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Efforts to build chargers for electric vehicles have received a new energy stream: every state in the United States, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, now have access to federal funds to collect fees for infrastructure projects.
The funds are part of a grand plan by the Biden Administration to improve access to toll collection, which is currently hard to find on many highways. Gasoline and diesel vehicles are major contributors to climate change, but transitioning away from them will require more charging sites and other infrastructure changes.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill includes $5 billion to build available chargers over five years. Today, states are given access to $1.5 billion in that funding so they can deploy chargers that the Department of Transportation estimates will cover about 75,000 miles of highways.
What is the plan?
The goal is to have a highway network with EV charging stations every 50 miles. The exact location of the new charger largely depends on the states, who have submitted their plans to the federal government. Countries can spend money not only on building new chargers but also to upgrade existing chargers, maintain stations, add billboard advertising chargers, and cover other directly related costs.
You can view each state’s approved implementation plan here.
The funding comes with the strings attached – the strings are meant to ensure that this network of chargers is fast, reliable, and convenient.
To that end, states will prioritize building chargers along the interstate highway system. Each charging station is required to have at least four fast-speed plug-ins. And the chargers should be non-proprietary, meaning they connect to many car brands.
The White House initially said the goal was to build 500,000 chargers in five years; It is not clear whether that goal is feasible. But even a small fraction of that can be a significant change. There are currently just over 100,000 public chargers in the US, according to the Alliance for Automotive Innovation.
Why do that?
There is a real fear of running out of electricity with nowhere to charge, and that fear is considered by many to be one of the biggest obstacles to mass adoption of electric vehicles.
Consider Phil Torres, a portfolio manager in Chicago.
When considering buying an electric car, he spent a lot of time thinking about whether he could find enough public chargers on the road.
Anyway, he rushed to buy a Polestar 2, an electric sedan.
And he put it to the test soon after, on a six-week trip with his son to visit future colleges.
He still remembers feeling the strain of watching his battery icon slowly drain while chasing a charger.
“You were literally holding your breath,” Torres recalls. “Can I do it? – because you can, like, see you go from 4% to 3%.”
What about the charger and charging speed?
They are a much faster option than level 2 chargers, which take about 5 hours to charge a vehicle. However, right now, there are far fewer DC fast chargers on the road than the 2.
What are some of the key challenges?
As with many projects, the main challenges involve time and money.
DC fast chargers can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $140,000and doesn’t even include installation costs.
And because there are relatively few electric vehicles on the road right now, those chargers often don’t work, making it difficult to pay off that initial investment.
Plus, there’s all sorts of red tape for things like planning and permitting.
There is also the fact that this is an emerging technology and there are still bugs that are being fixed. Reliability is a big deal with charging stations.
Phil Torres experienced this first-hand on a road trip with his son. He looks to chargers that are out of date or won’t connect to his car – problems that prompt him to look for another charger.
“The real problem is if you go there and it doesn’t sync with your car, or it just doesn’t work, it needs a restart, something like that,” says Torres.
Is the Biden plan enough?
Simply put, no.
By some estimates, it could take $40 billion — eight times what the federal government would provide — to build all those chargers.
But Britta Gross, at energy consulting firm RMI, says it’s an important start that could help kickstart private investment.
“It can be a confidence boost to say, ‘Hey, private investment, take where the federal government has now put aside, and now is where the free market takes its place,’ she said. this scales up’.
Right now, yes about 46,000 charging stations in the United States, compared to about 150,000 gas stations. (That number counts a location with as many ports as a single charging station.)
Some of those chargers were made by car manufacturers. However, Tesla has produced more than 900 of its own chargers in the US – for now – these only charge Tesla vehicles.
Others have been built by independent charging providers, such as Electrify America, EVgo, and ChargePoint. These companies frequently partner with gas stations, large canteens, and grocery stores where they install chargers. And now, many of those companies will contract with state governments to implement their plans for a highway toll network.
A version of this story was previously released on April 30, 2022.