New U.S. study suggests Canada needs to significantly ramp up investment in public EV charging infrastructure
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EV Charging
Apr 26, 2021
Electric Autonomy Staff

A new U.S.-based study projects what the American government will need to spend on public electric vehicle charging infrastructure — a simple conversion shows what Canada’s expected costs could be

A new U.S.-based study projects what the American government will need to spend on public electric vehicle charging infrastructure — a simple conversion shows what Canada’s expected costs could be

In last week’s federal budget, the government said its investment to date in electric vehicle charging infrastructure totals $376 million. That includes $226 million spent between 2016 and 2020 and a further $150 million committed through 2024 in last December’s Fall Economic Statement.

It sounds like a lot. But given that the path to full light-duty passenger vehicle electrification hinges on there being enough charging infrastructure, how does the money Canada has earmarked stack up against what’s needed?

Such estimates are hard to come by. That’s why an assessment of the investment needed in the United States to put that country on the path to full light-duty vehicle electrification, published earlier this month by Atlas Public Policy, a Washington, DC-based policy tech firm, makes for interesting reading — and raises some potential concerns for Canada.

Public charging needs biggest investment

According to the study, to achieve 100 per cent passenger electric vehicle sales in the U.S. by 2035, that country needs to invest US$87 billion in charging infrastructure between now and 2030. Nearly 45 per cent of that, or about US$39 billion, would be for public charging.

Graph showing Data
U.S. charging infrastructure investment needed 2021-2030 to support 100 per cent EV sales by 2035. Source: Atlas Public Policy

The full breakdown also includes US$22 billion on single-family home charging, US$17 billion for multi-unit home charging, US$9 billion on depot charging for light-duty fleets and less than US$1 billion on charging at private workplaces.

In terms of actual installations, the “vast majority” of charging ports will be at drivers’ residences. Private money will pay for that, as well as fleet charging, the report says. However, it notes, public charging infrastructure — DC fast chargers, in particular — is needed to fill an important gap.

“Lack of public charging infrastructure is often cited as a key EV adoption barrier for consumers [and] it is also a key issue in ensuring equitable access to electric mobility options.”

Current commitments inadequate

Unfortunately, Atlas says current public investments in the U.S. “fall far short and are geographically limited” in terms of where they need to be, with only US$4.5 billion earmarked for public charging infrastructure to date.

How does Canada compare?

Using last Monday’s (Budget day) exchange rate (C$1 = US80¢) and a rough 10:1 conversion ratio (a common rule of thumb that accounts for the population differential but sets aside differences in cost of labour, materials and environmental factors) this country’s equivalent required total investment in charging infrastructure works out to about $10.5 billion.

The public charging share of that total, using Atlas’s 45 per cent weighting, would be about $4.7 billion. Even if we round up the federal government’s current public commitment to an even $400 million assuming some added provincial and municipal input, it’s clear a lot more is needed to get Canada anywhere close to the equivalent of Atlas’s 2030 U.S. target.

The remainder of the Canadian-equivalent spending needs break down as follows:

  • Depots: $1.1 billion
  • Workplace: $36 million
  • Single-family residences: $2.7 billion
  • Multi-unit residences: $2 billion

350 kW chargers also key

While the assessment says the vast majority of actual chargers needed will be Level 2, as noted, DC fast chargers play a critical role in the public charging component. And not just any fast chargers. According to the report, the forecast assumes these fast chargers will have a 350 kW charging speed.

Installing “slower” 150 kW fast chargers instead would increase the needed public charging investment in the U.S. to US$52 billion from US$39 billion. In Canada, our equivalent public charging investment would climb to $6.2 billion.

To successfully implement a charging network to support full electrification in the U.S., the assessment recommends funding should start in 2021 at US$6.9 billion. The prescribed annual expenditure actually decreases in 2022 and 2023, then begins to ramp up towards the cumulative US$87 billion total by 2030.

It bears noting that in the early stages the bulk of the projected spending is directed to public fast chargers. This reflects public charging’s role in supporting EV adoption. Investment in residence and depot charging will increase later in step with the growing volume of vehicles on the road.

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