Providing fast, reliable charging for electric vehicle (EV) owners is easier said than done, and both private and public enterprises are working to implement creative solutions. Between 2015-2019, 18%of EV owners in California switched back to vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICE), citing a lack of widely available charging solutions. [1] Electric vehicles are inherently more complex than ICEs, and our existing infrastructure is ill-suited to accommodate for the power supply needed. 

Building and supplying a workable national network of charging stations involves three benchmarks: strategic location along roads and highways, access to the high voltage supply, and standardized charging equipment.

Each of these benchmarks presents substantial problems for the widespread adoption of electric vehicles.

Location, location, location.

The average time it takes to refuel an ICE is 3-5 minutes. On the other hand, electric vehicles can range between 20 minutes and 20 hours, depending on several factors: how depleted the battery is, how much energy it holds, the type of battery, and the type of charging equipment (e.g., charging level and power output). [2]

Recharging times create a practical limitation to achieving the in-and-out refueling model we are used to with gas stations. Increased refueling times require more charging stations to supply an influx of vehicles; More charging stations mean more space for chargers. Roadside charging stations must strike a difficult balance between the two to remain economical.

Yet, that challenge is not stopping some traditional gas stations from using existing locations to help meet the demand for EV chargers: 7-Eleven announced that it plans to install 500 EV charging ports at 250 locations by the end of 2022.

Companies like EVgo and ChargePoint are overcoming the problem of limited space by placing their chargers in strategic locations, such as shopping centers, grocery stores, and parking garages. Companies can take advantage of existing parking lots and offer drivers a convenient way to top off their batteries while running an errand or going to work.

Most EV owners prefer at-home charging. But millions of Americans who live in multi-family dwellings without a garage cannot charge at home, so the next wave of strategic charging solutions will target residential buildings like apartments, condos, and dorms.

Still, concentrating so many chargers in one location presents an even more complex problem for the EV industry.

Hooking up to the grid.

America’s electric grid is aging and vulnerable to overloads. EV manufacturers envision a world where EV owners plug in their vehicles every night for a charge, just like their phones.

But, assuming a rapid growth in the EV market over the next 5 years, hitting the grid with EV-driven energy demand at the same time every day risks grid failure.

This is particularly true in areas with intemperate seasonal climates. For example, at-home charging in a New England winter would require the grid to meet the demand of heating homes and charging vehicles every night. The same problem exists in southern states with brutal summers.

This kind of daily increase in demand could cause a spike in the price of energy, which would affect non-EV owners, too.

The lack of standardized charging equipment is another infrastructure hurdle.

Nonstandard charging connectors and protocols are two more reasons why a national model for EV charging presents fundamentally different challenges than gas stations.

Whereas gas stations have standard fuel dispensers with a relatively simple choice between diesel, gas,  and octane, EV manufacturers do not design their vehicles with a standard hookup in mind.

The largest network of fast-charging stations in the U.S. (about 16,000 chargers) belongs to Tesla, but they are only available to Tesla owners. Tesla owners can hook up to most third-party chargers too, but the same is not true for everyone else, which is roughly 20% of EV buyers in 2020.

More complicated still is that electric vehicles have different battery compositions, requiring a unique recharging protocol to protect the battery and reach a full charge.

Despite this perhaps unnecessary complication for EV owners, companies like GM continue to rely on third-party charging services, such as Blink, ChargePoint, EVgo, Flo, Greenlots, and SemaConnect, rather than invest in a large-scale charging network to rival Tesla.

The result is a fractured national charging network and a competitive advantage for Tesla.

This dynamic market is ripe for high-stakes litigation.

The challenges faced by the EV industry are clearly difficult, but governments around the world continue to aggressively incentivize innovation in charging solutions. Ready or not, the race to develop the best battery and the first scalable charging solutions is on.

We anticipate dynamic litigation in intellectual property and antitrust, targeting companies on every link of the supply chain. Securities litigation will boom, too, as companies that attract billions in investment fall short of expectations.

High-stakes environmental disputes will also be a major part of EV litigation, as U.S. companies attempt to localize their supply chains in North America and interested parties attempt to curb harmful mining and waste management practices.

Attorneys should leverage experts who can address various specialties involving grid-connected electric vehicle charging stations, load management, EVSEs (electric vehicle supply equipment), EV-related charging technologies, and batteries.

In our next article, we will take a closer look at EV power management systems and the dominant use of silicon carbide (SiC).

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