Boost convenience of using EVs by building more charging stations

For electric vehicles to become more popular, it is essential to accelerate efforts to build more charging facilities. Strong government support will be important to that end.

The government’s growth strategy, approved by the Cabinet in June, sets out a plan to nearly quadruple the number of fast chargers for EVs to 30,000 by 2030. Currently, there are about 7,700 fast charging units in locations such as rest stops on expressways and Michi-no-Eki roadside rest areas.

With the aim of offering the same level of convenience as for gasoline-powered vehicles, the government said it wants to expand the charging infrastructure to 150,000 units, including ordinary chargers that can be installed in residences.

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Cabinet has set a goal for all new vehicles sold in Japan to be electrified, such as in the form of hybrids or EVs, by 2035.

Though regarded as the mainstay of next-generation vehicles, sales of EVs have been sluggish in Japan, lagging behind Western countries and China. As the competitiveness of Japan’s key automobile industry could deteriorate, it is an urgent matter to turn sales around.

Slow growth in the number of charging facilities has been a major bottleneck. According to a private sector survey, more than 90% of respondents who do not own an EV cited the lack of charging infrastructure as a reason for not buying one.

To dispel concerns among consumers, efforts must be accelerated to build more charging facilities through such measures as increasing the subsidy paid to facility operators.

It is crucial to set up charging stations strategically at places where needs are greater. Demand for chargers is high on expressways as many vehicles are traveling long distances, leading to long lines at fast charging stations at rest stops on weekends and holidays, so more chargers should be concentrated in such areas.

Some charging stations have been removed from places including Michi-no-Eki rest areas and commercial facilities as they were infrequently used and unprofitable, while having little merit in attracting customers. To make use of these facilities as charging stations, it is also worth considering a system in which the government will support operators.

Currently, it takes about 30 minutes even for a fast charger to fully recharge an EV. Efforts are urged to develop technology capable of completing a full charge in less time. At the same time, research needs to be carried out quickly on batteries that can store large amounts of electricity.

It is also vital to promote charging at home during the night when electricity is less expensive.

In urban areas, the introduction of charging systems in apartment buildings is key. However, it is said that progress has been slow as construction to install such electrical systems sometimes involves massive construction work and consensus-building among residents is difficult. Ingenuity is needed to devise measures for apartment buildings.

To make effective use of renewable energy, surplus electricity produced by solar panels at home during the day can be stored in EV batteries and used at night. Some local governments have procured EVs in an attempt to use them as emergency power supplies in the event of a disaster. Such diversification is desired.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 25, 2021.