The Biden administration has made its stance on energy very clear as it looks to phase out as many hydrocarbons as possible in favor of electrical systems that do little to provide energy. The latest efforts in advancing a greener agenda center around a gargantuan plan to develop additional EV infrastructure. Specifically, the Biden administration has pledged to the construction of 500,000 new EV charging stations.
Electric vehicles became a primary focal point for the Biden administration very early on. So far, EV infrastructure has secured $7.5 B thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, Build Back Better Bill, and other programs. On top of that, the administration has asked automakers to pledge investment commitments in order to bring EV manufacturing processes back to America to create affordable jobs and strengthen the economy. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like a terrible commitment, but the cracks are starting to show. Where is the US going to source the elements necessary to craft this infrastructure? Why is the US prioritizing the electrification of family cars when 25-ton trucks continue to barrel down the highway and guzzle up gas and diesel? All of these questions seem to lack answers. In all fairness, the world is still in the infancy of EV infrastructure, but it does not inspire confidence when the Secretary of Transportation suggests that you can avoid paying high gas prices by simply buying a new electric vehicle.
What exactly do the technical aspects look like? The proposed standards will mandate that a charging station is placed no more than every 50 miles along interstates while also being no further than a mile from an offramp. The US interstate system is only about 50,000 miles long, meaning that at a minimum, 1000 new electric charging stations will need to be constructed on interstates alone. There is an additional 160,000 miles of other highways to consider, but that is only another 3,200 stations to consider at a minimum. Where will the remaining ~495,000 charging stations go? The Biden administration hopes to deploy these stations everywhere, including in rural and underprivileged communities to make the technology truly accessible to anyone who may want to use it, but it still ensures plenty more will be constructed than necessary meaning that lots of the infrastructure will likely go unused and overfunded.
There are only about 2 million plug-in electric vehicles in the United States (less than 1% of all vehicles) meaning there could be more charging hookups than vehicles by the time this project is finished. It is difficult to determine how many hookups will be available at a station since the administration did a poor job defining what is required. The administration does note that charging stations should be able to accommodate vehicles from any automaker with at least 4 DC fast-chargers available to be used in times of peak demand. This means there could be as many as 10-20 chargers per station with no easy way to predict a lower limit. Assuming a conservative estimate of 6 chargers per station means that the goal of 500,000 new stations would create a 3:2 ratio of chargers to EVs before considering the existing infrastructure. While this plan hopes to support the growing number of EVs over the next few decades, 500,000 stations for 1% appears to be overkill compared to the estimated 110,000 gas stations supporting the other 99% of internal combustion engines on the road.
This doesn’t even begin to address the lack of available existing infrastructure to build around. There are sections of the United States in the west and southwest where a regular gas station may not even exist for more than a 50 mile stretch making it difficult to source electricity for a charging station. For this reason alone, it may be better to tack onto existing infrastructure than build an entirely separate network specifically for EVs. Rather than building a new station with 8 EV charging stations, the federal government could create an incentive for gas stations to construct their own electric vehicle chargers. This way there is no lack of available electrical grids, and money is not wasted on the construction of brand new facilities. This solution could prove to be much more environmentally conscious and effective.
Electric vehicle infrastructure is certainly necessary to accommodate the growing number of EVs on the road, but the current vague plan seems like a massive over-commitment when running simple back-of-the-envelope calculations. Yes, it would create thousands of jobs if the US was able to source and domestically manufacture this technology, but past that, it seems not just gluttonous, but wasteful use of resources. If anything, it looks like a hail Mary attempt at pleasing voters as the midterms approach. Either way, there are billions of dollars looking to be spent, and several companies will reap the rewards of this infrastructure even if no one else is able to. Who knew that in 2022 the government would still be putting the cart before the horse, or more accurately: putting the charging station before the vehicle.
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