The EV revolution is here. In June, the California Public Utility Commission approved construction for a massive network of electric vehicle charging stations. Totaling a whopping $738 million, the proposal represents one of the largest pools of public funding allocated for utility EV charging in history.
Meanwhile, smaller independent projects have sprung up across California. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District announced its independent commitment to build over 2,000 chargers in 134 locations, setting aside $6 million in project funding. In addition, the city of Sacramento received a $44 million investment from Electrify America to install hundreds of chargers throughout this year. Both projects seek to bolster sustainability by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and encouraging EV adoption, as well as simplifying transportation and alleviating traffic bottlenecks.
Joining the charge are New York and New Jersey, pledging $250 million and $300 million respectively, in an effort to make EV charging more accessible and reliable. The New York Power Authority plans to install up to 200 DC fast chargers along “key interstate corridors” and near two major airports, while New Jersey’s Public Service Enterprise Group seeks to build 50,000 charging stations in residential zones, at office buildings, and along highways.
These commitments signal a growing effort to make EV charging reliable, convenient, and mainstream.
The successful integration of electric vehicles on American roadways is no small feat. While there remains a lack of public access to fast charging, Americans consider EV technology to be too primitive to meet their driving needs. But without EVs on the road, governments and businesses are hesitant to invest in charging networks. It’s the classic chicken-and-the-egg conundrum.
But the development of an advanced charging network is crucial. Prospective EV drivers are often deterred by “range anxiety,” the fear that EV batteries could fail and leave riders stranded with no place to charge. When that anxiety is overcome, the question of convenience remains: charging up an EV can take hours, while pumping gas into an internal combustion vehicle takes a matter of minutes. In today’s hustle-and-bustle culture, are American drivers willing to make that sacrifice?
“The recharging infrastructure is developing very slowly, and that’s keeping a lot of people from buying an electric car,” Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn explained in an interview with Harvard Business Review. “We’re working, among other things, on enhancing the battery to extend the car’s range, but the problem won’t be solved until there is a larger network of charging stations.”
EV technology is advancing quickly within the automobile industry, but according to Ghosn, external investments to install chargers are going to make or break the EV market. For example, Tesla Motors is perhaps the furthest along in the development of a stable network, with over 10,000 public, Tesla-specific superchargers installed across North America. It’s impressive, but a fast charge still takes at least a half-hour, and for the many Americans who can’t afford the luxury cars, the network is unusable altogether. Production delays have prevented Tesla from releasing its mass-market model, set to begin at $35,000.
That’s why organizations like GRID Alternatives are working to make EV charging more accessible. Specializing in solar panel installation, GRID’s newest initiative seeks to build EV chargers powered by solar in low-income communities. The California-based nonprofit hopes that this project can help alleviate high gas burdens and improve poor regional air quality.
"California's climate investments have dedicated significant resources to helping bring solar power and clean transportation options to communities that are most burdened by high energy costs, and that are most impacted by pollution from gasoline and diesel emissions," Zach Franklin, GRID’s Chief Strategy Officer, told the Green Business Network. "GRID Alternatives is working to help bring these programs and technologies together to help low-income communities replace gasoline with sunshine. Investments in charging infrastructure will be a critical part of this effort, particularly since so many low-income families are renters who aren't able to install home chargers on their own."
Based on present growth, the Bloomberg New Energy Finance research firm estimates approximately 559 million vehicles, composing one-third of the global car fleet, will go electric by 2040. Of all new car sales that year, EVs are expected to capture a 55% market share. These numbers will only go up as EV technology becomes cheaper to manufacture.
In the global race to perfect an EV ecosystem, China is in the fast lane. Currently, China represents the largest EV market worldwide and enjoys a rate of EV adoption double than that of the United States. While the Trump administration has planned to cut EV tax breaks, China continues to prioritize clean transportation by incentivizing consumers with tax breaks, subsidies, and simple registration processes, while also installing the charging infrastructure necessary to alleviate range anxiety. The country has even announced its ambition to completely ban the sale of internal combustion vehicles, confident that this decision is not only feasible, but environmentally and economically favorable.
China’s ability to champion the current EV market shows us that an increasingly electric transportation fleet is possible and should be encouraged. According to the EPA, transportation made up 29% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States in 2016, with the majority of that figure sourced from light-duty vehicles. China’s experience has proven that our nation’s ability to reduce its carbon footprint and fossil-fuel dependence relies on its willingness to decarbonize the transportation sector, and EVs are a solution.
The revival of electric transportation is the new frontier of the modern green economy, and investments to expand charging networks will be essential to its success. And while the federal government remains reluctant to support EV adoption, contributions from smaller government and corporate bodies must lay the foundation for change. These recent commitments in California, New York, and New Jersey reveal a promising opportunity to innovate, to profit, and to help the planet.