Biden Admin Proposes Minimum Standards for EV Charging


With the Biden administration hoping to transition the United States toward all-electric vehicles, it has set a goal of commissioning the construction of a nationwide network of 500,000 EV charging stations by 2030. But saying you’re going to do something as part of a $1-trillion infrastructure plan is a lot easier than actually doing it because there are a lot of steps that have to be taken before a plan can effectively be put into action. This is called planning and it’s something the government occasionally engages in to ensure a program is successful. As such, the Biden administration is issuing a series of standards and requirements for federally funded electric vehicle charging stations.

“To support the transition to electric vehicles, we must build a national charging network that makes finding a charge as easy as filling up at a gas station,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “These new ground rules will help create a network of EV chargers across the country that are convenient, affordable, reliable and accessible for all Americans.”

The Department of Transportation, in partnership with the Department of Energy, is proposing new standards that the White House claimed would “make charging electric vehicles (EVs) a convenient, reliable, and affordable for all Americans,” including those wanting to take their battery-powered automobile on longer trips. But it added that chargers would be less reliable, fail to work for all vehicles, and lack common payment methods if “strong standards” were not imposed.

The White House also claimed that the broader initiative would create loads of good-paying jobs for steelworkers, electricians, and laborers that would need to construct and maintain the vast network. Though the press release immediately refocused on tackling the climate crisis, stating that EV adoption meant lessened emissions, cleaner air, and advancing the President’s Justice40 Initiative – which seeks to give federal agencies more direct oversight of state-level decisions so that the government can “advance environmental justice and spur economic opportunity for disadvantaged communities.”

The U.S. Transportation Department’s Federal Highway Administration said the proposed rule is expected to be published in the Federal Register next week. Any final rules are likely to be published after public comments are reviewed. However, we can already get a sense of what might be coming based on the surrounding rhetoric coming out of the White House.

Most of the text used in the press release was spent praising the spending bill that got us here (specifically the $7.5 billion carved out for the charging network), subsequent investments from private companies, new policies designed to make the federal fleet all-electric by 2027, and promises that the construction of the stations would be conducted in a manner that would impact both urban and rural communities. But the White House also praised like-minded businesses and unions that have similarly committed themselves to an all-electric future by 2030.

After that, we start getting into the meatier bits:

The $7.5 billion for EV charging infrastructure in President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will build a convenient and equitable charging network through two programs. The National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) program will provide $5 billion in formula funding to States to build out charging infrastructure along highway corridors – filling gaps in rural, disadvantaged, and hard-to-reach locations while instilling public confidence in charging. Today’s minimum standards and requirements will guide States on how to spend federal funds in a way that makes chargers function the same from state-to-state, easy to find, use, and pay for, no matter who operates chargers. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also provides $2.5 billion in competitive grants to support community and corridor charging, improve local air quality, and increase EV charging access in underserved and overburdened communities. DOT will open applications for this program later this year.

These federal charging programs were designed to catalyze additional private sector investments that complement the build-out of a user-friendly, cost-saving, and financially sustainable national EV charging network. Together, President Biden’s leadership is mobilizing public and private charging investment to accelerate the adoption of EVs and create good-paying jobs across manufacturing, installation, and operation. These chargers will also make sure the new renewable electricity sources like solar and wind can power the cars we drive and reduce energy costs for families.

The above treads a lot of familiar ground. In fact, almost every paragraph in the White House release makes some mention of circumventing high energy costs and ensuring good-paying jobs. But the big takeaway is that the government is counting on the private sector to swoop in and actually make this happen. It’s something that seems plausible, considering how much the automotive sector and energy concerns talk about this kind of stuff. Though the federal government still wants to be heavily involved in the process and effectively direct how things are managed while subsidizing aspects of the program.

An additional $65 billion has been set aside to upgrade the national grid. That’s probably not a bad idea even if the U.S. government wasn’t interested in pushing EVs. But it’s likely mandatory if there’s any chance of avoiding routine brownouts when millions of vehicles charge after work during peak load. Elon Musk previously speculated that the energy consumption of EVs would effectively require every nation to bolster its grid if they were to become mainstream products. Though engineers have long been warning that the proliferation of all-electric vehicles would require increased energy production.

Of the $7.5 billion earmarked for the chargers, the law has $5 billion slated for states to build their own charging networks and $2.5 billion for local grants designed to support access to EV charging in “rural areas and disadvantaged communities.” States will have until the beginning of August to submit their EV infrastructure deployment plans to the joint office. From there, the office will have to decide which ones it likes and how to best distribute the funding.

The Biden administration also used Thursday to announce the formation of a new “EV Working Group.” While the details on the organization are rather vague (something that plagued the Disinformation Governance Board), the White House said it would exist as part of the newly formed Joint Office of Energy and Transportation and feature 25 hand-pick members that haven’t yet been selected. Its stated purpose was to serve as an advisory body to “make recommendations regarding the development, adoption, and integration of light-, medium-, and heavy-duty electric vehicles into the transportation and energy systems of the United States.” Something similar is being plotted to help the Parks Service transition to all-electric fleets.

Another subgroup is also being formed under the Department of Defense (beneath the Senior Pentagon Climate Working Group). While I haven’t the faintest clue why the organization is tied to the DOD, that group’s stated reason for being is to focus “solely on removing barriers to installing EV charging infrastructure that supports the Department’s zero-emission vehicle acquisition goals.”

Apparently, the Department of Defense is also all-in on electric vehicles.

As for the charging standards themselves, the government is looking to have rules that would establish EV stations every 50 miles and ideally within a mile or so of the interstate. The stations themselves would be required to have at least four 150-kilowatt DC fast charging points to avoid long wait times. Such hubs would also be required to utilize the same software between states and data submissions to create a database of public EV charging. The government has likewise said connectivity is a must so that remote monitoring and diagnostics can take place. The limits of this were not specified, though I would wager they probably won’t be. All the companies building these stations and cars want as much data as they can hoover up and the federal government will be no different. On the upside, perpetual monitoring of these systems could help with maintenance – something EV charging stations have had a serious problem with.

Stations would need to be standardized, with the Department of Transportation stating that it would be illegal to have charging limited to memberships. This presumably means Tesla would have to open its charging network to everybody (like it did in Europe) or face more opposition from the federal government. Ironically, a recent study actually suggested Tesla’s chargers are more reliable than their public counterparts for that very reason.

“It ensures the charging stations funded under these programs can serve a broad range of vehicles, including best-selling models from Ford, GM and more automakers,” stated Buttigieg. “And it sends a market signal toward a standard charging port for stations to accommodate the widest possible set of vehicles and accommodate the adapters for all vehicles.”

The amount of changes currently taking place within the federal government to help facilitate this is nothing short of staggering. Not only is the White House trying to standardize and fund the construction of half a million charging stations to spur electric vehicle adoption, but it’s also establishing pro-EV committees for practically every department in the country. But if you ask anyone involved, it’s all for the best and is sure to result in a utopian future for all by 2030.

“We’re tackling range anxiety and vehicle charging deserts by making sure that charging stations are easily and equally accessible, allowing every American can get coast to coast in an electric vehicle,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “The investments made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will not only build an interconnected national charging network, but also boost local economies and strengthen our independence from the volatilities of fossil fuels.”

[Images: U.S. Department of Transportation/DOT]

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