Toward an Electric Future, by Design

An historic evolution in how we get from Point A to Point B is set to take place over the next 20 years—the shift from fossil to alternative fuels for powering vehicles.

What sort of fueling infrastructure will North Carolina need to support the demand? What role can public policy play?

Light-duty vehicles, which include cars, produce most of the nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions from mobile sources in North Carolina.

NOx irritate the lungs and weaken the body’s defenses against respiratory infections such as pneumonia and influenza. They also contribute to formation of ground-level ozone and particulate matter. Increased use of alternative fuels over fossil fuels would improve human health and slow the effects of climate change.

For this reason, China, India, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Norway plan to ban gas- and diesel-powered vehicles altogether. At the same time, the cost of building electric cars has been falling rapidly. They will become as cheap as gasoline-powered models by 2025, according to the 2017 Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecast. The sale of electric cars will overtake that of fossil fuel-powered automobiles by 2038. GM announced in October its plans to go all electric, joining Volvo, Jaguar Land Rover and Aston Martin. By 2040, a third of the automobiles on the planet—530 million—will get their power from an electric plug instead of a nozzle.

But there are more immediate indications. In Consumer Reports’ 2016 Owner Satisfaction Survey, Tesla’s electric car finished at the top, with 91 percent of owners saying they’d buy a Tesla vehicle again.

A recent federal report from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory addresses the question of how much plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) charging infrastructure our country needs. The report seeks to guide public and private stakeholders interested in shaping the future electric vehicle-charging network.

Unlike internal combustion vehicles fueled by gas stations, PEV infrastructure also includes residential electric vehicle supply equipment. That’s because most people charge their cars at home. They also don’t really drive that far: 70 percent of daily driving for gas-powered vehicles is less than 40 miles; 95 percent is under 100 miles. An average vehicle only travels 100 miles or more on six days per year.

The real issue for most drivers considering purchase of an electric vehicle is what happens when they travel outside their vehicle’s range?

Long-distance travel has been a barrier to PEV adoption ever since the first electric car. But an extensive and convenient network of charging stations could make intercity travel reliable. The analysis found that approximately 400 corridor-charging stations (spaced 70 miles apart on average) would be required to provide convenient access to PEV drivers across the U.S. Interstate System.

The next step for North Carolina is development of a statewide network of charging stations that benefits urban and rural travelers, including those who live in multi-family housing.

We have the opportunity to accomplish this through wise investment of the $92 million fund North Carolina will receive under settlement of the Volkswagen emissions scandal. The amount was determined based on the 16,000 affected 2.0- and 3.0-liter diesel engine vehicles registered in the state.

The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is accepting comment on how the state should spend the money through Dec. 31 at

There are 10 categories under which the money may be spent. Up to 15 percent of the funds may be spent to buy and install charging stations. North Carolina should follow the example of California, which has made installing charging stations under the Volkswagen program in low income and disadvantaged communities disproportionately affected by air pollution a priority.

Investing in charging stations will supplement the 2,500-plus non-proprietary electric vehicle chargers Volkswagen will install at more than 450 station sites along high-traffic corridors between U.S. metropolitan areas. Also, Volkswagen will install community chargers in 11 cities nationwide, including the Raleigh area.

Governor Roy Cooper has directed the DEQ to develop a plan for spending the settlement; however, the General Assembly has said legislators must approve how the money is spent. Regardless of how the plan is developed, public hearings should be held for transparent and open debate on how we will shape the future of transportation and access to alternative fuels. Show up! Speak out!



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