In fact, the federal government has required that states applying for public charging provide plans detailing how they will support a new workforce to serve them. “One of the biggest things that we’re really excited about is the continued emphasis on reliability,” says Walter Thorn, Product Manager at ChargerHelp, which provides operation and maintenance services for charging companies and government agencies. The company works with the Society of Automotive Engineers, an international standards organization, to define what skills are required for charger maintenance and create certifications for them. This is a first step to educate more EV charger repair shops.
Meanwhile, many chargers need to get into the ground. EVGo, one of the country’s largest charging companies, says it currently has over 4,500 chargers in its engineering and construction pipeline, the most in its more than decade history. And right now, installing a new charger can take years.
Part of the delay is due to an important but overslept issue: approval. Rapid chargers that can charge a car battery in less than an hour require significant construction work. The process of getting them into the ground doesn’t vary much from site to site — it requires coordination with utility companies, digging trenches, and installing equipment.
But the process for getting permission to do so can be very different in each jurisdiction or city, experts say. Charging companies have called for a streamlined process that applies to many different locations — one that could, for example, perform an automated local safety and compliance check, like the one the Department of Energy put in place when it funded a similar solar panel program.
Meanwhile, pandemic-era shortages of electrical appliances, and particularly transformers, have dragged on. “There’s a reason you need to start early,” Matt Horton, CEO of charging company Voltera, said in an interview last year. Getting even the most carefully planned charger up and running can take longer than many governments or electric vehicle owners realize.
If the great American charging project is to be successful, companies need to know that there will be money for charging EVs once the current federal money festival is over. While it may seem obvious that electric vehicles will eventually become so widespread that charging can be a good deal, it’s unclear exactly when and how.
Companies that build or operate charging networks fear competition from monopolistic municipal utilities that build their own chargers and, in some federal states, charging station operators can charge significantly more for electricity at peak load times. There are also concerns that, despite heavy spending by the US government, there may not be enough public funds available.
Chargers come with high upfront fixed costs, including real estate acquisition and construction. In locations with relatively few electric vehicles, the payback on this investment can take a long time. States are required by the Climate Act to build chargers every 50 miles of highway, regardless of local EV traffic. “There is a need for help,” General Motors senior strategist of EV policy Jamie Hall said at an industry event in December. “Today’s business case for highway corridor fast charging can be difficult.”
Some more optimistic industry watchers see this as a short-term problem that can be solved in the next half decade or so — and before public funds run out. Mullaney, the Rocky Mountain Institute analyst, says a lot of investment capital is pouring into company fees. The idea is that companies that can build charging infrastructure now and get drivers used to using it could benefit from their loyalty for decades to come. “We’re approaching a tipping point where public charging stations will both really be needed and start making money,” he says. In other words, hard work can pay off.