EV Fuel Infrastructure Cost

Electrical infrastructure costs.PHEVs and Battery EVs will have an advantage over fuel cell EVs initially before hydrogen fueling stations are widespread, since some PHEVs and short-range city BEVs can in principle be plugged into ordinary home electrical outlets. But in the long-run, the costs of adding a distributed hydrogen infrastructure should be less than the total cost of adding electrical infrastructure for charging PHEVs and BEVs.

There are four sources of extra costs for providing electricity to charge PHEVs and BEVs:

  • Home electrical charging outlets
  • Public charging outlets
  • The “last mile” electrical distribution system
  • Additional generation capacity

Residential charging. Even residential outlets for plugging in cars are not free. The common vision of buying an extension cord to plug in your BEV or PHEV is probably not always valid. The Electrification Coalition, an industry group promoting the use of PHEVs and BEVs, points out that plugging in to a conventional 110-Volt (Level 1) outlet in the garage may not be wise. A separate PHEV/BEV charging outlet should be added to provide ground fault protection, a break-away connection and other features such as a controller to fully capture the benefits of PHEVs and BEVs (see sidebar.) 

The Electrification Coalition also notes that most BEV owners will require a special 208/240-Volt outlet, called a Level 2 EVSE (electric vehicle supply equipment). They estimate that installing such a circuit would cost between $500 and $1,500 per home, or up to $2,500 if an electrical panel upgrade is required.[pg. 92] Even with this upgrade, the Nissan Leaf BEV with a goal of 100 miles range (EPA-certified range was 83 miles) would still require 4 to 8 hours to charge.

The Idaho National Laboratory sampled the costs for installing Level 1 and Level 2 outlets. They found an average cost of $878 for a Level 1 outlet and $2,150 for a level 2 residential outlet and $1,850 for a commercial Level 2 outlet.

Public charging outlets. The Electrification Coalition in their 2009 Electrification Roadmap emphasized that home charging ports will not be sufficient to overcome consumer “range anxiety.”  They note that “many households lack access to a dedicated parking place.”[pg. 14] In their judgment, many public charging ports will be required before large scale BEV sales are possible, even for those BEV owners that do install a home charging outlet.  They recommend at least one public charging port for every two BEVs in the long-run and initially as many as two public charging ports for every BEV.  They estimate that the cost of these extra public charging ports could range between $80 billion and $180 billion, with a maximum range up to $290 billion over the next 20 years. [Fig. 2O, pg. 98]  Coulomb Technologies is planning to install 4,600 Type II (240V) public charging outlets for $37 million ($15 million of federal money) or $8,043 per outlet. Hawaii is planning to install 250 outlets for $4.6 million (including $2.6 million of federal funds), or a cost of $18,400 per outlet.

The large range of costs depends on the mix of Level 2 public outlets and Level 3 fast charging outlets that would cost between $25,000 to $50,000 each according to the Electrification Coalition. The Level 2 outlets could only support three or four PHEVs if they must each charge for 2 to 8 hours per day, but if we follow the Electrification Coalition recommendations there would only be two PHEVs per public outlet on the average, so the cost per PHEV would be on the order of $900 based on Idaho National Laboratory data.  The fast-charger EVSEs might support 48 to 96 BEVs per day if charging times could be reduced to 15 minutes to 30 minutes. The cost per vehicle would then be $250 to $1,000, since most cars would have to be charged every day.

The “last mile” transformers. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has identified the neighborhood 220 volt step-down transformer as a possible weak link if widespread PHEVs are deployed. The Electrification Coalition stated that “plugging in one or more GEVs [grid-enabled vehicles, including both PHEVs and BEVs] into a single circuit could exceed the transformer’s limits, causing it to fail and resulting in loss of power for customers served by that transformer.” [pg. 102]   EPRI analyzed 53 such neighborhood transformers, and determined that 36 of the 53 would fail if one PHEV were plugged in during the daytime, and 5 of the 53 would fail with one PHEV charging off-peak at night. They provided no cost estimate for replacing these transformers, and we do not include an estimate of transformer replacement costs in this model.

Additional generation capacity. Several studies have shown that the US electrical generation system has very large unused capacity at night. Excess off-peak electricity could support tens of millions of PHEVs and BEVs if they were charged late at night.

However, EPRI and the Electrification Coalition have suggested that some BEV owners will want to plug-in their vehicles at work to overcome range anxiety. As PHEV and BEV sales grow, at some point extra generation capacity will be required to accommodate daytime charging.  No estimates have been made of this added cost.

Hydrogen fueling infrastructure.  The National Research Council has estimated that installing a hydrogen fueling system to support approximately 2,300 FCEVs would cost $2.2 million in mass production (defined as 500 systems).  These fueling systems would convert natural gas and water to hydrogen on-site, eliminating the cost of transporting hydrogen from a distant plant.  Eventually, central production of hydrogen with pipeline delivery could be less expensive once there are enough FCEVs on the road. So on-site hydrogen production sets an upper bound on the costs of hydrogen.

Initially, FCEV sales will be limited by the number of fueling stations with hydrogen pumps.   Hydrogen equipment will have to be installed before there are many FCEVs in the neighborhood to support the new hydrogen infrastructure. In other words, there is nothing analogous to the home electrical charging for the BEV.

However, once any given region has thousands of FCEVs deployed, the average cost of the hydrogen infrastructure per vehicle would be approximately $955: 2,300 FCEVs supported by each fueling pump costing $2.2 million.  This compares with $500 to $2,150 per BEV just for home charging outlets, and another $250 to $1,000 per BEV for the public stations recommended by the Electrification Coalition.  Thus the total electricity infrastructure cost would be in the range between $750 to $3,150 per BEV (excluding transformer upgrades and any added electrical generation for daytime charging), while the total hydrogen infrastructure cost is estimated at approximately $1,000 per FCEV.


The Idaho National Laboratory analyzed the charging profile of a small group of PHEV owners. They found that most PHEV drivers plugged in their vehicles as soon as they arrived home from work, and most of the charging was completed by midnight.  As a result, this uncontrolled PHEV charging behavior created a new peak demand for electricity in the early evening hours:

(Source of chart: the 2009 Electrification Coalition roadmap)

This charging behavior indicates that some sort of smart charging controller will be required to smooth out the load profile from PHEVs. Simply plugging in to a home circuit without controls may require additional electrical generation capacity (not included here.)

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