Utilities, including electric cooperatives, will be serving new electric vehicle (EV) load and extending the reach of public charging networks now under development or proposed for major transportation corridors.
“Electric vehicles are evolving rapidly and, as they do, use and charging patterns are shifting and consumers are getting a better understanding of how they can use the vehicles,” said Brett Smith, director of technology for the Center for Automotive Research. The non-profit organization conducts independent research on behalf of the global mobility industry.
Still, one of the major challenges facing market acceptance remains a lack of charging infrastructure in many parts of the country. As of December 2021, there were about 113,000 charging ports available at 46,090 public charging stations nationwide.
“You’re going to see the need to really invest in infrastructure over the next five to 10 years,” said Smith, adding that some buyers who have the option of home charging have not reached the comfort level essential to use EVs for longer trips. “They don’t see the infrastructure out there. You’re probably at some point going to need to make it seem like overinvestment, because you have to make the consumer comfortable.”
The federal government estimates that 500,000 public chargers will be needed by 2030, and it is currently investing $7.5 billion to help build a network of public chargers along major highways and in rural areas. The funding comes from the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress and signed into law last November.
The Kansas State Department of Transportation in February announced $2 million in grants awarded to operators of travel centers along Interstate 70 and the Kansas Turnpike to install charging stations. The grants are financed with funds from legal settlements with automaker Volkswagen Corp. over its rigging of diesel-powered vehicles to cheat on government emissions tests. The station locations along I-70 will be at Oakley, WaKeeney, Russell, Abilene and Maple Hill. On the turnpike, stations are planned for the Matfield Green service area and the Belle Plaine service area south of Wichita.
According to the Department of Energy, the majority of ports now being deployed for public use are DC fast chargers that provide 60 to 80 miles of range for 20 minutes of charging time, compared to four minutes at the pump for most gasoline-powered vehicles.
Smith said it may be feasible to charge EVs up to 80% of capacity in about 15 minutes.
“Whether that’s perfect for everybody or not, if it becomes a standard or an accepted practice, I think people could become comfortable with that,” he said.
The Joint Office for Electric Vehicle Charging and Infrastructure operated by the Department of Energy and the Department of Transportation is developing a grant program to help states and local partners, including electric co-ops, develop public charging facilities.
“NRECA (National Rural Electric Cooperative Association) and electric cooperatives formed the Community Approach to Vehicle Electrification funding interest group. This group of co-ops is focused on using their detailed knowledge of local needs to address vehicle electrification and charging infrastructure,” said Brian Sloboda, NRECA’s director of consumer solutions.
Across the U.S., many electric cooperatives are already in regular contact with their state departments of transportation (DOTs) to discuss current and proposed Alternative Fuel Corridors. These corridors will be the areas eligible for federal funding. State DOTs must submit an EV infrastructure plan to the federal government by Aug. 1, 2022.
“Electric co-ops can help their [state]DOTs by identifying areas of the service territory where EV charging infrastructure could be placed in an economic manner that overlap with current or proposed Alternative Fuel Corridors,” said Sloboda.
Under the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, public EV charging infrastructure should be located every 50 miles along major travel corridors, and no more than 1 mile from the highway.
“The focus on local needs will ensure that the college tailgate parties, national parks, highway interchanges, local businesses and county fairs are adequately represented,” said Sloboda. “They will place the infrastructure where the people and local businesses are.”
Among the greatest concerns is charger availability during peak travel periods that include holidays, the beginning and end of academic terms and major sports and entertainment events that attract highway travelers. If wait times at available charging ports average 15 minutes per vehicle, the cumulative effects of several EVs in a waiting line could cause substantial delays.
The DOE’s Alternate Fuels Data Center has developed a Station Locator Tool (SLT) mobile app. During the government’s 2021 fiscal year, the SLT site attracted 6 million page views and topped 3,900 downloads. According to the DOE, the site provided more than 1.3 million searches for EV charging stations for the fiscal year.
Energy officials contend that placement of fast chargers at restaurants, shopping malls and other locations where consumers shop, work and play could offer multitasking opportunities. Organizations like the National Association of Convenience Stores are now providing technical assistance and resources to convenience store operators to help promote installation and availability of fast charging equipment to meet growing demand.
While DC fast charging units now range in price from $10,000 to $35,000 per unit, federal and state funding initiatives could drive down the costs, increasing incentives to add them.
Derrill Holly writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives.