Seyfarth Shaw – President Biden campaigned on a platform that included a commitment to take dramatic action to address climate change; within a week of taking office in January 2021, he issued an executive order establishing a task force to develop a plan to create a carbon pollution-free electricity sector no later than 2035 and to transition all federal, state, local, and tribal government fleets, including vehicles of the United States Postal Service, to clean and zero emission vehicles.
The executive order set an aggressive schedule, requiring the task force to report within 90 days a plan for achieving these goals. Then, in early March, the White House announced a goal of building 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations to “most effectively accelerate and scale a national network of EV charging stations.”
While President Biden’s goals are undoubtedly ambitious, any plans to achieve those goals will be bounded by practical considerations of electric vehicle (EV) ownership and operation, including the speed at which consumers adopt EVs and create a market for the infrastructure to support their use.
President Biden’s ambitious program to promote the use of EVs dovetail with state mandates to accelerate the adoption of EVs by consumers. Last September, California’s governor signed an executive order banning the sale of new combustion engine cars and trucks after 2035. Massachusetts followed suit soon thereafter with a similar mandate that will ban new internal combustion engine vehicle sales in the state by 2035.
Many motor vehicle manufacturers are quickly moving their product lines in a direction to meet these mandates. For example, GM has committed to offer 30 new EVs by 2025. In the same timeframe, Volvo plans to have 50% of its new car sales be EVs, and 100% by 2030. Kia plans to have 11 EVs in its product portfolio by 2025. And while California and Massachusetts have opted to use the proverbial stick to compel automakers to manufacture EVs and force residents to buy them, 45 states are using the carrot of economic incentives to encourage consumers to adopt EVs voluntarily.
Whether consumers are forced or cajoled into buying EVs, the realities are these. Only about 2% of cars sold in the United States today are EVs. With respect to EV charging stations, there are currently only about 27,000 public charging station locations nationwide; conversely, there are roughly 115,000 gas stations in the United States today.
Public-private partnerships (“P3s”) are a likely means of developing charging infrastructure across America. For example, the New York State Throughway Authority procured a 33-year P3 to modernize, operate and maintain 27 rest areas, and the Authority’s private partner plans to install and maintain charging stations at each of these rest areas.
The maximum range of a 2020 Tesla Model S is 402 miles, not dissimilar to the range of an internal combustion engine vehicle with a full tank of gas, but it can take up to 10 hours to fully charge a Model S using a home installed charger. Even Level 3 fast chargers using direct current (DC) plugs require 20-30 minutes to charge an EV battery to 80% capacity. Put simply, owning and operating an EV will require more planning than American consumers are accustomed to, and the widespread acceptance of EVs will require a change in mindset, and infrastructure to go with it, that cannot simply be mandated or bought.