There has been a lot of talk today about President Joe Biden’s first day executive orders. One EO that has long been promised paves the way forward for mass electric vehicle adoption. Joe has campaigned on a $5 billion plan to install half a million new EV charging stations by 2030. If it does come to pass, it’ll certainly help alleviate range anxiety and provide the network consumers and automakers alike need to be able to rely on emissions free driving.
Of course, an executive order doesn’t have any teeth without a budget to fund it, so he’ll need the backing of congress to get it done. As one of the tentpoles of this administration’s plan for the future, electric vehicles and clean energy are likely to receive serious support from congressional Dems, and could clear bi-partisan favor with the promise of new jobs wrapped up in it. Biden’s plan calls for around 1 million new clean energy jobs created as a result of this.
In the United States right this very moment, there are estimated to be 111,000 gas stations. That number is lower than I figured it would be, as gas stations are basically frickin’ everywhere. Most gas stations have somewhere between 4 and 16 pumps, right? Our current EV charging infrastructure includes 28,726 individual stations, though only 4,336 of those stations include DC fast charging, which is necessary for long-distance travel. Of those DC fast stations, Tesla accounts for just shy of 1/4 of them, and can’t be used to charge any non-Tesla.
The electric charging infrastructure is pretty solid these days, as you can easily take an EV across the country, or commute in pretty much every major city. I live in Nevada, and there are large swathes of the state which are inaccessable by electric vehicle. And for people who don’t have the ability to charge overnight, for example anyone who lives in an apartment building, or anyone who needs to street-park their car, it’s not quite viable technology for the daily drive.
The major advantage gasoline has going for it right now is the ability to point your vehicle in pretty much any direction and now you’re going to get wherever you’re going because there are fueling stations basically everywhere. Even in the most remote parts of the country, you can count on there being a gas station close enough that when your low fuel light comes on, you can get to the next one.
As many have stated in the comments section of dozens of blogs I’ve written, the only thing stopping them from buying and electric is the lack of charging infrastructure. Well, 46 is calling you out to put up or shut up.
Because Biden’s plan doesn’t specify, I’m going to guess that 550,000 number means individual chargers rather than locations at which to charge, because I’m not sure it would make sense to have five times as many places to plug in as fuel up. So we’ll assume that Biden is looking to match our gasoline infrastructure by installing something like 5 individual chargers at 110,000 different locations.
Current charging infrastructure is largely based in parking lots of stores and restaurants, which is fine enough. As long as we don’t resort to replacing all of our gas stations with charging stations, it’ll probably be alright. To really make a lasting change, however, Biden’s policy should focus on low-income neighborhoods, multi-family housing installations, and parking lots for business and industrial parks. Anywhere that a car is forced to sit for hours at a time anyway is a good place to have charging. Equip street lamps with EV chargers. Equip parking meters with EV chargers.
One of the things I truly love about driving an electric vehicle is I rarely need to go out of my way to charge, because I can “fill up” overnight while I’m sleeping. The only time I’ve needed to use fast charging is during long road trips. In which case, our interstate infrastructure is already pretty well fleshed out by private companies. Given the opportunity, I’d love to see Biden’s plan continue to expand charging infrastructure into rural communities and smaller state highways.
As it stands, you can get most places with the existing EV infrastructure we have, but if you’re trying to get to your cousin’s place in rural Idaho or North Dakota, you’re going to have a tough time. Hopefully by making electric car chargers as ubiquitous as gas stations, that range anxiety and usability problem will disappear entirely. With more charging stations, we can shrink the so-called electron deserts.
With basically every auto manufacturer leaning hard into an electric future over the next decade, this expansion of infrastructure will bring with it the demand needed to sustain not only the incoming electric models, but further growth beyond that. Biden has expressed a desire for the U.S. to be competitive with China on electric vehicle adoption, largely out of support for the many automakers with manufacturing facilities based here. China already has half a million public EV plugs in place, so this 2030 expansion plan would only get us caught up to China’s 2021 levels.
Obviously the best plan is to force all Americans to live in megacities and invest in bullet train technology and moving sidewalks. But this isn’t a utopia, and people aren’t willing to give up their personal mobility, or the opportunity to exacerbate climate issues by living in the wilderness-urban interface (that’s the WUI, look it up), so we have to play by the rules of the existing system. If you absolutely must keep your cars and your ridiculously long traffic-packed commutes, and your desire to traverse the wild empty lands of this country by car, then by all means, let’s make it happen in a clean fashion. And why not create a whole mess of jobs along the way?
When it comes to delivering on a promise to increase our charging infrastructure over the course of a decade, there’s no kind of kill like overkill. Is 550,000 new chargers outlandish and impossible? No. Is it ambitious? Just the right amount.