It could soon become a lot easier to take an electric car on some pretty cool road trips. A group of powerful utilities said Tuesday that they’re teaming up to make chargers for electric cars more accessible on highways.
The newly-formed Electric Highway Coalition is made up of six big regional utilities—American Electric Power, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Entergy, Southern Company, and Tennessee Valley Authority—that provide electricity across the South. The utilities said they will work together to “provide EV charging solutions within their service territories,” according to an industry press release announcing the move. A map provided in the release shows a map of the projected area of the network, which includes more than 15 states, with highways stretching from Texas to Florida up to Virginia and over to Indiana.
The details of Tuesday’s announcement are pretty thin, though. None of the utilities named provided specifics on how many charging stations they’re planning to install, where they’ll be located, how those locations would be determined, or any other details, really. But the fact that utilities are moving on a project like this could be a big development both in terms of electric vehicle adoption and how utilities think about electric vehicles’ presence on the grid.
“It’s exciting to see utilities engaging more in this space,” said Kathy Harris, the Eastern clean vehicles and fuels advocate at Natural Resources Defense Council. Harris pointed out that while utility investment in electric vehicle infrastructure “isn’t a new concept,” most of the billions of dollars spent around the country on it have been focused in California and the Northeast. Last year, for example, a coalition of West Coast utilities announced they’re working on a plan to electrify shipping routes to phase out diesel trucks.
The announcement didn’t specify whether or not customers would have to pay for the charging stations, or how much costs could be, which actually isn’t surprising given the number of different states covered by the coalition. Harris said that different states have different laws on the books regarding paying for EV charging stations. Some states require customers to pay a set dollar amount to use stations, while others have them pay directly for the electricity used.
And it could be a lot of electricity up for grabs. Harris pointed out that the types of charging stations being proposed—which could theoretically charge cars within half an hour—are much more energy-intensive than the overnight chargers some electric vehicle owners have in their homes. That energy use puts a strain on grids already under duress in many cases.
“It’s important that utilities start to look at this load and think of ways to optimize the electric grid in ways that are cost effective for customers,” Harris said.
The news that utilities are thinking about how to build out their own car charging infrastructure signals that they are considering how to prepare their grid for a coming onslaught of electric vehicles. With 20 million electric vehicles projected to be on the road by 2030, utilities have a lot to do in order to prepare for how to manage the new demand. Charging networks like these, Harris said, are a step in the right direction.
“We think utilities have a really important role here,” Harris said. “It’s great utilities are starting to consider this and help to optimize the electric grid.”