When Will Electric-Car Charging Stations Exceed Gas Stations?

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Scenes from dedication of electric-car charging station at Creekside Inn, Palo Alto, CA

Scenes from dedication of electric-car charging station at Creekside Inn, Palo Alto, CA

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The topic of public charging stations for electric cars isn't necessarily well understood.

The release of Electric Vehicle Charging Equipment, a report by Pike Research on deployment of charging infrastructure, led us to wonder: When will the number of public charging stations for electric cars in the U.S. exceed the number of gas stations?

Analyst Lisa Jerram replied to our questions on the report--whose four-figure cost prevents us from reading it--with the following estimate:

For the U.S., I tend to see estimates of around 150,000 gas stations. It varies, but that seems in the ballpark. 

If you look just at [publicly accessible charging stations] (not home or workplace units, or private units), that seems about equivalent to a retail gas station. 

Our forecasts show that the cumulative number of public charging stations would surpass 150,000 in the latter part of this decade, around 2018.

In this case, "units" means any one charging station, whether it has single or multiple charging outlets.

Since there could be multiple units at a single location, Jerram admits her estimate is "a bit vague" on when the actual number of charging outlets--or units, or sites--would exceed the number of gas stations.

Jerram's analysis says that while fewer than 200,000 units of electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) will be sold globally this year, that number will rise to almost 2.4 million a year by 2020.

That year, the report suggests, there will be 11.4 million electric-vehicle charging stations in operation worldwide.

“The industry is now trying to devise successful business models for deploying stations in public locations," says Jerram, a senior research analyst at Pike.

And, she says, that effort "will become increasingly urgent as government funding winds down.”

How important the deployment of EVSEs is to adoption of electric cars depends on who you talk to.

Some advocates maintain that electric cars can never succeed without widespread and easily accessible public charging.

2011 Nissan Leaf plugged into an EVgo quick-charging station, Texas

2011 Nissan Leaf plugged into an EVgo quick-charging station, Texas

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Others cite experience in a Japanese electric-car trial by Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) to suggest that while the presence of public charging stations increases driver confidence and miles covered in electric cars, the stations don't actually get used a great deal.

Still others note that while the stations do get used, at least some of that usage is "opportunistic charging" that serves more to increase confidence--and take advantage of free charging, where it exists--than to provide critical range for cars that couldn't otherwise be charged anywhere else.

Electric-car advocate Chelsea Sexton, for one, thinks it's more important to get plug-in cars on the road.

If the cars come, she argued recently in Wired, the charging stations--which are relatively inexpensive compared to any other kind of fueling infrastructure--will inevitably follow.

How important do you think public charging stations are for plug-in electric cars?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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Comments (18)
  1. I would like to start a campaign that says we don't need 150K public charging stations for EV's to be viable. I saw a statistic that said 89% of Leaf drivers only charge at home. I only charge my Leaf at home and I've never put myself in a position to need charging outside my garage. It's crazy expensive anyways. Most of the people who cry out for more infrastructure don't actually own an electric car so they argue from a standpoint of ignorance. If they bought an EV and then ran the numbers for what public charging costs then they too would charge at home. Free chargers are rare and then you have potential availability issues with rare free charging. All the infrastructure you need is at home or a guaranteed charger at work.

  2. If all the driving you ever do remains within 30~50 miles of your home, great, you don't need public charging.

    I personally find it very valuable that my EV could go beyond this limit if I wanted to, and public fast-charging (aka level-3) makes this both possible and practical.

    Cost is secondary. Bill me 1$/kW*h or 1$/minute, I'd be happy to pay this, because it means I can enjoy very cheap (and silent) miles at all other times, and I don't have to get or rent another vehicle for those occasional longer trips. I can just go.

    Slow (L2) public charging is mostly pointless.
    Fast (L3) charging though tremendously increases the usefulness of more affordable, otherwise range-limited EVs, and is therefore IMHO key for their wider adoption.

  3. I find this a completely spurious comparison. EV's are charged at home and at work. That's how it goes. Even in Israel, within the Better Place system we'll never want or need anything like the number of gas stations because the majority of energy will be delivered to us at home! There just is no analogue to this in the liquid fuel world!

  4. Wow, someone deleted my post.

  5. No, it's there, but GCR comments are a bit unreliable when first posted. Try alternating between posted order and most recent tabs and see what pops up.

