Grid Professionals Group
The Grid Professionals Group covers electric current from its transmission step down to each customer's home.
We need remote charging stations, but who will build them?
- Dec 5, 2022 10:31 am GMT
I had to get out. Five months of zoom meetings, home workouts and compulsive walks around the block … COVID isolation was finally starting to take its toll. Luckily, my friend Roberto was going equally stir crazy, and enthusiastically accepted my invitation for a late-summer West Texas roadtrip. We settled on Laredo, a sleepy border town some 11 hours from our base in El Paso.
The drive was amazing. Deep cactus filled arroyos parked under a desert sky that’s so dramatic you’d swear the artist lacked restraint if you saw it in a painting. Perhaps most arresting, however, was the utter desolation. At one point, Roberto muttered that this must be one of the most remote parts of the country to have a highway. I’ve since studied some maps, and I think only parts of the Dakotas have it beat.
Entranced by the Chihuahuan Desert’s beauty and stillness, an extraneous modern beep brought us back to reality. Our car was on empty. We hadn’t seen a gas station in over an hour and there was no indication one would be coming up. We cut the AC, let up on the accelerator, and started to pray. With no cell service, no shoulder on the road, and no traffic to speak of, running out of gas would be bad. Soon the beeping stopped and the blinking empty light went dim. And then a tiny one pump station appeared as we drifted downhill around a bend. We were saved.
What happened to me and Roberto is why so many Americans are waiting to buy electric cars. Of course, the vast majority of us do all our driving in a relatively small radius, but the big "what if" road trips play heavily on our minds when considering something as expensive as our next car. If you are of the opinion that your car should be capable of going anywhere in the USA, the hard truth is that EVs just won’t work for you.
As it stands, there are over 145,000 places to fill up a gas-powered car, but only 11,600 to quickly charge an EV.
As the country desperately tries to transition its transportation sector to electric, we find ourselves caught in a chicken-egg conundrum: Drivers don’t want EVs until there’s a robust charging network, but companies don’t want to build the expensive infrastructure until there are a lot of customers on the road.
Another hurdle the industry is facing in regards to rapidly building out a charging network is the tricky contention between private companies and public/quasi public utilities. The latter obviously have the innate advantage of, when allowed, being able to offload costs to ratepayers, which is a big deal in places where chargers aren’t predicted to make money for many years.
Is this unfair? Yes, but how else can we hope to get charging stations into remote parts of the country with little demand? Left to market forces, I don’t think we’d see a charging station in the middle of the Chihuahuan desert for a very long time.
Even with government support, expanding charging infrastructure into rural America is really tricky. Not only would such stations fail to turn a profit, but they’d be a real pain to repair. Imagine sending a technician from El Paso to the place Roberto and I filled up near Big Bend. That’s like a 5 hour trip … all for a charging station that isn’t even profitable.
Our gas station network took decades to mature. Unfortunately, if we want to go electric anytime soon, we can’t wait decades for a charging system to match. We’re on the clock and there are bound to be difficult and expensive decisions to make.
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