How many charging stations?

There are 160,000 miles of highways in the US
And 3.5 million square miles in the continental US.
To have one charging station every 25 miles of highway would only require 6400. Freeways have a lot of crossing points and interfaces, putting the charging stations near those would greatly reduce the number needed.
To have one every 25 mile square ( 625 square miles ) over the whole country would only require 5600, so clearly 6400 to cover all the freeways is more than is needed.

There are approximately 120,000 gas stations in the US, that’s one every 30 square miles. ( Obviously they are not evenly distributed. )
Having that many means that you can drive in any direction from just about anywhere ( that isn’t the middle of the Nevada desert ) and run into a gas station within a few miles.
Why do we have so many gas stations? Clearly we wouldn’t have that many if they didn’t make money ( even at the thin margins they sometimes have ). There is a lot of gas pumped and a huge market to capture, so gas stations spring up at a far greater density than is necessary to capture all that money. There is a limit on how much gasoline that can be stored in the underground tanks, and how fast the tanker trucks can refill them that will set a lower bound on the number of gas stations. Electric charge points don’t have that problem, but they will run into a limit on space for the cars to park while they charge…. which is why they need to go into existing parking lots and not into any new space.
It’s all just a question of how fast we convert existing parking spaces into parking spaces with plugs.
The age of the internet means we don’t need them everywhere for you to randomly run into, your car could find them for you, it could always know which ones are along your route and suggest appropriate ones.
Even without that – having 10% as many charging stations as gas stations could cover the entire country so that an EV with a 25 mile range could get you from anywhere to anywhere.

An EV driver wont need to charge for daily errands, only when going on a long trip, because your home is always a charging station for you, so you can leave with a full charge.
If you are driving to a friends home, that can also be a charging station for you, to top up for the return trip home. If you are driving on a trip long enough to need a midpoint recharge, a friends home on the route would also be a viable option. Why not stop in and see friends?


6 responses to “How many charging stations?

  1. Not to rain on the parade too much, but there are some benefits to the super-high gas station density that would still apply to charging stations.

    Because of the lengthy charging times required, there are some obvious differences (parking requirements, for example). But there are still the same kinds of capacity problems that lead to high numbers of gas stations. Being able to support enough simultaneous charging cars will require a large number of parking spaces, and very high current capacities.

    For now, not much of an issue. But if we’re going to eventually transform our gas-power transportation industry to an electric-powered one, these kinds of capacity issues are going to be huge, and will need the same kind of robust infrastructure we have with gas stations now.

    • highspeedcharging

      The primary charging point for every electric car will be at the owners home. Since the drive home I haven’t charged anywhere else. I don’t even charge it every day. For all driving other than a long cross country trip I don’t need any other charging point.

  2. Andrew Bienhaus

    Also – as growth increases, and technology improves, batteries and charging times will improve along with it. (or should)

    There is still the problem of the current demands however… that’s a lot of juice. On a hydro network like Ontario, we’re already running at fairly close to capacity in the summer.
    (and they’ve now added the meters to charge based on time of day)

    The latter should help encourage charging at home… but they need to make it less of a hassle to have your own personal generation.

    • highspeedcharging

      Electric load is all about the peak of the day, the peak load of the day is when everyone is at work, all industry is going full tilt and all air conditioners ( home and work ) are churning away. I’m trying to find a good source of data on this, but I believe the peak happens in the early afternoon, and outside of a couple hour window during that time there is available capacity. Clearly car charging should be absolutely minimized during that time period and car chargers need to be made smart to not charge during those peak few hours at all. The very few people who need to charge at work should be able to charge in the morning or late in the afternoon.

  3. Andrew Buenhaus

    Or… on those hot peak days, you park your car in the sun, where the solar panels on the roof do the job for you.

    The charging stations locations and all that planning you did on your trip, is clearly the job of the moving map system in the car.

    Give that job to the likes of Garmin, and most of that heavy math you had to do, is taken care of. (location updates automatically via wifi, map updates, course corrections to charge, etc)

    But, give it enough time, and this is doable.

  4. Density of gas stations is mainly due to competition among the large vertically-integrated oil companies, from back in the day when the majors had a direct marketing pipeline from their oil fields to the pump. Every company that acquired a major field generally drilled, transported, & refined its own gas for distribution to its own gas stations, so there may be 4-10 different brands (depending on region) competing for customers near the same location.

    …this legacy still sticks with us, even though vertical integration was largely destroyed in the 70s. If anything, the majors and independents compete for location more than ever (ie, just like McDonalds & BurgerKing), because they have even less to differentiate themselves. Even though all gas is pretty much the same, they had to pick different colours, mascots & slogans.

    Electricity has even less differentiation. Any company setting up charging stations isnt going to have much to set them apart. But the up-front costs, and lack of ready EV customers, will scare away competitors in the short term. Buying 6400 prime real estate locations will probably require way-too-deep-pockets for a product that wont have a very good revenue stream for at least the next 5-10 years. A leasing system might work, since that means the main expense is installation & networking, rather than land.

    One possible strategy would be for an easy-to-install standalone smart cc-swipe charge system (no attendant), with a leasing agreement that shares profits with property owners, and an efficient national support network for repairs & maintenance. …however, this would mean focussing only on the core business (electricity), and giving up on the value-add business that gas stations have cornered: (pop/candy, oil, windshield fluid, servicing, etc). From a financial perspective, electricity charging stations are low-revenue, especially in near term. The only way to make them attractive for investment is to have even lower startup & operating costs.

    A different play would be to sell the charging stations to anybody who owns a parking lot. You would charge for the initial installation & a monthly residual for the CC transaction fees & maintenance. You would then own nothing except the manufacturing & installation equipment & the IT backbone for servicing credit cards.

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