EPA-VW Dieselgate Settlement Will Push EV Fast Charging in USA

By Paul Gipe

The recent settlement between the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Volkswagen (VW) for its diesel engine fraud could more than triple the number of electric vehicle (EV) fast chargers across the United States, transforming how EVs are used.

The settlement “requires VW to invest $2 billion toward improving infrastructure, access and education to support and advance zero emission vehicles. The investments will be made over 10 years, with $1.2 billion directed toward a national EPA-approved investment plan. . .” The remaining $800 million is allocated to a separate settlement with California.

VW will be responsible for implementing the brand neutral program.

Zero emission vehicles include EVs as well as hydrogen-powered cars. Some of the money will be siphoned off for hydrogen vehicles, some for education and some for promotion. However, most of the settlement money will likely be used to rapidly build out a nationwide network of DC fast-charging stations.

Today, there are only 2,500 DC fast chargers in the entire country. Each charger is capable of charging today’s mass-market EVs, such as the Nissan Leaf or the BMW i3, in less than 30 minutes. Each charger can recharge one car at a time.

DC Fast Charging (DCFC) stations can contain from one to a dozen individual chargers. NRG, the utility company, has been building a network of stations with two DCFC chargers.

Fast Charging Necessary

Most EVs charge at home or at work. However, intercity travel requires a network of reliable fast-charging stations to make trips possible.

Tesla understands this and has invested heavily in building-out a nationwide network of branded “Superchargers.” These stations offer multiple bays with chargers operating at high voltage and high current. Such chargers are a necessity for rapidly charging Tesla’s high-capacity traction batteries. By the end of the year, Tesla expects to have more than 600 stations with some 3,600 chargers.

There’s no equivalent network of DC Fast Charging (DCFC) stations for mass-market EVs. There are a number of fast-charging stations concentrated in the country’s major urban areas, but travel between cities is extremely difficult with EVs other than Teslas.

DCFC stations, where they exist today, are comprised of no more than two individual fast-chargers. Future stations will likely have more chargers per station.

The market for EVs currently is restricted to families with two or more vehicles because of the difficulty of using the EV for intercity travel. In contrast, a conventional vehicle can be used for all needs: intracity and intercity travel. To break consumer resistance to widespread adoption of EVs, higher capacity traction batteries, such as those in Teslas, and a reliable network of intercity fast chargers, such as Tesla’s Supercharger network, are necessary.

Mass-market manufacturers will begin introducing vehicles with high-capacity traction batteries in 2017. These batteries will have twice the capacity of those in use today, doubling EV driving range. They will also require twice the amount of time of today’s vehicles for a “fast charge” with current fast chargers.

Fortunately, newer fast chargers will soon be introduced that double (100 kW) or triple (150 kW) the charger’s capacity. This will keep the time needed for a fast charge to less than 30 minutes.

The race is now on between the introduction of high-capacity traction batteries and the introduction of higher-capacity fast-chargers to serve them. The EPA-VW settlement, and the companion CARB-VW settlement, could drive the rapid introduction of these new fast chargers and in doing so revolutionize EV use in the country.

As the network of intercity stations grows, consumers will have less and less reason to stay on the sidelines as EVs meet more of their everyday needs as well as offer the prospect of infrequent intercity trips.

Scale of Possible DCFC Growth

How many DCFC stations resulting from the program depends on what percentage of the settlement is reserved for the DCFC network and how much each station costs. For example, if 75% of the settlement is invested in DCFC stations VW could install from 250 to 400 stations per year. Each station could contain two or more fast-chargers.

The settlement could add 400 DCFC stations or 1,000 individual chargers per year. Over the life of the program more than 4,000 stations could be installed, adding up to 10,000 more fast chargers.

The EPA-VW settlement could provide a sufficient number of DCFC stations to replicate the ease and reliability of refueling now found with gasoline for intercity travel.