California’s Electric Highway Is Becoming a Reality
In February, the California Energy Commission (CEC) proposed awards of $8.87 million to four companies to install a network of DC fast-charging stations along major highways in California. ChargePoint, Recargo, EVConnect and NRG EV Services were awarded grants to install DC charging stations along different routes and sections including Interstate 5, State Route 99 and Highway 101. The significance of establishing a West Coast corridor—from Baja California to British Columbia—for the future of EV adoption should not be overlooked. The CEC is expected to put each of the four projects to a final vote on April 13.
The common perception of electric cars is that they can serve well for local driving, but regional or national trips are prohibitive due to limited range and long recharge times. The combined development of affordable longer range EVs and abundant highway-based quick-charging could change that scenario.
The promise of a vast network of battery-replenishing pit stops spanning the entire West Coast got kicked off in 2012, when Washington and Oregon held ribbon cuttings for the first DC fast-charge station. The two Pacific Northwestern states commissioned studies to identify optimal placement for stations to facilitate trips in EVs between the Canadian border and Ashland, Ore. Based on factors such as gradation and distance between exits, Washington and Oregon placed these stations at 20-mile to 60-mile intervals along I-5, I-90, I-84, and a handful of important stretches of state routes.
The Northwest corridor of the West Coast Electric Highway represents the most extensive public fast-charging network in North America, and serves two of the US’s high-concentration EV-adoption regions. But California, the number one market for plug-in vehicles, has been slow to close the gaps in fast-charge coverage along its most travelled highways.
Despite being the nationwide leader in overall plug-in adoption and total number of DC fast-chargers, California’s key role in linking all major west coast cities with public fast-charge capability remains unfulfilled. The vast majority of the state’s fast-chargers are clustered in and around urban areas, leaving long stretches of I-5 and other key roads totally uncovered, including:
- A 53-mile mountainous stretch of I-5 between Redding and Dunsmuir.
- The 226 miles of I-5 between Bakersfield and Tracy.
- The 82 miles of I-5 between Bakersfield and Santa Clarita. This includes 40 miles of highly graded road known as “the Grapevine.”
- The 66 miles of California 99 between Atwater and Fresno.
- The 90 miles of California 99 between Chico and Sacramento.
The CEC narrowed a field of 35 proposed installations down to nine specific proposed awards, likely to be shared by four participants. Of those, biggest winner was ChargePoint, which received preliminary approval for three segments of the fast-charging corridor totaling $3,659,615—about 42 percent of the available funding. EV Connect received three proposed awards totaling $1,843,179. NRG EV Services received two valued at $1,659,928, and Recargo—the company behind the PlugShare station-finding app, as well as PluginCars.com—received one proposed award worth $1,632,735.
The recipients will have some time to complete their projects. The grant requires completion by 2020. This will coincide with a steady uptick in EV adoption. Navigant Research projects that in California, the growth in electric car sales will be from about 3 percent of overall sales today to between 15 and 22 percent by 2024.
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