EU is the importance of educating people about the benefits of EVs. To start a positive trend, consumers must understand the monetary and environmental benefits of EVs. This education has been key to the EU’s successes.
Even moving beyond the consumer, it may be valuable for countries like the U.S. to begin educating its legislative leaders. Many politicians may not have a full understanding of the technology and its benefits, leading them to reject certain policies that could catalyze the adoption of EVs. If legislators are educated enough, the people who support them will follow suit. Everything could cascade from there, providing the infrastructure at a faster pace and prioritizing EVs over anything else.
INVESTING IN OUR FUTURE
Significant challenges face the transition from traditional to electric vehicles, and not all of them are technological. Logistical, socioeconomic, and political issues are other factors to address if we truly want to achieve widespread EV adoption.
The U.S. can learn from and emulate the success of other countries—the EU in particular. To achieve the future we want, we must educate ourselves and our legislators so that we can start investing in what we desperately need.
This article was originally published on EE Times.
Sai Srinivas C. Petluru is an EV connectivity systems specialist at Cummins Inc.
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