Image source: Electrek
Most drivers have had at least one experience in which they asked themselves, “Am I going to run out of gas?” Range anxiety, or the fear a car will run out of fuel before it reaches its destination, is not unique to electric cars. It is, however, a common reason as to why drivers stick with gasoline-powered cars when electric cars are cheaper to own, better for the environment, and more fun to drive.
Based on the experience of EV drivers, the adjustment to charging is easier than expected and feelings of range anxiety dissipate quickly. Instead of making a detour to the gas station, drivers learn to plug in at their homes, workplaces, or parking lots. Level I and Level II charging is fast enough to meet the demands of these everyday trips.
But still, sometimes people need to drive hundreds of miles in a day. As more people adopt EVs, DC fast charging provides an element of convenience and security that can help displace the purchase of gasoline-powered cars. But how exactly does it work, how fast is it, and how much better can we expect it to be?
How fast is fast charging?
Unlike Level I and Level II charging stations, DC fast chargers are only available for public use. You can’t install one in your home because of the extremely high voltage and power needed to reach fast charging speeds.
Charging speed is typically expressed in terms of power (measured in kilowatts) and varies depending on the car and the station you’re plugged into. For example, the Chevrolet Bolt can charge at a peak of 50 kW, while competitors like the Hyundai Kona EV or Kia Niro EV can charge at a maximum of 77 kW. You can convert these specs into charging times using the chart below.
|Station output||Charging rate|
|25 kW||50 miles in 30 minutes|
|50 kW||90 miles in 30 minutes|
|100 kW||120 miles in 30 minutes|
|150 kW||150 miles in 30 minutes|
Many of the DC fast charging stations available now charge at rates of 24 to 50 kW, but these speeds are becoming obsolete as electric car models are introduced with faster charging capabilities. In an effort to keep infrastructure ahead of vehicle technology, companies like Electrify America and EVGo are building networks of stations to charge at rates of 150 kW or more, even though few vehicles can charge at these rates currently.
It’s a formula that Tesla has mastered early with its proprietary network of Superchargers, which are known for widespread station abundance and power. Tesla Superchargers deliver at least 120 kW, and most Tesla cars can take advantage of them because the company makes improvements to its cars through periodic software updates. The third iteration of Superchargers can output power at a rate of 250 kW, which is enough to add 75 miles of range in 5 minutes of charging or over 200 miles of range in 30 minutes.
What’s the future of DC fast charging?
Will EVs ever reach the refueling speed of gasoline? Probably. But getting 300 miles of range in 5 minutes of charging is not necessary to make electric cars practical for the majority of people. If a driver has easy-to-access options for Level I or Level II charging at home, work, or the grocery store, convenience can quell range anxiety without having to invest in as many expensive DC fast chargers.
The fact is, a 300 mile trip in a single day happens infrequently for most people. With a little extra planning and a 30-minute stop to stretch your legs and grab a coffee, DC fast charging can already enable those trips. But as more drivers go electric, we’ll need more stations.
In the short term, the installation of new DC fast charging stations should be prioritized along interstate and highly-trafficked routes to accommodate long-distance driving. Data collected from drivers can help install DC fast chargers strategically to improve access to on-the-go charging and get the most out of investment dollars in cities and rural areas. Long road trips make up a small portion of our driving miles, and most EV drivers will continue to find charging at home most convenient.
In the long term, it’s possible that 200+ kW charging does become the norm, and cars may not need huge battery packs to support 400+ miles of range. The vision for Lucid, a new electric car manufacturer started by a former Tesla employee, relies on small, 30 kWh batteries, ultra-high efficiency, and widespread, 350 kW fast charging stations.
As quickly as the industry is growing, it’s unclear how long such a breakthrough would take or how expensive it would be to develop the necessary infrastructure to make this vision possible. It costs between $10,000 and $40,000 to install a single 50 kW DC fast charging port and as much as $100,000 for a 250 kW charger. They’re not going to appear on every street corner overnight.
At its simplest, DC fast charging is the best way to compete with the 5-minute refueling time of a gas-powered car. Long distance travel is a convenience that many drivers can’t sacrifice, and while there’s still plenty of room for improvement for fast charging networks, it’s doable to go electric now. Learn more at drivegreen.nationalgridus.com/learn/charging.