Short Take: Will DC Fast Charger Do The Trick?

A big part of President Biden’s green plan to electrify motor vehicles is to spend $5 billion to create a national network of direct current fast chargers. Not that there aren’t a dozen other issues still to be faced, but the perception is that the inability to get your EV charged so that you can drive on a trip further than its current distance capacity is a huge drawback to people buying electric vehicle.

The taxpayer-funded charging network is a cornerstone of President Biden’s ambition to electrify America’s transportation sector.

  • He wants half of all new cars sold to be electric by 2030 — but many car buyers won’t consider an EV without assurances that they’ll be able to charge quickly, especially on long road trips.
  • The plan, which calls for installing up to 500,000 direct-current “fast chargers” along the nation’s most heavily traveled highways, could boost drivers’ confidence, EV advocates and policymakers say.

How long would it take to charge an EV at one of these taxpayer funded DC fast chargers? Apparently, between 15 and 45 minutes is the current estimate. Whether you’re prepared to sit at the Arby’s on the interstate for 45 minutes is one open question. No doubt some will argue that it’s not such a great burden to burn a few minutes to save the planet. Some will not be so patient. Even if the wait is only 15 minutes, it’s likely to prove to be too long for some. At a whopping 45 minutes, it’s likely to be too long for most people, an undue burden on a trip where travel time is a big deal.

But is this ripe for investment yet? Aside from the other issues that remain unresolved, from the cost of vehicles, battery life, repairability, city charging, vehicle lifespan, are we at the point where technology is sufficiently established that the infrastructure built today would be adequate 10 years from now? For those who find this an easy question, consider the transition from floppy disk, to diskette, to CD, to Zip, to thumb drive. Or we could use music or movies, at every stage the newest being the ultimate delivery mechanism, reaching the pinnacle of tech brilliance, all until the next gen came along an displaced it overnight.

Will this happen with charging? Will the next gen require entirely different infrastructire, or will the infrastructure built today constrain tech development in the future because it’s there already and has to be used?

Is this the right way to plan for an EV future, to build first and worry about whether it will work later? Move fast, break stuff? Chicken and egg? You have to start somewhere and this is as good, if not better, a place than any?

There is a cost associated with trying untried and potentially ill-considered changes for the future, particularly when they’re taxpayer funded. The issue isn’t whether the infrastructure should be taxpayer funded, although it’s not as if we don’t have gas stations now that are private owned as profit centers. If electrical charging were profitable, wouldn’t an enterprising woman build out the infrastructure and make a killing on juicing up your Tesla?

Or is this just another feel-good vagary that gives rise to the feeling of doing something about global warming for no wiser reason than to convey the feeling, as we’re still a ways off from being technologically ready to sink major investments into infrastructure for a future that, as of now, not many people want or need, and is not yet ready for prime time?

Will 45 minute “fast charging” make you run out and buy an EV? And where will the electricity come from that charges the car anyway?

 

39 thoughts on “Short Take: Will DC Fast Charger Do The Trick?

  1. Mike V.

    “Or is this just another feel-good vagary that gives rise to the feeling of doing something about global warming for no wiser reason than to convey the feeling, as we’re still a ways off from being technologically ready to sink major investments into infrastructure for a future that, as of now, not many people want or need, and is not yet ready for prime time?”

    To ask the question is to know the answer. There is also the “who gets the bid to build those charging stations and what is in there for them. Additionally look at how phone chargers and USB cables have evolved. That does not give me confidence that the stations built now will fit cars made ten years hence.

    Reply
  2. Paleo

    Because this is being driven by politics instead of rational planning, we’re putting the cart several miles before the horse again. If you’re going to wait 30 minutes for a charge at one of these stations you need to have electricity available to charge them with.

    Where is all this extra power going to come from? We’re shutting down nukes and nobody is gonna build more coal or natural gas plants in this environment. Several states are suffering from regularly brownouts in the summer. Renewables you say? Sure. Put aside the unsolved reliability issues – before the facilities can generate power they need to, you know, exist. Nobody is building renewable plants at a rate anywhere near the level needed for this.

    And here’s the dirty secret that will be prominent once they start trying. Solar and wind are very land inefficient. It takes a huge footprint for one of those facilities to generate power equivalent to a nuke or gas plant. The amount of land that will have to be condemned and taken is enormous. Farmers everywhere are going to resist and lawsuits will jam the courts.

    So, to answer the question in the headline, no it won’t do the trick. Because things are being done out of order.

    Reply
    1. Guitardave

      Make Wokeev’s your official government sponsored E-car charging choice!
      We guarantee you a mostly peaceful recharge at the best prices!!

      Reply
  3. Lee Keller King

    Considering that Texas may be having California-style rolling brown-outs this year and the probability that we will have a least one hurricane that will kill our power for days or weeks, I will pass on buying an EV.

    Now a hybrid, that is a horse of a different color and my next vehicle will probably be a hybrid.

    Reply
  4. RCJP

    I drive a hybrid, prinarily to financially survive my 100-mile daily round trip.

    I’d thought EVs were mainly pie-in-the sky sillyness. A potentially viable future technology whose time has not yet come.

