WCX 2023: Sorting out EV Public Charging in the U.S.

The U.S.’s nascent EV charging infrastructure is a mess. Expert panelists at WCX offered ways to untangle it.

The WCX energy infrastructure panel from left to right: SAE’s Frank Menchaca, GM’s Mark Bole, ABB’s Alex Ehrett, Rivian’s Trent Warnke, and ChargePoint’s Justin Wilson. (Lindsay Brooke)

The still-teething U.S. electric vehicle charging infrastructure is wrestling with significant issues as it builds out. Spotty operability of EV public charging stands is in the industry’s crosshairs, as it is a potential barrier to mass EV adoption, agreed panelists in the ‘Energy Infrastructure and Its Impact on EV Adhesion’ leadership discussion at SAE’s WCX 2023.

WCX 2023 EV infrastructure panel moderator Frank Menchaca is president of SAE’s new Sustainable Mobility Solutions group. (Lindsay Brooke)
Panelist Mark Bole of General Motors. (Lindsay Brooke)

“We need to make products that work,” asserted panelist Mark Bole, VP and head of V2X and battery solutions at General Motors, about the charging-stand situation.

It’s not unusual for EV drivers to encounter a non-working public EV charging station. According to a 2023 J.D. Power study, one in five charging experiences in the U.S. ends in failure. Providers of charging stations also include sellers of EVs. In addition to manufacturing the R1T pick-up truck and the R1S SUV, EV automaker Rivian engineers and produces its own DC fast chargers.

“Equally as important, we maintain our own charging networks,” said Trent Warnke, Rivian’s senior director of energy and charging solutions. Rivian’s DC fast chargers began rolling out to locales in the U.S. and Canada in 2022. “Making sure that [charging station] uptime is there is critical for driver experience and EV adoption,” Warnke said, noting the importance of Rivian’s own service technicians.

Well-trained service technicians and a full supply of charging station spare parts are key to keeping ABB’s portfolio of chargers in working order. “We’re on our fifth generation of DC fast chargers,” explained Alex Ehrett, public policy and market development director for ABB E-mobility’s western region. She noted that the company is continuously making the necessary product improvements “so that EV consumers have a positive [charging] experience.”

Alex Ehrett with ABB E-mobility. (Lindsay Brooke)
Rivian’s Trent Warnke. (Lindsay Brooke)
EV infrastructure panelist Justin Wilson (Lindsay Brooke

With more than 3,000 electric utilities in the U.S. according to the Edison Electric Institute, energy grid management activities can vary from state to state. “We’re talking with a number of utilities that want to test vehicle-to-grid (V2G) with us,” said GM’s Bole.

The key to V2G is a bi-directional charger, which can be used to charge an EV as well as discharge the vehicle’s power to the grid. Bole said that GM could begin a bi-directional charger pilot program with a few utility companies later this year.

Justin Wilson, director of utility partnerships and regulatory affairs at ChargePoint (operator of the the largest network of independent EV charging stations) believes bi-directional chargers have hurdles to overcome. “One reality is a bi-directional charger is going to be more expensive to install,” Wilson said without providing specifics.

V2G applications won’t please every EV driver. “There are use cases where V2G isn’t going to make sense,” she said. The likelihood of EV drivers wanting to feed the grid during a road trip’s charging stop is slim. “It’s really a matter of just finding the right fits for V2G and not using it as a blanket solution,” said Ehrett.

The charging infrastructure for EVs isn’t fully mature yet. “We’re 15 years old as an industry, so we can’t even drive yet,” Wilson quipped. Developing a new transportation infrastructure requires more than patience. “Let’s work together cooperatively through SAE in order to get there,” said Wilson.