‘Soft costs’ threaten EV charging build-out — study

Source: By David Ferris, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, January 9, 2020

Electric-vehicle charging stations are slow and expensive to build, and it’s the “soft costs” — permits and paperwork — that are the toughest culprit, according to a new study.

The paper by the Rocky Mountain Institute, released today, is meant to bring transparency to what the components and services that make up a charging station actually cost.

The report observed that the early struggles of the EV charging industry are similar to the early travails of the solar industry. As was the case with solar arrays, the costs for charging equipment are dropping steadily, but overall project costs aren’t, because the permits and other processes are so cumbersome.

“Oh, my God, this is all the same stuff,” said Chris Nelder, a manager at RMI’s mobility practice who co-wrote the report and works in solar.

The report puts dollar signs on various parts of a charging station, information that can be hard to find. The cost of a 7-kilowatt, Level 2 charger — a common type — has dropped in price by two-thirds, from $1,200 to just below $400, since 2010.

But the study, which involved interviews with two dozen industry insiders, found that overall installation costs remain stubbornly high.

The main reason is those soft costs, particularly the delays that come with getting building permits, utility interconnection permits and utility easements.

More hurdles arise around the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal law that has many local interpretations. Finding parking spaces that meet the needs of EV drivers and disabled people is difficult and rarely has the same solution from lot to lot.

“Such delays can add weeks, months, or more than a year to a project schedule, with wildly varying cost implications for a project,” the report said. Worse, because builders are usually mulling several locations for the same charging station, “these costs can multiply.”

In the United States, the end cost of a charging station is three to five times the cost of the equipment used to build it, a much higher ratio than in Europe, the study said.

While the study didn’t explore why, Nelder said that more consistent standards across Europe are the leading reason. In the United States, these standards vary widely by state and city and by utility service territory.

Nelder said he hopes the report “will start a vigorous conversation” around the charging industry’s permitting problems. The report pointed to examples of how California in particular has streamlined its solar permitting process through law.