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How important is charging infrastructure to EV adoption?

In the more than two years since Nissan sold its first Leaf in the U.S., there’s been a growing sentiment that some fell for a flawed assumption: that building a robust public “fueling” network of charging stations is the key to a successful electric vehicle (EV) market.

It’s a classic chicken-versus-egg scenario. Do public charging stations help drive EV adoption, or does greater EV adoption demand a more comprehensive public charging infrastructure? Or might the public charging station quandary not be the right question at all?

To be fair, many still argue that the original assumption stands. With a little more than 60,000 EVs sold in the past two years, and only about 8,800 public stations installed nationwide through EV Project, you could say that the jury is still out regarding the role of charging infrastructure.

Perhaps if more stations had been installed, vehicle sales would be greater. After all, compared to the number of gas stations (~120,000, not including the multiple fuel pumps at each station), the current state of EV infrastructure can look pretty meager. But here’s the surprising thing: despite the relative scarcity of public charging stations and the abundance of gasoline filling stations, both pale in comparison to the sheer number of charging opportunities.

You see, public charging stations are a bit of a red herring, because most EV charging has taken place at home … and will continue to do so. Workplace charging is a promising second venue. But treating public charging stations like conventional gas stations — numerous, dispersed — fails to match charging infrastructure to the ways in which EVs are most likely used by their driver-owners. In fact, herein lies the often overlooked value of the electric car: never needing to stop at a gas station. You come home, plug in, and go about your normal life; your car “fuels” while you do other things.


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