WASHINGTON >> The White House on Thursday announced an array of new initiatives aimed at clinching one key goal in a transition away from burning fossil fuels — switching the nation's millions of drivers from gas guzzlers to electric vehicles.
The key to this transition? Installing a widespread national network of electric vehicle charging stations that will allow potential drivers to get around a key psychological problem: "range anxiety." At present, many people are justifiably afraid that they'll run out of charge on their EV far from a station where they can repower its battery. We know it's easy in most places to find a gas station, but we don't know as much about charging stations. And without that assurance, EV sales will continue to be held back.
To change this, the White House announced a new designation of up to $ 4.5 billion in Energy Department loan guarantees to support new types of EV charging infrastructure, plans to designate and develop key electric vehicle "charging corridors" across the country, plans for the government itself to procure large numbers of electric vehicles and research initiatives at the Department of Energy and its laboratories to improve EV charging technologies.
The array of initiatives "serves the goal of providing consumers with more comfort that they will be able to move across regions and across the country in their electric vehicles," said Brian Deese, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, on a call with reporters.
At the same time, the White House also announced that some of the country's largest power companies and automakers — ranging from Duke Energy to the Southern Company, and from Ford to Tesla — had signed on to a joint statement pledging to "drive the market transformation to electric vehicles by making it easy for consumers to charge their vehicles."
The partnership signals that even as Tesla and other automakers build more electric cars, companies like Duke, the country's largest electric utility, are taking steps to create more facilities to accommodate them. Duke recently announced a plan to offer cities in North Carolina $ 1 million to develop charging facilities, even though there are only about 4,700 EVs in the state right now, the company's Randy Wheeless said in a recent interview with the Post.
"To really get people realizing that the infrastructure is there in place, you just have to continue to grow it," Wheeless said. Duke expects charging infrastructure to grow by 30 percent in North Carolina because of the program.
Deese said that since Obama's first year in office, the number of electric vehicle charging stations in the U.S. has grown from 500 to 16,000. "That's a 40 fold increase over the last 8 years," he said.
Lynn Orr, undersecretary for science and energy at the Department of Energy, added that there are now close to 500,000 plug-in electric vehicles on the road in the country (the largest number are in California).
"The transportation sector is a quarter of our nation's greenhouse gas emissions, so there's a very important opportunity here," Orr said, if these numbers can grow further.
Indeed, as the U.S. swings precipitously away from burning coal as its source of electricity, our automobile habits are fast becoming our biggest remaining climate change problem.
In one of the new initiatives, Orr said the Energy Department would apply its research abilities to try to find out how to build charging technologies that can power up an EV with a 200-mile range in the space of 10 minutes - far faster than what's currently available.
"That's enough for you to plug it in, run in and get your cup of coffee, and sip on that for a minute or two until you're ready to go," Orr said.