US to create nationwide network of EV charging stations

A 2020 vision for a national fast charging network is to be developed(Credit: Smallman12q/CC 2.0)

The US government has announced "an unprecedented set of actions" to pump up the country's plug-in electric vehicle market, including US$4.5 billion in loan guarantees to create a nationwide network of commercial scale and fast charging stations. The initiative to push for greater electric car adoption calls for a collaboration between federal and state agencies, utilities, major automakers and other groups.

The initiative will identify zero emission and alternative fuel corridors across the country, to determine the best locations to put in fast charging stations, as part of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.

As part of a partnership between the US departments of energy and transportation, a 2020 vision for a national fast charging network will be developed, with potential longer-term innovations that include up to 350 kW of direct current fast charging. According to the administration, a 350 kW DC system could charge a 200-mile-range battery in less than 10 minutes. For comparison, Tesla just boosted some of its Superchargers' power capacity to 145 kW, which is claimed the fastest currently available.

Another interesting part of the initiative is the Battery500 research consortium led by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which will receive up to $10 million per year for five years to develop a cheaper, lighter and more powerful battery. Specifically, the goal is to triple the energy of current batteries to 500 Wh/kg, with 1,000 electric vehicle cycles, while lowering the cost of a battery pack to below $100/kWh – the point at which electric cars are considered to become price competitive with gas-powered models.

Essentially, the loan guarantees are designed to help finance the types of new technologies and innovative projects that typically have trouble finding commercial funding in the US, enabling them to deploy at a commercial scale.

The federal government, which already plans to buy 500 plug-in hybrids or EVs in 2017, will partner with state, county and city governments to acquire fleets of electric vehicles at discounted rates. An electric vehicle hackathon is also planned for later this year, using big data to come up with new and innovative solutions to EV charging, and is open to public participation.

Besides Tesla and Nissan, which currently provide most of the fast-charging stations in the country, other carmakers signing onto the deal include Ford, General Motors, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Tesla currently has 681 Supercharger stations worldwide with 4,157 charging points. According to the administration, there are more than 16,000 EV charging stations currently in the US, while battery costs have decreased 70 percent since 2008.

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