What's next for Michigan's electric vehicle charging infrastructure?

When you rank states by number of public charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs), Michigan falls somewhere in the middle – but that’s not a bad thing.


According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, there are over 1,100 public EV charging outlets in Michigan. While that’s more than twice the amount in neighboring Indiana, it would take a long time to match California’s gaudy number of 23,659 public charging outlets.


At first blush, one might equate charging stations with gas stations. And Michigan’s number of EV charging stations is nowhere near its amount of gas stations. But people use charging stations quite differently from the way they use gas stations.


Tim Slusser is the director of smart mobility initiatives for Detroit-based NextEnergy, which recently published a white paper on the state of EV charging infrastructure in the U.S. He says the latest census counted approximately 135,000 gas stations across the U.S. An average station has six pumps and people visit it about once a week.


“With EVs, people will top off every night at their house to have a full charge every morning,” Slusser says. “The amount of EV stations we’ll need is highly dependent on driving habits. We might only have to use an EV station once a month. I don’t believe we’ll need the same number of DC fast charging stations as we have gas stations in our infrastructure.”


For EV owners, stopping to fuel up on the way to work isn’t such a common routine as it is for combustion-engine vehicle owners. If a person’s round trip to work is under 100 miles, they can just plug in and recharge after work each night.


“The most important infrastructure will be the infrastructure at your home,” Slusser says.


That’s not to say that public charging stations aren’t critical to the proliferation of EVs. They will be of utmost importance in urban areas, places with less homeowners and more apartment dwellers.


Thanks to the settlement from Volkswagen’s emissions scandal of 2015, the state of Michigan has more than $64 million to spend on reduced-emission and zero-emission vehicles and infrastructure. More than $9.7 million is reserved for the buildout of EV charging stations.


Construction of those charging stations is expected to begin this year. The focus will be on creating an infrastructure that supports travel along the interstate highways, travel that exceeds a typical day’s commute to work and back. According to Robert Jackson, director of the Michigan Energy Office, a state tourism analysis reveals that Michigan needs 67 charging stations with nearly 300 charging outlets to support statewide highway travel.


Stations will be installed along highway exits and rest stops. In more urban areas, stations will start popping up at restaurants and shopping centers, allowing for a quick charge while drivers are inside.


It’s estimated that by 2030, 6% of all vehicles will be EVs. Slusser wonders not only how Michigan’s infrastructure will change by then, but what it will look like when 40% or 50% of vehicles are electric.


He says there’s a delicate balancing act where industry is keeping an eye on consumers, gauging their interest in EVs. At the same time, some of those consumers look back to industry, waiting to get on board with EVs until they’re sure the necessary infrastructure is in place.


“There needs to be a better effort by all parties of the industry to educate broader areas of the public so it doesn’t become an overwhelming problem,” Slusser says. “One of the most important things is that this is not an if-you-build-it-they-will-come situation. There is a lot of education ahead.”

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