BY PAUL WESSLUND
Electric vehicles (EV) need a nationwide network of charging stations to overcome American drivers’ fears of running out of juice on long trips.
Or maybe that’s not true at all.
There are already nearly one-third as many charging sites in the U.S. as gas stations. And that doesn’t even count the “refueling stations” found in the electric outlets of every home. Plus, the range of EVs already exceeds how far most people drive in a day. It’s estimated 90% of Americans drive less than 45 miles a day, and the average range for EVs is 250 miles.
The ballyhoo over charging stations has created a powerful conventional wisdom that they’re a necessary step toward overcoming “range anxiety.” President Biden’s American Jobs Plan proposes a national network of 500,000 charging stations by 2030, up from the Department of Energy’s current count of 50,000.
But the conventional wisdom masks a different road ahead.
Concerns beyond range anxiety
Range anxiety may be the least of the reasons there aren’t more EVs on the road, says Brian Sloboda, director of consumer solutions for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
“There are people who argue we need the charging network for the electric vehicle market to be successful. They might be right, but I’m not one of those people,” says Sloboda. “Let’s say your electric vehicle is only used for commuting and you’re just driving it from your home to the grocery store to work. It is very likely that you would never even use public charging stations because you can charge your EV at home for a very reasonable price.”
Sloboda is quick to list the advantages of EVs, from how they affect the environment to their lower maintenance costs to the fact that you can wake up every morning with a full tank of “gas.” But he sees bigger issues than a lack of charging stations standing in the way of greater acceptance.
“You have limited model availability, limited body styles, limited manufacturers, high prices and most people are unfamiliar with the technology,” he says.
But Sloboda sees those problems as solvable. Right now, you’ll pay about $10,000 extra for an electric model. But those costs are coming down as batteries get cheaper and more powerful.
And competition is heating up. Every major car manufacturer has high-profile plans for electric models. Although EVs make up less than 4% of the auto market, that’s doubled from just one year ago.
Supporting public charging
Even if charging stations are not the most important determiner of the future of EVs, they are a growing part of the landscape. To find the nearest charging station, a variety of apps will guide you. Many electric co-ops are also responding to the rising interest.
“Co-ops are looking at what they can do to support public charging,” says Sloboda. “They do it to meet the needs of their members, but they also do it as economic development to bring tourists into the community to support local businesses like hotels and parks.”
Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.