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It’s going to get a lot easier to road trip in an electric vehicle

ev charging stations (Shutterstock)

The electric vehicle space is evolving so quickly that it’s difficult to keep up.

Three different trends are coming together to drive EVs into the mainstream. The first two — vehicles getting cheaper and traveling further on a charge — get most of the press, but the third is just as important

If EVs are really going to catch on, people need to be confident that they can find a charge, even on long road trips. And it seems that, at long last, the charging infrastructure necessary to support EVs is being planned in earnest.

Feds channel and organize the development of EV charging infrastructure

Thursday brought some important news on that front, as the Obama administration announced its latest package of initiatives designed to accelerate EV adoption. Most of them are focused on charging infrastructure.

The highlights:

  • The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has announced 55 "alternative fuels corridors" along the nation’s interstates and highways. Forty-eight of those will be EV charging corridors, covering 25,000 miles in 35 states. Along these corridors, which will be marked by official DOT signs, drivers can eventually expect to find charging stations at least every 50 miles.
  • Some 28 utilities, vehicle manufacturers, and charging companies have agreed to focus their development efforts on those corridors.
  • The Department of Energy will conduct two studies on the optimal way to build out charging infrastructure. The first will attempt to determine the right number of chargers for various EV market forecasts. The second will get into specifications — what kind of chargers, where, how much they will cost, etc.

One of the things that has held some people back from buying electric vehicles is that they’re nervous about long trips. There aren’t enough charging stations along most long-distance routes, and the charging is slow where it can be found.

electric car charging Shutterstock

If the federal government can channel private investment and innovation into key corridors, it could help remove that impediment. Importantly, this would also make electric cars more visible in most states, and we have good reason to believe that EVs, like solar panels, are contagious.

States and cities are buzzing with action

The other part of the announcement is that the feds are partnering with 24 state and local governments to help electrify public vehicle fleets. Each subnational government has its own strategies and programs — you can read about them individually here. My own city of Seattle, for instance, plans to electrify 40 percent of its light-duty fleet by the end of next year and 100 percent of it by 2023.

It’s notable just how widespread this stuff is, everywhere from Detroit to Denver, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and LA. Oh, and Minnesota.

The Obama administration has done a ton to push EVs forward

These latest initiatives come on top of an even larger suite of actions to accelerate EV adoption announced back in July. And those in turn came behind what has been a stream of similar announcements from the Obama administration.

It is now pretty well understood that Obama abandoned legislative action on climate and turned his attention to executive action. What’s less well-known is just how fine-grained and voluminous executive action has been.

In the climate world, high-profile dramas like pipeline fights or Clinton’s refusal to support a fracking ban get all the attention. But things like this EV charging initiative — organizing agency programs, coordinating public-private partnerships, providing analysis and information to state and local governments — are the meat and potatoes of turning the enormous ship of American economy and governance in a new direction.

On their own, if we’re being honest, most of these announcements are pretty boring. They are not big, dramatic breakthroughs of the sort climate hawks forever discuss and debate, especially during this maelstrom of a presidential campaign.

But they are real. They’re actually changing things. This is the background work of good government: funding, organizing, informing, providing market push and pull. Hardly anyone notices anymore, but the constant accumulation of small-bore initiatives like this is one reason Obama’s climate legacy is likely to be much richer than he’s given credit for.

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