As gas prices soar and climate change concerns become more urgent, Americans are increasingly considering electric vehicles. While less than 1% of the cars on the road in December 2021 were electric and EV sales since 2010 total only about 2.32 million, that could soon change, considering news that 38 new EV models may hit showroom floors by 2023.
An influx of EVs requires a network of charging stations to support them. The Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act provides $7.5 billion to build such a network—specifically, a nationwide network of 500,000 EV chargers.
Much of the focus has been directed at electric grid capacity to accommodate future EV charging on a large scale, said Kevin Morgan, chairman of the Fiber Broadband Association and chief marketing officer of Clearfield, who has been looking beyond that short-term worry to the bigger picture of connectivity. His solution, discussed in a new thought piece from Clearfield, is simple: fiber.
“Fiber optic line is being laid now,” as part of the deployment of broadband infrastructure funded by the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act, Morgan said. “Why not make a path [for fiber] to connect EV charging stations?”
Currently, EV charging stations rely on a cellular connection to convey a small amount of information to the cloud—principally for point of sale that allows customers to pay for a charge and for a “heartbeat” signal indicating an operational charging station. But, Morgan said, large numbers of EVs, in addition to anticipated autonomous vehicles (AVs) with vehicle-to-everything communication, will require reliable, higher speed connections to upload bigger files laden with data. Today’s cellular connection won’t suffice.
Add to that the challenge of connecting in areas with limited or no cell service, such as parking garages, and the cybersecurity risks endemic with Wi-Fi, and it becomes clear that changes must transpire. Morgan’s idea is to equip EV charging stations with fiber to improve connectivity so EVs and, one day, AVs, can quickly and securely upload data while they’re stationary for charging.
The challenges his idea faces begin with funding. Although “fiber is not very expensive,” it’s unclear whether the $42.5 billion allocated for installing fiber to unserved and underserved populations (as part of the $65 billion fund for broadband) could be used to connect charging stations.
Another challenge this innovative idea faces is prioritization.
“If the forecasts of the EV future are true, by the end of the decade, EVs will add 25% load to the grid. The grid infrastructure is at risk,” Morgan said. That’s where attention is concentrated. “Fiber is a lost issue.”
Connectivity is a “silent issue,” he continued, of tertiary importance to the industry. However, with 5G capabilities being enhanced and standards expected to be finalized by the end of the year, Morgan anticipates manufacturers will begin implanting chips in vehicles by 2025. He wants the United States to be prepared to handle connectivity issues at EV charging stations. “It’s not too far away. Now is the time to start a conversation.”