Electric Car Push Matched by 24% Jump in Charging Stations in 2016

DC Fast Charge BMW i3 VW e-golf
BMW and Volkswagen joined the world’s largest electric vehicle charging network in expanding fast-charge stations | BMW

If you build charging stations, they will drive electric vehicles. That’s the Field of Dreams-style logic behind the push for more public plugs, and it makes sense. After all, who among us would drive a car if you never saw a gas station in your travels? With a major wave of new EVs hitting auto shows (not to mention dealerships near you), charging stations are more important than ever. Fortunately for plug-in consumers, public stations are peaking at just the right moment.

According to numbers provided by ChargeHub for FleetCarma, the number of charging stations in the U.S. surged from 27,850 plugs at the end of 2015 to 34,454 by September 2016. That’s a 24% jump in just nine months. Encouragingly, the leap in DC fast chargers (33%) exceeded that of Level 2 chargers (20%). For consumers still troubled by range anxiety, this boost in quick chargers serves as a reassurance on the road.

Car Charging Group Inc. opened it's the first residential electric car charging station at the 435 Mass Apartments on January 12, 2011 in the NW section of Washington, DC. The station can charge two cars at a time; one with a 220 volt line and one with a standard 110 volt household line. AFP PHOTO / Tim Sloan (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)
This Car Charging Group station can charge two cars at a time: one with a 220 volt line and one with a standard 110 volt household line | Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

Anyone following the news about electric vehicle charging in recent months saw the stuff behind the gains. ChargePoint, which operates the world’s largest network of charging stations, announced it had completed its express charging corridors on both coasts with the cooperation of BMW and Volkswagen. The group’s 95 new fast chargers allow drivers to travel down the California coast and between the largest Northeastern cities with only brief stops.

More fast chargers are on the way. In July, President Obama announced a $4.5 billion initiative aimed at growing the network on a much larger level. With massive federal loan guarantees for a “commercial-scale deployment” of EV chargers, range anxiety may be on the downswing. Still, some issues exist.

Bay Area Plans Major Expansion Of Electric Vehicle Charging Stations
ChargePoint, BMW, and Volkswagen recently added 95 fast chargers to create express charging corridors in the US | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Even as more stations come online, drivers may have trouble finding a plug. A lack of signage for chargers exists in a way you just don’t see for gas stations. (Imagine not seeing signs for gas when traveling down the highway. Welcome to the world of a plug-in driver.) Other problems include the parking fees charged by some station owners, which may be high, and the location of the plug on less-traveled corridors.

According to ChargePoint, there are solutions in place to address these issues. “ChargePoint stations show up on Google Maps, Apple Maps and many mobile apps, including our own,” a Chargepoint spokesperson said. “Our mobile app includes up-to-date information about EV charging spots on multiple networks as well as real-time availability and current pricing information for our own 30,000 places to charge.” Also, over half of the chargers on the company’s network are free to use.

While Mercedes-Benz and Tesla show off new electric car concepts and GM preps the release of the Chevrolet Bolt EV, public charging will grow in importance. The extraordinary gains in charging infrastructure over the past year show how quickly the industry can mobilize. Now we’ll have to see if consumers buy the cars as quickly as the plugs appeared. They built it; will they come?

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