The Nationwide EV Power Charging Grid Is Coming

Wouldn’t that money be better spent taking cars out of cities?

Key Takeaways

  • 50 US electric companies have pledged to build a national car charging network.
  • Gassing up and charging are fundamentally different.
  • Maybe we should take this opportunity to rid cities of cars altogether.
black EV SUV charging in a parking lot

Michael Fousert / Unsplash

There are around 115,000 gas stations in the US and less than 6,000 electric vehicle (EV) fast-charging stations. That has to change—or does it?

Over 50 US electric companies have joined the National Electric Highway Coalition (NEHC) to build a nationwide EV charging grid. The Edison Electric Institute estimates there will be almost 22 million EVs on US roads by the end of the decade. To charge them, the country will need 100,000 EV fast charging ports. And that's the job of the NEHC: achieving this goal "using any approach they see fit."

"A realistic timeframe for replacing gas stations would be within the next 10 to 15 years. This is because electric vehicles are becoming more and more popular, and technology is rapidly advancing. Gas stations will eventually become obsolete, and it's important to start planning for this transition now," Will Henry, founder of Bike Smarts, told Lifewire via email.

Goodbye Gas?

It’s not as simple as switching pumps for chargers, though. Gas has an incredible energy density, which is one reason it’s so popular. You can gas up with enough fuel for hundreds of miles in just a few minutes. The drive-through design of gas stations reflects this, but it doesn’t work for EVs. Even if you hook up to a fast-charging outlet, you’re not going to be filled up in the time it takes your partner to go stock up on junk food from the adjoining store. 

Cars need to sit somewhere while they charge. Ideally, you could charge overnight or while parked, which means bringing the chargers to where the cars will be sleeping, which is the opposite of how we do it now. Fortunately, it’s easier to run power to a curbside charger than it would be to run pipes for gasoline to your home.

green and white car charging image painted on the ground

Michael Marais / Unsplash

"However, one downside of an EV charging grid is that it would take a lot of time and money to build. Another downside is that it would be challenging to ensure that everyone has access to charging stations," says Henry.

One of the goals of the NEHC is to establish a "foundational network" by the end of 2023, which will "fill charging infrastructure gaps along major travel corridors, helping to eliminate range anxiety and allowing the public to drive EVs with confidence regardless of where they live," says the manifesto. 

That seems like a fine goal, but given that the US still can't even run broadband internet out to rural areas, it also seems unlikely. Instead, the concentration of charging stations may end up in cities while rural drivers keep using gas. And that's fine. We don't need to get rid of all gas vehicles, just most of them. But why stop there?

Ditch the Car

Local emissions are only one of the problems of letting cars rule cities. There's also noise, excessive land use for both roads and parking, and the simple fact that cars kill people. Switching to electric vehicles solves only the local pollution problem and mitigates noise to an extent. 

Cars have no place in cities. But at the same time, cities, with their high population density, don't need cars. Or at least, not all of them, and certainly not private automobiles.

"There are many ways to build post-petrol transport infrastructure, and an EV charging grid is just one option," says Henry. "Other options include improving public transit in cities, building more bike lanes, and investing in more renewable energy sources." 

"One downside of an EV charging grid is that it would take a lot of time and money to build."

The catch is that building infrastructure is expensive and will often meet opposition. When a downtown street has its parking removed, local store owners oppose the move, worried that their trade will suffer. But what happens is the opposite: trade increases. 

Changes like this also take time. Installing EV charging points is relatively easy because the electricity grid is already everywhere. But building out public transit networks is a different game. Oslo in Norway has removed parking spots and banned cars in many downtown streets, but that’s possible partly because it has already invested heavily in public transport from the 1980s

There’s a proverb which goes something like this: The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. That goes for building transport in cities. But one thing is different—those tree planters never had to deal with the car lobby.

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