As the Rolling Stones once told us, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” That idea might certainly apply to jurisdictions that would love to have the resources to build out a comprehensive charging network for electric vehicles, but find that they have to downsize their ambitions for fiscal reasons. Some places are sorting this out by focusing first on building not everything they want, but simply what they need: an essential charging network.

Electric vehicles are increasing rapidly in numbers and popularity across the globe. This is encouraging for jurisdictions that recognize that transportation electrification can promote job growth, mitigate environmental justice concerns, provide air quality benefits and improve electric system efficiency. Many jurisdictions want to take first steps to support electrified transportation, including providing charging infrastructure, but are unsure how to spend wisely on infrastructure and make strategic decisions with limited public money. For policymakers struggling with these decisions, it may be as simple as first focusing on the essentials.

The transition to an electrified transport system won’t happen without guidance from policymakers. Consumer concern about a lack of available charging infrastructure remains one of the top reasons for not buying or leasing an EV. This, despite the fact that, on average, Americans drive only 37 miles a day and Europeans drive an average of 32 kilometers a day — a distance easily covered by almost every EV on the market. Recognizing concerns about charging, infrastructure has become an important focus.

Some jurisdictions have embraced transportation electrification and developed detailed plans for accelerating both transportation electrification goals and building EV charging infrastructure. These include the U.S. states of CaliforniaNew Jersey and Oregon. All European Member States are required by law to develop EV infrastructure plans, but the degree of ambition and actual level of build-out varies. Early leaders such as the Netherlands have provided a blueprint, but the reality is that financial, geographic or political barriers prevent some jurisdictions from building a comprehensive charging network.

There’s a way around these barriers: The inability to build a full network shouldn’t stall efforts to provide the essentials. Focusing on the bare necessities first, by establishing an “essential public charging network,” is an excellent first step for jurisdictions to reassure consumers — and keep costs in check.

What is an essential charging network?

New Jersey introduced the essential public charging network concept, describing it as providing “a basic level of Statewide public charging infrastructure sufficient to minimize range anxiety and meet other public charging needs.” It is meant to provide sufficient geographic coverage to ensure that most EV drivers will have convenient access to a quick charge while on major New Jersey roadways.

According to ChargEVC, a coalition of car manufacturers, technology companies, utilities, consumer advocates and nongovernment organizations, this network is “intended to provide the critical mass of infrastructure needed to transition the market through this early phase of limited public fast-charging infrastructure development and jump-start the higher levels of EV adoption that leads to long term growth.” The New Jersey legislation also provides for EV charging goals that increase in percentage of EV charging stations over subsequent years, which would lead to a more comprehensive charging network.

Essential first steps in the U.S.

But it’s possible to take steps toward expanding EV infrastructure without having to do it all right away. New Jersey recognized that it was preferable to start with an essential charging network and then expand to a comprehensive network over time. This may serve as a model for states wanting to address EV infrastructure barriers if they are not yet able to build a dense charging network for all user groups.

Florida has adopted this concept as well in an essential state infrastructure bill that authorizes the Department of Transportation, in conjunction with other agencies, to create a master plan for DC fast-charging infrastructure along Florida’s interstate corridor system. It also envisions a new network of charging stations in rural communities along Florida’s turnpikes to help drivers of electric vehicles quickly evacuate northward during hurricanes or other emergencies.

The essential network in Europe

Likewise, European legislators are revising requirements for Member States to plan sufficient and accessible charging infrastructure across the continent and are currently discussing the scope of coverage along highways, mid-sized towns and rural areas. The new legislative proposal is expected by mid-2021.

A recent and first-of-its-kind comprehensive pan-European guidance document, issued by the European Commission to municipalities on preparing charging infrastructure, emphasizes the need for collaboration between transport and energy sectors. The recipe is simple: Once consumers and investors develop confidence through an essential network, the market for charging services will grow. To ensure such an essential network is built at least cost, jurisdictions can also use it as a planning tool to match charging demand with available capacity on the electricity grid. This will lower the initial investment for public authorities, and consumers can use the infrastructure at affordable cost.

Sharing global best practices

Transportation electrification requires innovation, and many jurisdictions have found it tough to lead alone on completely transforming their systems. But there is strength in acting together. The collective efforts and successes in very different places, geographically and politically, show that electrification of transportation can happen.

For many U.S. states and European Union members, establishing an essential public charging network is a strategic first step to build a market for EV charging and accelerate transportation electrification. Its adoption will help facilitate an important transition to further private investment as well as targeted and strategic use of limited resources. And maybe by starting with what you need, you will end up getting what you want.