    But I read somewhere recently about hurricane evacuations. The kind where both sides of a highway get routed inland and a couple of million fleeing people clog the roads.

    How do chargers meet demand in that scenario? And can the grid power them?

    And what about afterwards when the grid doesn’t function?

    Internal combustion isn’t issue-free in that scenario, but it seems those issues are more easily mitigated

    Reply
  5. Quinn Martindale

    If you regularly drive more than 100 miles or so a day, an EV is a bad solution for you, and adding more DC chargers won’t meaningfully change that. The past few years have shown that DC chargers are awful at handling surges in demand. I drive a Chevy Bolt, and an occasional 200 mile trip is pretty easy with getting 10-15 minutes of fast charging, but we take by wife’s hybrid on holiday weekends because the chargers slow down the more people use them, and waiting for others is a huge headache. In areas with large amounts of EVs like California, there are hours longs waits to charge during holiday weekends, and running out of charge makes running out of gas look pleasant.

    Reply
  6. David

    Your comparison of power delivery to floppy disks is not a good analogy. Power delivery is a very mature technology. You are correct that the car to charger connection is likely to evolve quite a bit as we create chargers/batteries capable transferring energy at higher rates but this last 6 feet connection is a miniscule part of the infrastructure needed. The chargers themselves will likely go through many iterations and improvements and that cost will be non trivial. Those upgrades will need to be paid for by the increased value they provide. That said, the current technology supports rates up to 20 additional miles charged per minute.

    There is still a lot to figure out about the EV future. For example do you need battery quick swaps for large commercial vehicles to keep them rolling continuously? Most driving is not long haul and a 400 mile initial range gets you 5.5 hours down the road and covers almost all daily driving. Sprinkle in 2 five minute rest breaks on the road and you get 200 miles extra range which is a bit over 8 hours of driving. Some may need to go farther so 20 about 800 miles down the road. An IC vehicle could do this with one 5 minute stop so it is a 15 minute penalty but most people do not drive 10 hours with only 1 stop.

    The current technology supports 90% or more of people’s travel habits. It will take some time to get to 100%.

    Reply
    1. Dumber David

      90%? Says who?

      And that last 10%, assuming it’s accurate, is fucking huge.

      But none of this is accurate and this is delusional nonsense. And as for your dismissal of the data storage, you completely missed the point, that there are always zealots like you who believe only to be proven the village idiot when the next new technology appears.

      Reply
    2. Paleo

      Not too long ago a tv station here did a test. They drove the interstate triangle here – Houston to Dallas to San Antonio to Houston – in an EV.

      It’s a trip that would normally take about 12 hours in a car. They did it in the EV in 48 hours. And that’s as plain vanilla of a trip as you can get. Doesn’t sound like 90% to me.

      Reply
    3. norahc

      “but most people do not drive 10 hours with only 1 stop”

      Other than just about every semi truck on the highway. My average day is over 600 miles and 10 hours of driving. The push to all electric for these vehicles will have disastrous consequences to our economy. It will dramatically increase the cost of goods to the consumer and cause a shift to the just in time business model most warehouses use to restock stores or ship directly to consumers.

      Reply
      1. sam theiner

        Not to mention the begging of the question that people will even be able to START a trip in an EV. There seems to be a a broad-based assumption that everybody lives in a house that they own and will be able to outfit with a car charger. What about people – such as myself – that live in apartments? There is a 0.01% chance that my apartment complex will EVER install – or allow residents to install their own – charging stations. Even if I only drove 10 miles a day, how would I reliably leave my home to do so?
        Which is not to say that EVs are won’t be a viable option at some point in time. But that point is not here yet.

        Reply
  7. Quinn Martindale

    There’s no way it would take 48 hours today. There’s DC charging stations every 100 miles along the route, and I’d expect it to take 15-16 hours. 4-5 charges are still a lot worse than 2-3 tanks of gas, but if you’re just doing one leg, you just stop at a Walmart and are good to go once you’ve used the restroom.

    Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      First, if this is a reply, use the reply button like everyone else. You’re not special.

      Second, your feelz is not a substitute for anyone else’s reality.

      Reply
  8. Anonymous Coward

    Consider that the same people pushing everyone into electric cars are also pushing to remove hydroelectric dams and close power stations thus reducing supply while increasing demand. This is either stupid or evil depending on your level of distrust.
    I have been highly critical of the battery/solar/wind monomania for a while since it completely excludes any alternatives. Apparently it’s OK to turn productive farmland into marginal pasture by covering it with solar panels but not use geothermal wells. Similarly a wind farm off the coast is good but a far less obtrusive tidal plant is dismissed.
    Also my favorite quote on why we must become solar powered bug eaters “One huge drawback of nuclear power is that it doesn’t dismantle systems of oppression – it only produces clean energy. This makes it unsuitable for solving the climate crisis, which isn’t just about the environment. ”
    Zack Kanter project syndicate

    Reply
  9. SamS

    The most important question is being ignored: Is the government capable of supplying a consumer product that is safe, reliable, dependable and cheap?

    Do we want the same organization that has given us public education, jails, police departments etc supplying us with fuel for our cars?

