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Charging electric vehicles poses many challenges. A recent expo showcased some solutions.

A row of green-and-white charging stations are on display inside a carpeted convention center.
Yvette Fernandez
/
KNPR
A few electric vehicle charging stations are on display at the EV Charging Summit in Las Vegas in March 2024. The expo attracted people from more than 30 countries and showcased the various companies trying to make EV charging more accessible to people.

Transitioning to electric vehicles – or EVs – is much more complicated than simply adding more charging stations across the country. Those on the cutting edge of this effort talked about the challenges and potential solutions at the EV Charging Summit in Las Vegas, where people from more than 30 countries attended in March.

Federal Highway Administrator Shalien Bhatt told participants that China and Europe are ahead of the United States when it comes to EV production and infrastructure.

“Just because we won the 20th century in the automotive industry is not a guarantee that we win the 21st century in the automotive industry if we're not building the vehicles that the world wants,” Bhatt said.

The federal government is allocating $7.5 billion to enhance the nation’s EV charging network. Last year there were 170,000 charging stations across the country. Bhatt said 500,000 are slated to be installed within the next couple of years.

“What we need to do is make sure that we develop and build a charging network so that anybody can drive from New York City all the way to L.A,” he said.

Industry analysts estimate at least 2 million charging stations will be needed by the end of the decade to significantly reduce emissions. And America's EV infrastructure is fragmented. Different types of chargers make it a challenge to find the one that works at the appropriate speed for a particular situation.

Oscar Rodriguez is with NOVA Charge, a company focused on fleet charging. He said America's system has had some success with fleets, like school buses that can charge overnight and between shifts.

“But there's another kind of fleet that really has not been well served in the industry," Rodriguez said. "And that fleet is the quick turn fleet, the fleet that's got to be at the ready, not overnight the next morning, but at the next shift. So first responders have this problem."

Charging individual vehicles in fleets isn't always practical. But Tallis Blalack with the Central Florida Expressway Authority said there are a handful of locations across the country where “electrified roadways” are planned. On these roads, charging coils are placed in the pavement and vehicles are equipped with receivers.

“So just as I can take my iPhone and I can put it on a wireless charger and I can charge it, we can charge a semi doing 70 miles an hour on the freeway,” said Blalack.

This is particularly important since 70% of America's goods are transported by trucks. But Blalack says building more electrified roadways at convenient locations like rest stops will literally take an act of Congress. That’s because of a 1950s law that prohibits “commercial activity.”

“What it means is that when you're driving out here in the West and you come in to a rest stop area, there's nothing there because it's commercial activity. It's been modified three times by Congress to allow putting in payphones, to allow vending machines. And the third one, which all drivers need, which was to allow the sale of lottery tickets,” Blalack said, partially joking.

Blalack hopes this can change in 2026 when lawmakers take up a major transportation funding bill.

Another issue is finding a way to add more charging options without overtaxing the electric grid. Sandra Peterson with Beam Global said the company has come up with the “EV Arc” – an autonomous, off-grid charger that looks like an outdoor lamp post on wheels, topped with a solar panel.

“Right now construction, electrical upgrades can take months. This deploys in about 2 hours — you have EV charging," Peterson said. "Another thing that's a benefit is that it's transportable. Which, you put in ground charging — you can't move it."

How is all this going to be accomplished? Dwayne Norris of Soulful Synergy said his consulting company provides a trained workforce, ready to take on this new industry's charge.

“There is a shift that's coming in the way that we produce energy, the way that we use energy, the way that we think about, you know, all these things and how they intersect,” said Norris. "What is it without people?”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio (KNPR) in Las Vegas, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Yvette Fernandez is the regional reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau. She joined Nevada Public Radio in September 2021.