  6. Nevermind, its back.

  7. Let's see, I think I have about 8 "charging stations" within my office. So perhaps there are already more "charging stations.

    Echoing some other comments, the cost of charging stations is "incidental" compared to the cost of the cars, or the cost of a gas station.

  8. I don't think it is the number of stations vs charging stations. It is the charging rate vs. filling rate issues.

    Typical gas station have anywhere between 4-6 pumps. A car/truck/suv usually takes no more than 10 mins to fill up and then the station can be used by other cars.

    Now, electric charging stations will be "solely" occupied for at least 1-2 hours for the EV owners to have any significant charges at current charging rates.

    The main issue is 0-100 miles "fill up" rate. Until we have 100KW charger built-in EVs and we have a network of them, it is "pointless" to compare public charging stations vs. gas stations.

    With that, EV stations don't have to be the same as gas stations. "work place" charging stations are important.

  9. a charging station isn't like a gas station, because the rates are so different.
    a typical EV user will charge at home and work.

    the real question would be, when will there be enough Level 3 chargers to allow a EV driver to drive 400 miles per day, in a 10 hour day, cross country trip.

    i'd guess about 5-10 years. certain corridors like the I-5 and I-95 are already open, but I-10,40, 90. may take a while

  10. for those interested, there are about 100,000 Gas stations in the US, so if we have 100K, charging points in the US, we are there when probably we have about 80K plug in cars sold.

    Now that said, a Level 3 charger is closer to a gas station, but do we need 100,000 of them? we don't need them at originating points or end points, we need them in locations that are at range points to different cars.

    Tesla is looking at doing some 200 chargers which will support the Roadster and Model S. Nissan would need 2000. Chevy volt would need 50,000.

    but, it's a matter of demand, need and markets, and as these cars sell, we will see more of the stations meeting the need.

  11. If you include all the 240V electric outlets and 120V outlets out there rated to charge EVs, then you are already way ahead...

    Last time I looked, most homes don't come with "gas stations"...

  12. public charging is necessary. not all of us can afford to buy a big enough battery to address our transportation needs. public charging allows a much lower price point entry which then opens up the technology to a more budget minded buyer. sure, its inconvenient but that is how it works. I know plenty of people driving Focuses and Corollas with 2-3 kids and would love to be in a SUV or mini-van but choose to spend their money on something else besides a car that only fits when the entire family is going in the same direction

  13. Over 90% of charging will continue to happen at home. It's much more convient and cost-effective. But the question isn't when there will be 150K public charging stations, but when will their number exceeds that of gas stations, which presumably will be declining as EV's gain prominence.

    But also consider that a quick-charge that will get a LEAF maybe 60 highway miles takes about 30 minutes, while a gas pump can "supply" around 300 miles in 5 minutes, making a pump roughly 30 times faster than a single quick charger, and can therefore serve many times more cars in a given day. And level-2 charging is several times slower still. So, we'll need many more public charging stations per EV for the small fraction that do need to charge on the go.

  14. My family owns two cars and a pickup truck. When I need to do a road trip {vacation} once every year or so, I'll just use a gas hog and leave the EV at home. Problem solved. I realize everyone does not have multiple vehicles to choose from, but the vast majority of families in the US do.

  15. QuikSun will be the future of infrastructure of electric charging stations. Keep a look out for them!

  16. Some posters here are forgetting that not everyone lives in a house. Millions of people live in apartments and don't have the option of installing charging units. Having more public charging stations broadens the appeal of electric cars.

  17. So the question is: When will the number of outlets that can be reached by EV's be more than the number of gas stations? No, that's not it. When will the number of outlets that can charge an EV with a full days driving equal the number gas stations. No that's not it either.

    Let's see, when will the number of outlets that can be used to make a business case for putting up a sign that says EV CHARGING out number gas stations, yes that's about right.

    Whatever that number date and number amounts too, it must be a heck of a lot easier to reach, than spending over a million dollars a copy (in 2012 dollars) to build out the number of gas stations that exist now. One at a time over the past 100 years!

  18. The day eletric cars come to Brazil the petrol industry will collapse! We have etanol that is cheaper than gas but eletricity is even more cheaper here! I don't even pay for the lights in my house and we don't have any generator!

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