    The government can install the system but, like with public transportation and roads, it will never be able to maintain it.

    Reply
    1. phv3773

      The charging station industry is in the initial boom phase with many companies vying to get a slice of market share for a regional, if not national business. I doubt a government-owned entry could keep up, and I suspect that’s not on the table. Rather, I suspect the money will go for subsidies to put stations where currently there isn’t enough demand to support private investment.

      Reply
  10. Alex S.

    I just bought an EV this year. It’s rated 240 miles per charge. I live in Washington, a state which exports electricity and generates approximately 80% of its total electricity from renewable sources (~70% alone is hydroelectric). If you live in a state that gets most of its electricity from coal, then an EV won’t do much to reduce carbon emissions.

    So far it’s been great. I pay approximately $1 per 30 miles, when I have to pay. There happens to be a charging station by my house (level 2 charger, 7-8 hours to charge from empty to full) which doesn’t charge for electricity (I have no idea why it’s free, but I’m happy to use it), so I’ve been enjoying using that when I’m parking nearby. It’s pretty convenient to charge for an hour or so at a time when I’m in court or grocery shopping.

    However, I wouldn’t suggest a single car household own an EV as its only vehicle if you’re expecting to take long trips on a regular basis. I happen to be in a 2 car household, so it works out perfectly for us.

    EVs happen to be great to drive. They’re incredibly responsive – you can accelerate much faster than the horsepower would suggest because you’re not shifting gears. Also the battery is heavy, so they tend to grip the road pretty well.

    I will also be enjoying the $7500 tax credit come tax time.

    More fast charging stations would be great, but I bought this without expecting additional future infrastructure. I’d love it if we could relatively painlessly use it for long trips as well, however.

    Reply
  11. Leonard J. Akaar

    I suspect that even if the electricity for 10,000,000 cars came from coal, it would still be cleaner than 10,000,000 individual gas engines, if only because the central power plants can invest in expensive cleaner tech to claw each 1% of pollution back far easier than 10,000,000 car owners can, or the industry can install those 10,000,000 new devices.

    And as more renewables or nuclear comes online it will be easier to supplant and replace the coal plants.

    —–

    Of course, if one asked me, I’d say the real energy savings is when “self-driving cars” become “self-assembled-ad-hoc-road-trains” and as cars communicate their destinations to each other, then can form up, literally physically connect to one another, and create a far more aerodynamic, fuel efficient, safer train that reduced the amount of power required for every vehicle in the train to move at speed, as simplistically n individual vehicles have n * frontal area of each car presenting as drag, and a train has 1 * frontal area of each car presenting as drag.

    And just think what a self-assembling ad-hoc train would do along the 405 going into LA through the Sepulveda pass at 8am when the part of the train going down the hill is pulling the part of the train still going up the hill and each car is physically connected to the car in front.

    Wish someone were thinking about this, we really need to standards for wheel base and frame tensile and compressive strength, and soon

    Reply
  12. Jake

    Perfect must not be the enemy of progress. Particularly when the habitability of the planet hangs in the balance.

    Also, for most of human history, it was possible to exist without the privilege of traveling hundreds of miles in a day without any inconvenience. I know it’s hard to imagine, but we’ll survive the changes we must accept.

    Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      Just because it’s different doesn’t make it progress, perfect or even acceptable. That’s an important lesson young people used to learn when they grew up.

      Reply
      1. Jake

        If only anyone had considered such questions when we made the switch from wind to steam…Rushing from here to there only benefits the man, man.

        Reply
  13. Mr. Ed

    Assuming it takes 45 minutes to charge a vehicle. The que time needs to be considered as well. Every car in front of you adds about an hour.

    Reply
  14. Hunting Guy

    Where will we get the rare earths and copper/aluminum to build the stations?

    China bought and mothballed the only operating rare earth mine in the U. S. Environmental groups are preventing the opening of lithium and copper mines in the U. S.

    Right now cobalt and nickel mines in third world countries are producing with slave/child labor. Do you want your EV made with those products?

    Reply
      1. Howl

        All you need is love (All together now)
        All you need is love (Everybody)
        All you need is love, love
        Love is all you need

        Reply
      2. Hunting Guy

        That’s what we call environmental colonialism. Rape other countries and send the products home.

        As long as we get what we want we don’t care how much blood is spilled, as long as it’s native blood.

        Sorry, but being in the mining industry I’m sensitive to blood minerals.

        Reply
  15. Erik Hammarlund

    To me, this makes quite a bit of sense. In many ways, it’s precisely the sort of thing where government is most useful: Building large public-benefit infrastructure to support use/innovation.

    Electric cars are tech-focused, constantly changing, and subject to major innovation. But power delivery is pretty standard and has been for a long time. There are only so many ways to push electrons through a cable, after all.

    Similarly, much of the initial expense/investment is in running the power between the main overhead lines (or local transformer) and the charger. If someone wants to upgrade the charger box in later years, those lines will still be there.

    Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      “There are only so many ways to push electrons through a cable, after all.”

      You’re never gonna believe how smartphones will be charged in the future.

      Reply

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