The number of battery-electric vehicles on the road continues to grow at an impressive rate, with CNN data estimating monthly sales to have tripled over the past three years and peaking at 65,360 vehicles in July. To keep up with this demand, the Biden Admin. has set a goal for a national network of 500,000 charging stations by 2030 – which received substantial backing and momentum with the recent announcement of a $7.5 billion investment.
However, BEV charging station “deserts” – areas where there is a lack of charging infrastructure – remain an issue in rural areas of the country, becoming a pain point for potential buyers who may already anticipate range anxiety. Deserts further complicate the premise of traveling long distances across highways and communities lacking adequate charging infrastructure.
As of August, the Department of Energy determined there are more than 50,000 charging stations across the country, 6,500 of which feature fast-charging ports. Highway outskirts, urban/downtown and suburban areas tend to be most saturated with BEV charging infrastructure, while rural areas and underserved communities, such as inner cities, often harbor less charging technology.
Energy providers are working to identify these “desert” regions, knowing that for widespread BEV adoption by both urban and rural consumers, they must be addressed. Each region has varying needs, so it’s up to energy providers and community leaders to identify and address those needs. And while most charging takes place at the BEV owner’s home, public charging stations, in urban and rural areas alike, will still play a key role in the transition to e-mobility.
One way of addressing charging deserts is educating businesses from rural areas and other underserved communities about public charging installation incentives. Incentive and rebate programs provide much-needed funds, ultimately lowering obstacles facing an organization considering installing one or multiple charging stations.
The good news is that energy providers already serve communities’ most basic needs and have relationships with leaders, business owners and residents who will benefit from BEV adoption and can speak directly to their concerns. Consumers Energy in Michigan, for example, has been providing rebates for public charging, part of a commitment to building a public charging infrastructure that meets drivers’ needs and, in some cases, puts small towns on the map. We hear it directly from local leaders when BEV charging works well, bringing visitors and their dollars into the community.
The federal infrastructure bill and all the subsequent state investment are going to make a big difference in the deserts. This funding will ensure there are fast chargers along major highway corridors, many of which run through rural regions, and there is also dedicated funding for disadvantaged communities and non-corridors. Since all these dollars will be funneled through the states, there’s good reason to believe that chargers will be disbursed to address deserts.
To progressively plan a network of EV chargers, it’s imperative to geographically target and methodically select areas where EV charging is needed most when selecting where to issue these rebates and encourage installation.
What works logistically for California, home to 39% of all electric vehicles nationwide, will be vastly different in another – Mississippi with .04% of vehicles registered as electric, for instance. More locally, the charging capacity for a rural town such as Tawas in northern Michigan requires different, nuanced considerations from adding a charging station in a more populous metropolitan area like Detroit. Charging needs in Tawas may depend mostly on tourism and people who may be passing through on a road trip, while Detroit will need to account for the commuting workforce, tourism and the city’s larger population.
Geographic selection and communication with community leaders are keys to cultivating a practical network of charging stations. Preventing misinformation and assumptions about widespread BEV adoption, while integrating BEVs through charging stations, electrifying fleets and more, will aid in community understanding and acceptance.
By centering community leaders in the process of identifying charging deserts, energy providers can more quickly bring the charging network up to speed. This collaborative diagnosis provides the opportunity to strategically introduce new infrastructure, zero in on the root of range anxiety and simplify the process of EV adoption for consumers looking to travel sustainably on the road.
Sarah Nielsen (pictured, left) is the executive director of electric-vehicle programs at Jackson, MI-based Consumers Energy.