President Joe Biden wants to make electric vehicle chargers as ubiquitous across the country as gas stations.
According to an analysis by Bloomberg earlier this summer, at present, the great American road trip is largely impossible for most electric cars. For many EV drivers, a trip from the Grand Canyon up the west coast is completely out of the question because of the lack of fast-charging stations that cater to non-Teslas.
But, “The great American road trip is going to be fully electrified,” Biden announced on Wednesday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. “Whether you're driving coast to coast along the I-10, or on I-75 here in Michigan, charging stations will be up and as easy to find as gas stations are now.”
“We’re also going to be investing $7 billion to make American car companies and have the batteries and other critical materials they need,” he said alongside the $7.5 billion to be allocated to infrastructure to “confront the climate crisis.”
The first phase of this electrification is a $900 million investment to install electric vehicle charging stations across 34 states and Puerto Rico. On top of EV incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act and states like California banning the production of new gas vehicles, Biden’s latest electrification move marks an earnest effort from the U.S. to move away from gas-powered transportation.
In the first quarter of 2022, EV sales hit a record high in the U.S. totaling 208,411. Despite the increased popularity and affordability of EVs, the infrastructure needed to support them continues to lag behind, particularly in communities of color and rural areas. Across Montana’s 147,000 square miles, for example, there are only 57 EV charging stations, the majority of which are clustered in cities.
Those 57 are among the 46,570 that are open in the U.S. currently, which Biden aims to drastically increase to 500,000 by 2030, installed along 53,000 miles of freeways. These charging stations will likely begin to pop up as early as next summer, with federal officials aiming to approve all EV roadmaps by September 30, 2022.
Most powerful chargers will be along “alternative fuel corridors,” which are major highways that connect states. The reason is to eliminate “range anxiety” which limits many people from purchasing electric cars. According to a survey by Autolist conducted this summer, the lack of charging stations is one of the top three reasons people don’t buy EVs.
Under proposed guidelines, states would be required to install at least one four-port fast-charging station every 50 miles on these corridors and ensure they are within one mile of an off-ramp. Some exemptions for rural areas, particularly those where infrastructure is less of a problem, are still under review.
State transportation officials in Wyoming for example are urging Biden to ease the requirements because EV adoption in the state is low, and officials like state Department of Transportation Director Luke Reiner think putting the money towards charging stations in tourists attractions like Yellowstone National Park as opposed to the state’s rural areas, makes more sense, The Associated Press reports.
“We want to make sure these stations are in populated areas so there’s more chance of success,” he told the publication. Still, the exemption requests are pending, as experts who have followed the electric vehicle revolution in the U.S. say that charging stations everywhere are necessary.
“It’s like the U.S. Postal Service. You need to be able to send mail everywhere, including places that are rural,” Jeremy Michalek, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and director of the university’s Vehicle Electrification Group, told AP.
“Even if that charger that’s in that rural area isn’t used as much every day, we still need the infrastructure to supply them. We have gas stations that are used less in rural areas than they would be in a big city, but we need them for the demand.”
An additional $2.5 billion in discretionary grants will be available to fund electric vehicle charging infrastructure in economically disadvantaged communities, rural areas, and urban cores.
The funding for the electrification plan comes as part of the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law passed last November which includes funds for transportation, broadband internet, and water systems. In total, $7.5 billion of these funds will be allocated for expanding access to EV chargers.
The $900 million is just the first wave. Notably, Biden announced that these chargers will be installed by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, a labor union of over 775,000 electrical workers.
The investment is a necessary step to further the U.S. on the road to net-zero emissions. In 2020, the transportation sector was the largest contributor to U.S. emissions, producing about 27 percent of the country’s greenhouse gasses, with light-duty vehicles accounting for the vast majority.
Biden’s electrification plan is a step towards his 2021 goal of EVs making up half of all new car sales by 2030 and is a step toward ultimately decarbonizing the country.