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Party Lines for Electric Vehicles?

Posted to Esri in the Utility Management Group
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Bill Meehan's picture
Director, Utility Solutions Esri

William (Bill) Meehan is the Director of Utility Solutions for Esri. He is responsible for business development and marketing Esri’s geospatial technology to global electric and gas utilities.A...

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  • Mar 9, 2022
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One of the things I remember most about technology when I was a kid was the dreaded telephone party lines. In the old days, some less fortunate had to share the telephone infrastructure with other families. You picked up the receiver, if instead of the dial tone, you heard people chatting, you knew that the phone was unavailable. I’ll never forget my mother yelling into the phone for the person to hurry up and finish their call.

Party Line Charging?

According to a news report from CNBC, more than half of US car sales will be electric vehicles (EVs) by 2030. Will the same thing happen when we all have EVs like my family did sharing a phone line? Will we be blocked trying to charge our EV because our neighbors got their first?

Let’s check.

Many US households are supplied by25 or 50kVA transformers. Without getting into the math, we can assume a 25kVA transformer can deliver 25 kilowatts (kW) of power. Say a mid-range EV, rated at 60-kilowatt hours (kWh), takes 6 hours to charge using a 240-volt level 2 charger. 60kWh divided by 6 hours gives a charge rate of 10kW, which is typical of EVs. During those 6 hours, your car would be using 10kW out of the 25kW from the transformer. Your car would be your highest electricity user by far, exceeding your dryer, water heater, and air conditioner combined. Still ok?

Here’s the Catch.

What if your neighbors have EVs too? At most, only two of you can charge your EV for 6 hours at the same time. If your transformer can only supply 25kW, that doesn’t leave much power for your AC unit or much of anything else. You’d run into a big scheduling problem.

The obvious solution is to adopt what I had as a kid – a party charging line. Having a solar panel will help, but you would need a large battery system since a solar panel doesn’t provide continuous power.

The Solution

The answer is clear: commercial charging stations. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) provides the answer. It calls for the large-scale rollout of charging stations. But, while residential charging will be fine for topping off the EV or trickle charging, it will never compete with commercial charging stations for four reasons:

  • Alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC) conversion. Residential charging uses standard house current (AC). AC to DC conversion is built into the EVs. Adding more capacity to the converters would add cost and weight to the EV. Makers of EVs don’t want to do that.
  • Fast Charging. Commercial chargers use DC, which bypasses the conversion process. That’s why they are much faster since the power goes straight to the battery.
  • More power. Commercial stations have much more power, a lot more.
  • Scale. Commercial stations have the scale to provide auto-routing, billing, incentives, and all kinds of business value.


Where Does GIS Fit In?

IIJA will stimulate the construction of EV charging stations. The problem for governments is to determine the best location for these stations. That’s what GIS does best. It can examine an endless array of factors ranging from utility supply availability to demographics, proximity to shopping areas, available land use, and equity considerations. IIJA is very clear that the location of charging stations must be fair to all segments of the citizenry. Read about how Austin Energy uses GIS to map out future locations of EVs here.

So Will We Be Faced with Party Lines for Charging Our EV’s

Today gas-powered cars provide the benchmark for convenience. Consumers are well accustomed to pulling into a gas station, swiping their credit cards, and filling their tanks. The process takes about 3 to 5 minutes. Then the vehicle can travel about 300 miles before filling up again. And rarely do consumers travel very far to find a gas station. Once EV charging stations are as common as gas stations are today, charging takes around 5 minutes, and the range approaches 300 miles on a charge, then the move to EVs will accelerate. Having extra charging capability at home is a bonus.

So no, we will likely not be faced with party lines for charging our EVs as long as the proliferation of high-speed charging stations continues.

Learn more about how GIS can help in managing infrastructure here.

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