Updated: Nov 28
As society transitions away from fossil fuels to combat climate change, electric vehicles (EVs) will be the future of transportation. Electrification is possible for every style of vehicle, from personal sedans and SUVs to delivery trucks, school buses and semitrucks.
Charging EVs will present challenges for consumers and electric utilities alike. EV owners will expect to charge their vehicles at home and while traveling. Consumers’ first challenge will be to become aware of the circuit breaker panel rating for at home EV charging.
Electric utilities’ main challenge is preparing for an increased demand for electric energy transfer. This will be especially true during summer vacation and winter holidays, particularly in popular destinations.
In this upcoming series on EVs, we will describe a variety of challenges that consumers and electric utilities will face as EV ownership continues to expand. We’ll also outline innovative solutions to address them. Follow along to learn more.
Electric Vehicle Specs
As of November 2023, there are more than 400 different models of electric vehicles available for purchase. Some manufacturers, such as Porsche, offer 20 different types of EVs. Other manufacturers, such as Rolls Royce, offer a single EV. The driving range varies from a low of 110 miles for a Renault Twingo Electric with a 20 KWH battery to a high of 400 miles for a Rivian RIT 180 with a 180 KWH battery.
EVs can be charged at home with a Level 1, 120-volt, 16-amp, 2 KWH charger or with a Level 2, 240-volt, 40-amp, 10 KWH charger. Level 3 commercial charging stations can deliver between 50 KW and 400 KW power directly to an EV’s battery.
An EV with a 100-mile range, equipped with a 20 KWH battery, can be recharged in 10 hours with a Level 1 charger, or in 1 hour with a Level 2 charger. An EV with a 250-mile range, equipped with a 90 KWH battery, can be recharged in 4.5 hours with a Level 2 charger.
An EV with a 400-mile range, equipped with a 120 KWH battery, can be recharged in 12 hours with a Level 2 charger; in 2.4 hours with a 50 KW, Level 3 charger; 1.2 hours with a 100 KW, Level 3 charger; or in 20 minutes with a 400 KW Level 3 charger. Note, recharge time is function of the charger KW rating.
EV Charging at Home
Most of the time, EV owners’ drive time will be up to 2 hours each day for a standard commute. Their charging needs will be satisfied with a Level 1 or 2 charger in their homes.
Before purchasing an electric vehicle, consumers must consider the rating of the circuit breaker panel in their home. To determine the rating, check the main breaker switch on the home’s circuit breaker panel for the amperage rating, which usually ranges from 100-200 amps. The circuit breaker panel rating directly correlates with the charging level that can be safely installed in your home. Figure 1 shows a home circuit breaker panel.
Figure 1 shows a typical home circuit breaker panel.
If the circuit breaker panel is a 100-amp panel, the home will be limited to a Level 1 charger. This is because most homes use multiple appliances at the same time. A 100-amp panel should be able to support charging an EV and running an electric clothes dryer, for example, simultaneously. If a Level 2 charger were installed on a 100-amp panel, the circuit breaker would trip if an additional appliance ran at the same time that the EV is charging.
However, if the circuit breaker panel is rated at 200 amps, a Level 2 charger could be installed. A Level 2 charger should not trip the circuit breaker unless every appliance is in use.
Special accommodation for homes with more than one EV will be required, as charging both EVs at once will overload and trip the circuit breaker panel. A charging schedule or use of PIN codes will eliminate this concern. Alternatively, a 400-amp circuit breaker panel could be installed; however, these are much more expensive than typical circuit breaker panels and can be difficult to find.
Overloading and tripping a main, 200 amp circuit breaker should be avoided. Once a circuit breaker has tripped, it may need to be replaced, and the home will be without power until a replacement is installed.
EV Charging on the Road
A challenge for electric utilities will occur when many EV owners gather in a concentrated area. This could be at popular tourist locations, such as national parks or beach towns, and during holidays, when Americans often travel long distances. EV owners will need to charge their vehicles while away from home, increasing the demand for electric energy in these areas. Travelers will want to recharge quickly, ideally in under 30 minutes.
Popular tourist destinations must prepare for this challenge by building sufficient commercial EV charging stations to accommodate an influx of tourists. Electric utilities in these areas must also prepare for an increased demand for electric energy, especially during peak load periods. Prescient’s EV Preparedness Analysis can help electric utilities to prepare.
Price and Convenience: Curbside EV Charging
When travelers refill gas tanks in a standard vehicle, two things are important: price and convenience. To easily inform consumers, gas station operators post the cost per gallon of several grades of gasoline near the curb of their property.
Price and convenience are also important factors to EV owners. Recognizing this, commercial charging stations will need to expand in the coming decade to approximately 200,000 stations across the US. These new stations will need to post prices based on charging time and charger type, as well as kilowatt hours (KWH) delivered, in a way that consumers understand. Like the three standard grades offered at gas stations, electric charging stations can offer three categories of charging: standard, fast, and rapid.
A standard curbside sign displaying the posted prices to recharge an EV battery should be displayed at every commercial charging station. Stations should also have additional information available detailing their options: standard charging will deliver 100 KWH in one hour, fast charging will deliver 100 KWH in 30 minutes, and rapid charging will deliver 100 KWH in 15 minutes. Consumers will have the ability to choose which type of charging they want based on their budget and time constraints.
Unlike gas pumps, EV charger plugs are not standardized across EV manufacturers. Several types of chargers are currently in use, including:
NACS – North American Charging Standard plug design.
CHAdeMO – Combined Charging System that enables seamless communication between the car and the charger.
SAE Combo – Combined Charging System.
Posted prices in cost per KWH should be displayed at the curb for the chargers that are available. Figure 2 shows the type of signage that a commercial EV charging station should implement so consumers can easily identify their options.
Figure 2 shows the type of signage that a commercial EV charging station should implement so that consumers can easily identify the cost and charger type available at a charging station.
Overcome Challenges, Embrace EVs
As electric vehicle ownership continues to expand, so will the associated challenges. However, every challenge can be overcome with enthusiastic participation from electric utilities, and increased education for consumers. Preparing today for tomorrow’s challenges will ease the transition to EVs.
This article was written in collaboration with Prescient's Lead Editor Alyssa Sleva-Horine.