EV adoption will grow rapidly in coming years
The EV market is reaching a critical inflection point, with governments across the world taking bold steps to phase out the sale of new gas-powered cars. California, Massachusetts, and Québec want to do this by 2035, while the UK and British Columbia want to ban them by 2030 and 2040, respectively. But governments aren't the only ones making sweeping commitments, as ride-hailing platforms Uber and Lyft have also announced plans to hit zero-emissions by 2030. Similarly, car manufacturers such as GM, Jaguar, and Volvo plan to shift entirely to electric over the next decade, while commercial fleet operators like UPS and Walmart, among others, are setting green fleet goals. These kinds of announcements could very well be just the tip of the spear for EV adoption in North America.
For cities, this means that if they haven't been doing so already, they need to prepare for the inevitable: EVs will become the predominant vehicle type on their roads, from public transit to personal vehicles. Residents will need ample opportunities to charge and, with that, a reliable charging experience that reinforces EVs as convenient and accessible.
Cities are ground zero for successful charging deployments
Cities are key to ensuring the continued adoption of EVs and charging infrastructure. There are a lot of factors for key decision-makers to consider when choosing the right technology and policies for a successful charging deployment: what types of EVs are prevalent, what are the best locations to deploy stations, whether the stations will be used for quick charges or overnight sessions, and the travel patterns of residents, to name a few.
Beyond this, when cities also prioritize policies that ensure a high-quality charging experience for drivers and fleet operators, along with proper stewardship of public dollars, everyone benefits. So, what is the best way to do this? Instituting high-reliability requirements, for one, as it will immensely reduce maintenance and operation costs over a station's lifetime and ensure a city's public dollars are well spent.
Cost is not always king, and cheaper is not always better
Due to their often-limited budgets, cities are under consistent pressure to purchase cost-effective products. Given this, it is understandable that they are tempted to purchase the largest number of chargers at the cheapest possible price. But this decision comes with some important trade-offs.
Some high-quality products, while more expensive up front, are more reliable and will deliver a lower cost of ownership over time. They can weather the elements – more extreme low or high temperatures, storms, and the like – and are more robust in the face of abuse and misuse. Durable products coupled with strong network surveillance centers and remote diagnostics can significantly minimize operating costs over the charger's lifetime by reducing the level of service necessary to keep the chargers operational for drivers.
How often a charger breaks down has several implications for a city's budget and the satisfaction of its residents. Chargers are sophisticated electronic devices, and servicing or repairing it may require deploying a maintenance team to the charger's location each time it goes offline. Depending on the type of station and warranty coverage in place, a city could incur significant costs to repair or replace the charger, and when considering these potential capital and operating costs across an entire year, and across hundreds if not thousands of stations in a city's jurisdiction, that cost can add up quickly. Each cost could push back the timeline for a city's target return on investment in charging infrastructure, take away funds for investing in more stations, and ultimately undermines the value of the public dollars spent providing chargers. The less durable a charger is (i.e., plastic components compared to aluminum, or the likelihood that it won't be able to communicate with its management network), the greater the chance there is for the charger to fail more frequently.
Second, a highly reliable network reduces the maintenance and operating costs of a charging deployment. Reliable networks also provide cities the ability to measure the overall performance of their infrastructure, and thus help them improve their operations to minimize the frequency and length of a charger's downtime. Finally, the more often a charger is offline, the greater the opportunity for EV driver frustration and increased charger anxiety. It only takes one bad charging experience for drivers to complain to their family, friends, or coworkers that EVs are not convenient or reliable, and this undermines the whole rationale for cities investing in charging infrastructure in the first place. If cities want to avoid complaints from residents about a bad charging experience, investing in higher-quality chargers should be a priority.
Of course, reliability is only one thing for cities to consider when purchasing charging stations, but it can have significant implications for total deployment budget, the value of public dollars invested, and the overall satisfaction of residents. Preparing for large-scale deployment of EVs requires not only quantity of stations, but also quality. Choosing stations and a network operator that have a proven track record of delivering superior reliability and lower operating costs will help cities achieve a higher return on investment over the long run.