How much does electric vehicle charging infrastructure actually cost?
From consumer sales to federal legislation, 2021 was an exciting year for electric vehicles (EVs). While the sales of internal combustion engines went down from 204 million vehicles in 2019 to 166 million in 2021, the sales of EVs reached a new all-time high. Despite supply chain and the chip-shortage issues, almost 167,000 light duty plug-in electric vehicles were sold in the U.S. in the third quarter of 2021—doubling sales from the same time frame in 2019.
This is paired with the zero-emission vehicle announcement and executive orders from the White House. In August 2021, the Biden administration set a target of 50% EV sales by 2030. Later in December 2021, the administration called for a zero-emissions federal fleet by 2027. Critical to achieving these goals is access to charging infrastructure that will power this increase in EVs. Last year, the Biden administration set a goal to increase the number of charging stations in the U.S. to 500,000 by the end of this decade—a 10-fold increase in the number of chargers from today's level.
With these orders in place and the increased consumer enthusiasm for EVs, the real question remains: How much will this massive public EV infrastructure buildout cost?
As part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), $7.5 billion is allocated for the nationwide deployment of EV charging stations—only half of what the White House initially proposed for EV charging. With this limited funding, combined with ambitious EV targets, it is more important than ever to get a better understanding of the actual cost of EV charging infrastructure. Doing so will allow us to maximize the utility of these funds through a proper EV infrastructure planning.
Over the past three years, multiple studies conducted by various non-profit organizations such as the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) estimated the cost of EV charging infrastructure deployment, including the cost of equipment, installation, needed utility upgrades (e.g., grid interconnections).
Considering the known challenges with EV infrastructure deployment, it is no surprise to see a significant cost variability across these studies. While these studies provided similar estimates for the equipment costs, the installation and utility upgrade costs varied significantly. A list of estimates provided by these studies is shown below in Table 1.
Analyzing significant variabilities in cost estimates
To further elaborate on the variability of EV infrastructure cost, we recently acquired EV charging infrastructure cost data associated with projects funded by the California Energy Commission through the California Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Project (CALeVIP). The CALeVIP, implemented by the Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE), provides incentives for EV charger installations, and works with local partners on projects that support regional EV needs for Level 2 and DC fast-charging units (DCFCs).
Between December 2017 and October 2021, the program funded 244 projects to deploy more than 500 Level 2 chargers with charging capacities ranging from 7 kW to 10 kW and approximately 300 DCFCs with charging capacities ranging from 50 kW to 63 kW. A summary of the cost data from CALeVIP projects are illustrated in the two whisker-box plots below.
While on average, the equipment and installation cost for both Level 2 and DC fast chargers lines up with the recent published studies, this dataset clearly shows the significant variability across different projects. For Level 2 chargers, the total cost of EV charger deployment can vary between $2,700 to $24,000 per charger (excluding outliers), and for DCFCs, it can range from $70,000 to $130,000.
It is apparent that while there are some levels of variability across the equipment cost, the cost of installation is what mainly drives the variability for the total cost of deployment. For example, for DCFCs, while the equipment cost varies from $18,000 to $61,000 (excluding outliers), the installation costs range from as low as $4,000 to as high as $137,000.
The installation cost variability is an inherent challenge to EV charging infrastructure deployment. This is mainly because there are several different variables involved in determining the total cost of installing a charger including the number of chargers per site, permitting/code requirements, site preparation cost, availability of grid interconnection, grid capacity, utility upgrades (e.g., transformers/switchgears), parking availability, and the level of construction needed. With all these elements in mind, it should not be surprising to see such a wide range of cost for public charging stations. However, this could certainly pose a challenge when it comes to budgeting mass deployment of chargers across the nation.
While it will be hard to say how many chargers the IIJA can end up deploying, using the average cost data extracted from CALeVIP, $7.5 billion might be able to fund around 500,000 Level 2 chargers or approximately 73,000 DCFC units. However, those numbers can significantly change knowing the appreciable variability in the cost of installation. Of course, with proper planning and rigorous analysis of the available data on hand, we can find the most cost-effective and equitable ways of building the charging network across the nation to facilitate the much-needed transition to zero-emission transportation in this decade.
Using data to develop solutions
Unlike EV consumer purchases, the cost of developing EV infrastructure doesn’t come with a one-size-fits-all price tag. Similarly, cities, states, and regions all face distinct challenges when it comes to implementation—ranging from weather to population density. As the nation works towards its latest zero-emission goals, proper EV infrastructure planning is required to ensure a successful deployment.
To optimize funding, stakeholders need to be aware that making federal EV ambitions a reality requires careful data analysis combined with expert industry knowledge. Our team’s deep knowledge of EV charging technology and its installation hurdles, combined with the latest tools, offer guidance to state and local agencies, transportation planners, and utilities as they embark on their EV infrastructure goals.