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IIJA and the Cure for Range Anxiety

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Bill Meehan's picture
Director, Utility Solutions Esri

William (Bill) Meehan is the Director of Utility Solutions for Esri. He is responsible for business development and marketing Esri’s geospatial technology to global electric and gas utilities.A...

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  • Jun 8, 2022
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Range anxiety: a driver’s fear of running out of fuel before reaching the intended destination.

I had a severe case of range anxiety on a road trip from New Jersey to Boston many years ago. I had rented a huge faux-wood paneled Chevy station wagon. The fully loaded beast was lucky to achieve 11miles to the gallon. The fuel gauge dangerously approached empty as the family approached Providence, Rhode Island, on Route 95. It was late in the evening. It was clear that we would never reach Boston before running out of gas. This trip was during one of the gasoline shortage crises. Gas stations were closed or displayed the dreaded red flag signifying no gas. We pulled into a closed gas station and camped out the night. Before the station opened in the morning, we were the first in line waiting for the station to open. The line of cars behind us snaked around the corner of the gas station. Fortunately, we could fill up and successfully complete our trip home.

Gasoline shortages can happen at any time. For example, in 2016, a major pipeline leak caused many stations to run out of gas entirely. This event created significant range anxiety. In addition, refinery fires, international crises, supply chain disruption, earthquakes, storms, and tornadoes can interrupt gasoline supply. The Russian brutal invasion of Ukraine has helped send prices at the gas pump soaring and one can easily imagine a protracted war leading to gasoline shortages in some European nations.

Today range anxiety is mainly associated with electric vehicles. The problem with EVs, at this moment in time, is the current range of most EVs on the road is shorter than most gas cars, and the availability to charge up is limited.

IIJA Funds Half a Million Electric Charging Station

According to MarketWatch, there are about 115,000 gas stations in the US. Let’s assume there is an average number of six gas pumps per station. That puts the number of gas pumps at a little over 600,000. Compared to the less than 10,000 fast chargers in the US, it’s no wonder EV users have range anxiety. But the solution is well at hand.

Three programs funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (the so-called “eye ja” or IIJA) address this lack of availability. The programs are:

  • The National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program, funded at 5 billion dollars
  • Charging and Fueling Infrastructure Grants (community charging) funded at 1.25 billion dollars
  • Charging and Fueling Infrastructure Grants (corridor charging) funded at 1.25 billion dollars

Much of the funding is for creating a national network of electric charging stations. In addition, some funding is allocated for alternative fuelings, such as hydrogen. The goal is to install 500,000 charging stations by 2026. This would come close to 600,000 gas pumps available for gas fueling.

GIS Helps Plan for the Rollout

IIJA recognizes that the rollout of EVs has to be done thoughtfully. One of the law’s provisions is that the rollout must be done equitably across all populations. Renters, apartment dwellers, and low-income neighborhoods are least likely to have the luxury of in-home chargers. That’s why commercial charging stations need to be made available to all.

The authors of IIJA wisely recognized this reality. They further recognized that careful planning and documentation of the grants must account for equity. This reality is explicitly stated in Division J, title VIII, Highway Infrastructure Program heading, paragraph (2), subsection 6 of the Act:

“Mapping and analysis activities to evaluate, in an area in the United States designated by the eligible entity, the locations of current and future electric vehicle owners, to forecast commuting and travel patterns of electric vehicles and the quantity of electricity required to serve electric vehicle charging stations, to estimate the concentrations of electric vehicle charging stations…” This section continues to describe the mapping of travel analysis and concentration of the vehicles in considerable detail.

GIS provides the data and analytics to do just what is described. In addition, GIS provides the tools to perform sophisticated equity analysis. GIS combines the power of network management (for grid demands and infrastructure planning) with tools needed to assure equitable placement of charging stations.

IIJA Cures Range Anxiety

This major project will effectively eliminate range anxiety – putting EVs on the same reliable range footing as gas-powered vehicles. Charging stations will be as common as today’s corner gas station/convenience stores.

This is a good news (and little bad news) story for utilities. Utilities will undoubtedly be challenged to plan for the substantial impact on the grid. Some estimates suggest that replacing gas power vehicles with EVs would double the electric demand. That could be bad news if utilities continue to rely on coal- and natural gas-fired power plants, but good news we they accelerate the shift to wind, solar and geothermal energy and demand-side efficiency. The even better news is that this new source of demand and revenue breathes much life into electric utilities. Homes and businesses will continue to lower their electricity consumption by adopting solar and increasingly energy efficient heating/cooling systems, lighting, electronics, and appliances. In addition, with new thinking around neighborhood geothermal systems proposed by organizations such as HEET, air conditioning demands should shrink over the same period that EV demand increases.

In all these cases, modeling the grid and smart placement of the technology will require careful planning. GIS is poised to provide both. So, the next time I take a road trip with my electric car, I can have the confidence that the fueling stations will be just around the corner.

For more information on how GIS supports electric utility planning, click here.

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Julian Jackson's picture
Julian Jackson on Jun 9, 2022

Thanks Bill. The problem I see is, EV "Range Anxiety" is partly psychological, given numerous studies, e.g. in the UK (where I am) 95% of car journeys are less than 25 miles (RAC figures), easily within the range of EVs. So we also perhaps need to have media messaging to convince people that actually, in practical terms, EVs have sufficient range for most purposes.

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