EV Charging on the Road:
Expanding and Improving the Fast-Charging Network
Owners of electric vehicles (EVs) typically charge their vehicles overnight at home and wake up to a fully charged vehicle each morning. Daily commutes are easily handled with slower “Level-2” home chargers, but traveling distances of several hundred miles requires on-the-road charging with faster “Level-3” chargers (also called DC fast chargers). A common barrier for drivers who are considering switching from internal combustion to EVs is “range anxiety” (the fear of running out of “fuel” while traveling) and having difficulty finding a convenient and reliable DC fast charger. In North America, Tesla aggressively addressed “range anxiety” beginning in 2012 by installing an extensive and reliable fast-charging “Supercharger” network. The Tesla “Supercharger” network now (as of Spring 2023) includes more than 17,000 DC fast-charging ports at nearly 1,800 locations in all 50 states.
Expanding the EV Fast-Charging Network Nationwide Using the NACS (Tesla) Standard
Virtually all (non-Tesla) manufacturers of EVs sold in the United States use a different charging standard called CCS (Combined Charging Standard). The CCS standard is the most common worldwide (and is even used by Tesla in Europe). Because of the widespread availability and reliability of the North American Tesla Supercharger network, these manufacturers have announced plans to switch from the CCS standard to the Tesla-type standard, referred to as the North American Charging Standard (NACS) and have arranged for their customers to be able to access the Tesla network. These two charging standards use different physical plugs (on the cable) and inlet ports (the car’s charging receptacle) with respective compatible electrical hardware and software. Just as in the 1980s’ videotape format competition, when the VHS standard “won out” over the competing Betamax standard, standardizing EV charging to the NACS system will increase accessibility and reliability of on-the-road DC fast-charging. Beginning with the 2025 model year, most of these auto manufacturers will use the Tesla-style NACS charging standard, including physical connectors and plugs as well as electrical hardware and software. In the transition year 2024, manufacturers will provide adapters that will enable their EVs to charge on the Tesla Supercharger network.
Building out EV Fast-Charging Networks through Government Subsidies and Automaker Support
The Tesla Supercharger network alone will not be enough to accommodate the large numbers of new EVs expected to roll out in the next few years; many more NACS chargers will be needed. The federal government recently approved funding to expand EV fast-charging in the U.S. through the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program. This year (2023), several major automakers also announced plans to jointly build out an additional extensive fast-charging network. Because of the adoption of the NACS standard, the fast chargers on these new networks will include both NACS and CCS (to accommodate existing EVs) charging ports.
Although the Tesla-style NACS charging standard appears to have “won out” in the United States, drivers who are currently in the market for EVs need not worry about charging incompatibility on the road and can look forward to a much more robust fast-charging infrastructure.
Beva Nall-Langdon is a member of the Sierra Club and for six years has been a co-organizer of EV Showcases through National Drive Electric Week.