Why is US building EV chargers at a snail's pace?
Published: May 29, 2024 06:49 PM
Illustration: Xia Qing/GT

Illustration: Xia Qing/GT

Over the past few days, electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in the US have become a big joke on American social media.

In November 2021, US President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan infrastructure bill, allocating $7.5 billion for EV charging. Of this, $5 billion was specifically earmarked for establishing a network of charging stations along major highways, known as the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Project. The Biden administration boasts that it will build 500,000 charging outlets nationwide by 2030.

Three years have passed, and how many charging stations have been built in total?

On the "Face The Nation" program of CBS News on Sunday, host Margaret Brennan asked US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, "The Federal Highway Administration says only seven or eight charging stations have been produced with the $7.5 billion investment that taxpayers made back in 2021. Why isn't that happening more quickly?"

Yes, that's seven, with the eighth supposedly still under construction.

Buttigieg sidestepped the topic, as further discussion would likely embarrass the Biden administration. And now, at a critical election moment, some are already using this issue to make political points.

Like other similar projects, the implementation speed of Biden's ambitious infrastructure plan is slow. The construction of charging stations involves multiple departments and stakeholders. The coordination process is complex, and both funding and project advancement are inefficient.

It's not that the US lacks production capacity, but rather the relevant industrial chain is not yet complete. Some equipment and technology may still need to be imported. If the US were to build them in large quantities domestically, new factories would be needed, requiring more investment and it would be impossible to produce a large number of qualified charging piles in such a short period.

The US currently has more than 56,000 charging stations, with a total of 168,300 charging ports, mainly distributed in densely populated urban areas. Many remote areas have no charging equipment or they are spaced very far apart.

Compared to China, the number and distribution gaps in US charging facilities are significant. As of December 2023, China has an estimated 5.87 million charging ports, including nearly 2.46 million newly added private charging piles. Additionally, China's public charging infrastructure is also very large, the largest network of its kind globally, with over 1 million chargers.

The lack of charging facilities severely constrains American consumers' willingness to purchase EVs, leading automakers to be reluctant to increase their production capacity for EVs, which affects the US' commitment to reduce emissions.

According to the Biden administration's plan, building 500,000 EV charging ports by 2030 seems like an unattainable goal at the current slow pace.

However, I believe the US has a possible solution. I did some research and simple calculations.

The cost of a charging station in the US is about $30,000 to $140,000. In China, the cost is approximately $12,000 to around $40,000. Although installation costs in the US would vary due to transportation, labor and other factors, it is certain that the US could save billions of dollars by purchasing equipment from China. These savings could be used to build more charging stations or to incentivize the EV market.

Furthermore, if the project were contracted out to Chinese manufacturers, even more money could be saved, ensuring the project is completed on time.

Of course, the Biden administration would not choose this route. It would rather let the US move at a snail's pace than subcontract the project to China. If it did choose this route, its tough strategy of competing with and defeating China would be ridiculed.

But ultimately, the question arises: Who ends up losing? Even if Washington does not calculate this, the public will. After all, the money invested in building EV charging stations comes from the hard-earned money of American taxpayers.

The author is a senior editor with People's Daily, and currently a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. dinggang@globaltimes.com.cn. Follow him on X @dinggangchina