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Biden to boost power grid for electric cars

The White House hopes that multiplying the number of charging ports will encourage Americans to drive electric

Vice President Kamala Harris visits an electric vehicle charging station in Prince Georges County, Md., on Monday. Associated Press/Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta

Biden to boost power grid for electric cars

Tesla owner Eric Richner compares planning a long trip in his electric vehicle to playing a game of chess. In 2019, he charged up in Colorado Springs, Colo., then drove to Taos, N.M. With no charging stations in between, Richner reached his hotel with about 4 miles’ worth of charge left.

On Monday, Vice President Kamala Harris visited an electric vehicle charging station in suburban Maryland to announce a new project by the Biden administration: Building 500,000 more stations. The infrastructure bill signed into law last month will send $5 billion to states to spend on new chargers and spend another $2.5 billion on grants to make sure rural and disadvantaged areas don’t get left out. A new joint office of the departments of Transportation and Energy will help states find and fill gaps in the charging network.

“It’s a chess game right now,” Richner said. “It’s gonna be a checkers game when the $7.5 [billion] has been spent.”

Electric vehicles make up about 2 percent of car sales in the United States, with about 1 million currently registered to drive. President Joe Biden wants them to make up 50 percent of new car sales by 2030 to cut exhaust pollution and carbon emissions. An electric vehicle produces no tailpipe emissions and about a third of the carbon emissions of a gasoline-powered car, factoring in the charging source, according to the Department of Energy. If electric grids shift from coal to wind and solar power, charging electric vehicles will produce even fewer emissions.

The United States already has about 120,000 electric vehicle charging ports, but the Department of Energy reports only about 46,000 are public. The rest are in homes or other private-use locations. That’s rare enough to keep drivers on edge. In an April survey by consultant firm OC&C, 46 percent of drivers worried about finding charging points for an electric vehicle away from home. Big-city dwellers who park on the street or in parking garages may rely entirely on public stations. People with driveways or garages can install a personal charging point, but for longer trips must plan around sparse stations.

Tesla drivers have an easier time charging on road trips because the company built a national proprietary network of charging stations. But when Richner arrived in Taos almost out of charge at the end of his 2019 trip, the hotel’s mismatched charging cable only offered about 4 miles per hour of charge. In the morning, he found a local utility with a better cable and left his car to charge for the day.

The new electric vehicles government office will also write guidelines to streamline charging. There are four types of charging plugs, and drivers have complained it can be difficult to predict which charging ports they can use. Monday’s announcement included few details on what kinds of chargers will get installed. According to an analysis by accounting firm PwC, Level 2 chargers take about four hours to give a car 100 miles of range, while Level 3 chargers take 40 minutes. Reuters reported that installing Level 3 chargers can cost $100,000 compared with $2,000 to $3,000 for Level 2.

So much growth in the electric car infrastructure may mean spreading security risks. To keep electricity costs down and electric grids from overloading, analysts have suggested smart chargers that can charge vehicles during periods of low electric demand or give back power during peak demand. Ken Munro, a consultant at security test group Pen Test Partners, warned that, if hacked, those smart chargers could be coordinated to draw power all at once, overloading the electric grid and causing blackouts. “If you don’t make it smart, you can’t do this clever balancing,” Munro said. “If you do make it smart and get the cyber wrong, you create a weapon.”

Despite the risks, Munro said he’s a fan of electric vehicles. And he noted that legislators are catching up with the security problem: The new infrastructure law includes a string of cybersecurity measures like tracking security breaches and assigning responsibility for addressing them. Meanwhile, Munro suggested companies could embrace better security themselves, using it as a selling point over competitors.

More chargers won’t be enough to get everyone behind the wheel of an electric vehicle. In the OC&C survey, 46 percent of drivers worried about the cost of buying an electric car, and most said they wouldn’t pay an extra $500 to go electric over gas-powered. The Biden administration has a plan for that hurdle, too: The $2 trillion social policy bill under negotiation in Congress includes a $7,500 tax credit for buying an electric car.

Esther Eaton

Esther formerly reported on politics for WORLD from Washington. She is a World Journalism Institute and Liberty University graduate and enjoys bringing her parakeets on reporting trips.


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