- America’s electric vehicle charging network is installed, owned, and operated by a mix of private and public entities.
- Federal support, including incentives to develop charging infrastructure and low-cost financing, will be necessary to overcome private sector profitability concerns and accelerate the deployment of charging stations.
- The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would authorize $7.5 billion for EV charging infrastructure.
To accelerate the transition to electric vehicles (EVs) and reduce emissions from the transportation sector, many policymakers have called for billions in federal funding for EV charging infrastructure. Proponents say federal spending on charging stations is necessary to meet and encourage demand for EVs and to mitigate range anxiety—consumers’ reluctance to purchase EVs out of concern that there are not enough charging stations for them to recharge easily and travel freely.
As members of Congress weigh ambitious investments in charging infrastructure as part of a larger bipartisan infrastructure package, it’s worth examining the current network of charging stations to understand how federal dollars could help.
EVs, on average, produce significantly fewer life-cycle emissions than gas vehicles because emissions tend to be lower for electricity generation than gasoline or diesel. Emissions from EVs are also poised to fall in the future with related efforts to decarbonize the electric grid.
There are three primary types of charging stations:
- Level 1 and 2: Also known as alternate-current (AC) charging, these slower, less powerful chargers typically require 4-12 hours to completely charge a battery, depending on the voltage (with slow level 1 chargers mostly used for at-home charging). With a level 1 or 2 charger, a car can travel between about 4-35 miles after one hour of charging.
- Level 3: Also known as DC Fast charging, these more expensive chargers, on average, can fully charge an EV with a 100-mile range in a little over half an hour. These chargers are also the most expensive to install, and can cost from $50-$100k per unit.
- Wireless charging: this less common, lower-wattage option generally consists of a pad on the ground that connects to a receiving pad on the underside of a vehicle.
Because EV charging takes longer than refilling a gas tank, EV charging stations outside of the home tend to be in locations where people park their car for extended periods of time, such as business, commercial, or municipal parking lots. On the other hand, being able to recharge at home is itself a benefit. Most cars remain parked and connected to an at-home charger for 8-12 hours at night. Since most EV drivers can charge overnight and leave the house with a fully charged vehicle every day, they require stops to charge less often than gas vehicle drivers require stops to refuel.
There are currently over 43,000 level 2 and 3 public charging stations in the U.S., with about 105,000 outlets—compared to over 150,000 gas stations, most with multiple pumps. The Brattle Group estimates that the U.S. will require 1.25 million public charging outlets to support a projected 20 million (or between 10 million and 35 million) EVs by 2030, requiring investments totaling $30-$50 billion.
Our national charging infrastructure is installed, owned, and operated by a mix of private and public entities. Often, charging stations involve a partnership between property owners that host the charger and a separate entity that produces, operates, and supports the charger. Since charging station owners often do not generate their own electricity, when a customer uses a charging station, there are usually two transactions taking place: one between the driver and charging station operator and one between the operator and the electric utility for electricity use.
- Independent charging networks: Companies—including ChargePoint, EVgo, Blink, and Greenlots—offer charging station services for businesses, governments, homes, and other establishments, with varying business models. For example, ChargePoint sells chargers directly to property owners and charges a subscription fee, while EVgo owns and operates its charging stations, which are mostly DC Fast chargers.
- Auto manufacturers: Tesla, a leading EV manufacturer, oversees its own network of proprietary, extra-fast chargers in the U.S., which it sells to and installs for property hosts. Tesla’s network is the largest DC Fast network in the nation. Though its chargers currently only work with its own vehicles, CEO Elon Musk has indicated the company intends to open them to other vehicles in the future. Electrify America is another charging network—operated by Volkswagon and established to offset carbon emissions.
- Utility companies: Some electric utility companies are starting to provide their own EV charging networks. California has approved $1.2 billion for utility companies in California to install charging stations at homes and businesses since 2016. Eversource, a New England energy provider, is investing $45 million to install 3,500 charging ports by 2022. Regional utility alliances, such as the Electric Highway Association, are also teaming together to build networks.
