- President Joe Biden wants the United States to build 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations over the next decade.
- The United States could have 35 million electric vehicles by 2030, which would require millions of outlets where the country only has 100,000.
- More plugs would do wonders for an industry transition to electric vehicles, but getting companies to build them isn’t always easy.
- Visit Insider’s Business section for more stories.
With plans to eliminate the country’s carbon footprint by 2050, Joe Biden could easily be the greenest president in American history. But achieving such a flashy goal will involve a lot of work in much more mundane areas, like having enough space to charge a rapidly growing fleet of electric vehicles.
Even with 1.8 million battery-powered cars already on American roads, there are only about 100,000 charging outlets for them at about 41,000 public stations. This disparity makes it easy to see how range anxiety – or fear of running out of juice with no nearby charging point – is one of the biggest hurdles for consumers considering a clean car.
President Biden has pledged to build 500,000 new traffic jams over the next decade, with the goal of reducing emissions from highways that are currently the largest source of carbon emissions. To get there – and to achieve a fully electric future – five experts and industry leaders say the country will need an aggressive infrastructure plan and an array of green policies to go along with it.
The number of electric vehicles in the United States could reach 35 million by 2030, which will require more than 2 million public chargers, according to The Brattle Group, an economics consultancy. With such a boom on the horizon, charging operators are excited about the prospect of a multi-billion dollar federal investment in charging infrastructure that could give a boost to the EV transition that’s already underway. Classes.
“This industry is happening. The question is how much faster can it happen,” Jonathan Levy, chief commercial officer of fast-charging company EVgo, said in an interview. “What really makes us happy is that the Biden administration recognizes that this is going to happen around the world, and if the United States is to lead, it is going to take more federal political support to do so.”
But Biden’s plan – and, ultimately, any action by Congress – could take many forms. Industry leaders and policy experts are divided over how best to achieve this.
A White House spokesman declined to comment on the administration’s plans.
How to get the ball rolling
Getting things done quickly, which is not the strongest point of the federal government, is a top priority for Drew Lipsher, head of strategy at the charging company Volta. After all, electric vehicles made up less than 3% of all car sales in 2020.
“I think the most important thing the government can focus on to meet expected demand – speed,” he said in an interview. “The harder they make it, the more this process slows things down, it will only hurt the transition to electric mobility.”
Convincing millions of consumers to switch to electricity will require a massive upfront investment to dramatically increase access to charging, Nick Nigro, founder of transportation-focused consultancy Atlas Public Policy, told Insider. He wants Congress and the Biden administration to approach charging infrastructure the same way Tesla built its Supercharger network.
“[Tesla] made significant investments early on to establish that no matter where you were in the United States, you would be able to travel with your Tesla vehicle without worrying about range or access to charging ”, did he declare. position to look at all electric transport with the same objective. “
Nigro recommends that the transportation and energy departments work together to distribute subsidies to suppliers, possibly through existing channels like the state energy program.
Discounts that get companies to build chargers, or for customers to buy them, are another option for quickly boosting business.
Anne Smart, vice president of public policy at ChargePoint, a charging company that sells outlets to businesses, fleets, and home use, is particularly excited about the expansion of consumer-side discounts. These can be deployed faster than grants, have been shown to be effective at the state level and allow the market to function as usual, she said. Customers can choose any charger supplier they want and get a few thousand dollars off the sticker price.
According to Volta’s Lipsher, however, a rebate program for pricing companies could actually hinder progress if it causes companies to wait months and years for a rebate to be approved before starting construction.
Not so fast
Levy of EVgo, who has held positions in the Energy Department and the Obama White House, says there are risks in building too many charging stations too quickly. Charging infrastructure needs to stay just ahead of EV ownership and demand, not drastically ahead of them, he says.
To make his point, Levy quotes hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s famous adage about skating where the puck is going to be, not where it has been. For pricing companies, “you want to skate right before the puck. If we skate so much beyond the puck that we’re out of the arena, that’s a problem for the industry,” he said. declared.
This is because excessive construction can hurt the economy of the charging business, he said, leading to a large number of underutilized and unprofitable stations to operate.
This is a mistake that has been made in the past – with significant consequences. As part of the 2009 stimulus law, the Department of Energy allocated $ 100 million in grants to a company called Ecotality to build more than 10,000 charging stations. Four years later, Ecotality filed for bankruptcy. An audit that year found that demand for electric vehicles had not grown as quickly as expected and that the majority of commercial charging stations built by Ecotality were suffering from low usage.
To avoid similar pitfalls, government clean energy programs could allow funds to be used not only for capital investments but also for operating expenses to close the profitability gap, Levy said.
Location is key
Whichever funding model it chooses, experts say the government should deliberate on where chargers go and what kind of technology is used. Fast chargers, for example, are not needed on urban and suburban streets where people tend to park for hours at a time. On the contrary, the slower Level 2 outlets are not suitable for rural areas or highway rest areas where people intend to spend only 45 minutes.
Then there is the issue of fairness.
Targeting major transport improvements to minority communities is particularly important, given that they bear the bulk of the country’s carbon emissions, Anne Shikany, an infrastructure policy expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Insider. . But the investment must not come at the expense of community involvement.
“One thing we would like to see is extensive consultation with communities before the infrastructure goes into effect,” said Shikany. “Talking to communities and making sure the items you want to provide match their needs is extremely important.”
Charging is just one piece of the puzzle
Charging is just one piece of the puzzle of the country’s transition away from gasoline-powered cars. And charging companies are hoping the new administration will follow through on a host of other measures to boost demand for electric vehicles.
Biden also pledged to convert the entire federal government fleet – some 650,000 vehicles – to electric vehicles, and pledged that every bus made in the United States will be battery-powered by 2030. Charging companies hope that an expansion of the current zero emission vehicle tax credit is also on the horizon.
Excitement aside, the pricing companies Insider spoke to said they were also prepared to go it alone if the White House didn’t pass. The train has left the station, they said, and the electric vehicle boom is happening with or without federal government support.
“Politics is also primarily a tailwind of how we see it,” Levy said. “The future of electric vehicles is now, and it is here, and it is happening regardless of everything else.”