With the upcoming launch of longer-range, more affordable electric vehicles the auto industry is taking several critical steps towards making alternative power mainstream, but range anxiety isn’t yet a thing of the past.
Now, the federal government is taking steps to address the other big problem: a lack of places to charge electric vehicles. The plan announced by the Obama Administration will include 55 different interstates, covering 25,000 miles of highway in 35 states. Add in efforts to boost the availability of natural gas and other alternative fuels and the network grows to 85,000 miles of roadway.
“Alternative fuels and electric vehicles will play an integral part in the future of America’s transportation system,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We have a duty to help drivers identify routes that will help them refuel and recharge those vehicles and designating these corridors on our highways is a first step.”
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A number of states have been promoting efforts to expand the availability of charging and alt-fuel facilities. California, for example, has not only set up public chargers but it’s providing funding for a major expansion of its currently meager hydrogen distribution infrastructure. Meanwhile, Tesla Motors has been setting up its own grid of Superchargers, a network of high-speed chargers that will allow its owners to travel cross country without worrying about draining their batteries.
But this move will provide access to public chargers for all battery-car owners.
The timing could prove critical, as there are a growing number of plug-based vehicles coming to market. A growing number of those – like the Tesla Model 3 and the Chevrolet Bolt – are targeting a more mainstream audience with the lure of longer range and lower prices. But even for vehicles getting 200 miles or more per charge, going cross-country, even between cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, can be tricky, requiring careful planning to know where chargers are currently available.
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This past summer, the Obama Administration said it would provide $4.5 billion in loan guarantees to support the large-scale deployment of EV chargers. The plan announced by the White House this week does not set aside new funding but will encourage states to place signs alerting motorists to where charging stations and other alternative fuel facilities are available for public use. The administration estimated that the number of chargers alone has grown from 500 in 2008 to over 16,000 today.
The latest announcement coincides with several other steps meant to expand the adoption of alternative power vehicles. As part of its Workplace Charging Challenge, 38 more businesses, universities and other employers have agreed to add EV charging stations at their workplaces.
Meanwhile, two dozen state and local government have committed to adding electric vehicles to their fleets or expanding their current EV operations. Los Angeles, for example, plans to switch to battery power for half of all new light-duty vehicles by next year. It also will invest $22.5 million to set up new chargers.
The new alt-fuel network will cover some of the country’s most important highways, including most of Interstate-80, which runs from New York to California, and much of Interstates 5 and 95, which run up the West and East Coasts, respectively.
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