The vast majority of charging stations are privately owned, with many commercial and residential real estate developers, major store chains, outlet malls, restaurants, and commercial parking lots partnering with independent charging networks to host EV charging stations in their parking spaces. Many municipalities also host charging stations in municipally-owned parking lots and garages.
Concerns about upfront installation costs and short-term profitability are major barriers to installing EV charging infrastructure for the private sector. Without government support, the private sector faces a bottleneck that limits charging deployment: more charging stations are required to encourage more EV purchases, but more EVs are needed on the road for charging stations to yield profits.
Most early buyers of EVs have been single-family homeowners who can plug in overnight. The lack of charging stations in multifamily residential buildings (frequently low- and middle-income families) and public spaces prevents those without the ability to install their own home chargers from purchasing EVs. This disparity in charging access also exacerbates the inequity in EV purchases that result from higher sticker prices. Many drivers for transportation network companies, such as Uber and Lyft, also live in disadvantaged communities, and such drivers require easy public access to chargers within their routes in order to maximize driving time.
Currently, there are few federal policies to support EV charging. Through December 2021, a federal tax credit can be claimed by commercial businesses that host charging stations for 30% of the total cost of purchase and installation (capped at $30,000). DOT has also established a National Alternative Fuels Corridor, a network of designated highways with signage to highlight routes with available charging stations. To qualify for designation, states nominate corridors that have stations open to the public within easy reach of roads.
In the American Jobs Plan, the Biden administration laid out its goal to reach 500,000 EV chargers nationwide by 2030, through a proposed $15 billion grant program. The plan would also extend the 30% federal tax credit for hosting charging stations. DOT has also outlined 15 federal programs it believes could fund EV charging infrastructure.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, now the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, would authorize $7.5 billion for EV charging infrastructure. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act adopts much of S. 1931, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act (STRA), which passed out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
The bill shows how additional federal spending on EV charging infrastructure might be disbursed. STRA would establish a competitive grant program to support EV charging infrastructure (and other alternative fuels) along designated National Alternative Fuels Corridors. It would be funded by the Highway Trust Fund at an average of $500 million annually for five years. States and local governments could use these funds to contract with private entities that acquire and install publicly accessible EV chargers. Private entities receiving grant funding via states could use funds for operating assistance for five years before independently operating chargers. The bill would require that 50% of program funds be designated for public roads, schools, parks, and publicly accessible parking facilities that serve rural or low-income communities.
Surface transportation legislation that passed in the House, H.R. 3684, the INVEST in America Act, included $4 billion ($1 billion a year for four years) in formula funding for charging stations along the National Alternative Fuels Corridor. Amendments to the bill included over $36 billion in additional EV incentives that can be used for charging infrastructure, including an equity program for EV charging in underserved areas and funding for state energy plans that include charging infrastructure. Separately, a group of 28 House Democrats recently called for $85 billion in funding for EV charging infrastructure.
Some federal policymakers have proposed new financing tools to leverage private capital for charging infrastructure. For example, the Greener Transportation for Communities Act would create a new category of Exempt Facility Bonds for EV charging stations, allowing entities that already issue these private activity bonds to finance charging infrastructure projects. The American Jobs Plan included a proposal for a Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator, also known as a national “green bank,” which would provide loans for energy-efficient projects with projected revenues and could be used to finance charging infrastructure as Connecticut’s green bank has done.
State-level policy is also crucial to encourage EV charging deployment. So far, states have been more active and impactful than the federal government in facilitating EV charging. States have implemented a range of incentives such as rebates, tax credits and exemptions, grants, and loans for private entities that install charging stations. States have also passed EV infrastructure mandates requiring that certain new buildings be equipped with EV charging stations and have required utilities to develop plans to invest in charging infrastructure.
New federal investment will be necessary to overcome private sector profitability concerns and accelerate deployment of charging infrastructure nationwide. As Congress advances infrastructure legislation, it will have to ensure expansion is rapid enough to meet our urgent climate goals while facilitating substantial private investment.