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U.S. Energy, Transportation Depts. Join to Build EV Network

Top officials from the U.S. departments of Energy and Transportation outlined some of the strategy behind deploying 500,000 public charging ports for electric vehicles at the National EV Charging Summit last month.

electric car charging
To smooth and accelerate the rollout of a national electric vehicle charging network, the U.S. departments of Energy (DOE) and Transportation (DOT) have teamed up to form a joint office to deploy some 500,000 public charging ports in the next five years.

“We’re not going to get this done unless our two agencies are working together, hand in glove,” said Polly Trottenberg, deputy secretary for the Department of Transportation, in comments at the National EV Charging Summit on Jan. 20, adding, “This is our moment to be bold.”

Each agency brings certain bodies of expertise and resources to the effort. The transportation department has a deep working relationship with state and local DOTs, while the energy department has relationships and programs with electric utilities.

All of these entities will need to be working in lockstep as the federal government moves forward with a plan to invest $7.5 billion to shore up EV charging infrastructure with a network that spans the nation. The investment is part of a comprehensive new federal infrastructure package.

Public officials and private-sector companies — which the government says will be an essential partner in this effort — should watch for a guidance document to be released about mid-February, said Michael Berube, deputy assistant secretary for sustainable transportation at the DOE and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

“That guidance document will really be the beginning of a very deep collaboration,” said Berube in some of his comments at the summit, adding “we certainly hope to begin seeing your initial chargers this year."

“We’re going to deploy what we think is a forward-looking set of guidance and requirements,” he added. “This is a network that we’re going to grow, and it’s a network that we want to keep building out through 2030 and beyond.”

President Joe Biden’s administration wants half of the new cars sold in the United States to be zero-emission by 2030. Today, EVs make up only five percent of the cars on the roads, and 20 percent in Europe. If this national goal, which is not out of step with similar aims in states like California, is to become a reality, officials stress the urgency around building out the infrastructure to power them.

And the new infrastructure law, with its $7.5 billion in funding for charging, is merely “a down payment,” said Manish Bapna, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“It’s historic. But the reality is we know we’re going to need a lot more to get to where we need to get by 2030,” Bapna said at the summit.

Bapna, like other speakers, did not sidestep the need for Congress to do more, particularly as it relates to Biden’s Build Back Better domestic agenda, a wide-reaching bill with billions of dollars allocated to projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The legislation, however, has stalled in Congress.

Infrastructure, said Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, “is just one piece of the puzzle. We need the rest of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda to really turbocharge, if you will, the U.S. EV market.”

That being said, the joint office formed between the DOE and DOT will be focused on advancing a charging network “coast to coast,” said Berube, a plan that will target rural areas, as well as underserved communities.

“As we get to 50 percent of sales, and more, then we really have to have ready solutions for those people in that situation as well,” said Berube.

The private sector can expect the federal government to set the vision and direction for the build-out — along with standards — officials explained, but were careful to also encourage innovation from the private sector.

“This is also an incredible economic opportunity for the country. An opportunity to grow an industry, to put people to work in new clean jobs,” said Trottenberg.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.