The future of America’s electric vehicle charging network is taking shape

The federal government is distributing $5 billion to states to build a nationwide network of highway charging stations intended to entice more people to buy electric vehicles.

Why is this important: The taxpayer-funded charging network is a cornerstone of President Biden’s ambition to electrify America’s transportation sector.

  • He wants half of all new cars sold to be electric by 2030, but many car buyers won’t consider an electric vehicle without reassurance that they can charge quickly, especially on long journeys.
  • The plan, which calls for the installation of up to 500,000 DC “fast chargers” along the country’s busiest highways, could boost driver confidence, say EV advocates and policymakers.
  • That’s about 20,000 DC fast chargers today, which are sometimes off the beaten track.
  • As with most hardline federal policies, however, state officials say the devil is in the details.

Driving the news: As of this week, all 50 states, along with Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, submitted plans for their share of EV charger money, which comes from last year’s bipartisan infrastructure bill.

  • This bill included $5 billion over the next five years for highway chargers, plus $2.5 billion in subsidies for other community charging sites.

What they say : “We appreciate the thought and time states have put into these electric vehicle infrastructure plans, which will help create a national charging network where finding a charge is as easy as locating a gas station,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a statement on Tuesday.

Details: Much of the details will be determined after regulators consider public comments on the proposed requirements for projects funded under the bill.

  • The government wants to establish minimum standards to ensure that the national network is user-friendly, reliable and accessible.
  • And he wants to make sure the chargers are interoperable, meaning they’ll have similar pricing and payment systems and can charge vehicles from any manufacturer.
  • Tesla, for example, should eventually make its proprietary supercharger network available to non-Tesla vehicles.

Enlarge: The government has already established guidelines that give indications of what a national electric vehicle charging network might look like.

  • According to the guidelines, charging stations should be installed along major highways that the Federal Highway Administration has designated as “alternative fuel corridors.”
  • They should be located no more than 80 km apart and within one mile of freeway exits.
  • And they should be equipped with DC fast chargers, providing a minimum of 150 kWh of power at a time. (Such equipment could charge a vehicle in 20 to 30 minutes, compared to more than eight hours for a typical Level 2 public charger.)

Yes, but: Some officials — especially those in less populous western states — complain that these federal guidelines aren’t flexible enough.

  • Wyoming, for example, would prefer to install charging stations on roads leading to tourist attractions such as state and national parks rather than on barren stretches of interstate highways.

And after: Many issues still need to be addressed, including standardizing electric utility rates and removing barriers to charging stations.

  • “The benefit now that we’re deploying this system nationwide is that we have the opportunity to tackle the toughest issues that have plagued the electric vehicle community for some time,” said Christopher Bast, director investments in electric vehicle infrastructure to the Coalition for Electrification, an electric vehicle advocacy group. “$7.5 billion has a way to open a political window.”

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