Drivers of all-electric cars could soon zip across the U.S. Northeast without having to worry about running out of battery power mid-trip.
At least that's the idea behind the Northeast Electric Vehicle Network, a regional effort that launched last week to add hundreds of public chargers in 11 northeastern states and the District of Columbia—and thereby lure more East Coast Americans to the electric car.
About 15,000 all-electric vehicles are cruising U.S. roads today, according to Plug In America, a San Francisco advocacy group, and only around a thousand of those are in the East. States in the new network say that one main way to increase that number is to allay people's fears of getting stranded on the side of the road, a phenomenon known as "range anxiety."
"The ultimate goal is for electric vehicle drivers to never have to worry about having access to charging stations as they drive from Maine down to D.C.," said Brett Taylor, director of policy and communications for the Delaware Department of Transportation.
Taylor is among the state transportation, energy and environmental officials taking part in the network, the first collaboration of its kind in the country. The effort developed over the past year out of the Georgetown Climate Center's Transportation and Climate Initiative, which aims to limit greenhouse gas emissions from cars and spur "clean" economic growth.
The Northeast imports nearly 25 billion gallons of petroleum per year, according to figures compiled by the network. If battery-powered cars replaced jut 5 percent of conventional ones, it could save the region $4.6 billion each year.
The participating states are Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. Maine will take part through cities, not at the state level.
Over the next year agencies in each state will team up with automakers, big retailers, local shops and charging service providers to create a plan for getting the charging stations in prime spots. The partners will work to install them over the next couple of years. The effort will use a nearly $1 million grant from the U.S. DOE's Clean Cities program.
The network leaders believe they can tap into the region's particular interest in green economy initiatives, including its heavy emphasis on public transportation and participation in the nation's first mandatory emissions trading plan, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
"We think that there's going to be a lot of enthusiasm [for electric vehicles] in this part of the country," said Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center.
She noted that based on population size some 200,000 electric vehicles—or 20 percent of President Obama's call for 1 million plug-in cars—could hit the region by 2015, at least. "It might be that we see even more electric vehicles adopted in this region than the population alone would indicate," she said.
Gina Coplon-Newfield, the senior representative for Sierra Club's electric vehicle campaign, said her group is "thrilled" that eastern communities are finally catching up to efforts on the West Coast and in Texas to make recharging E.V. batteries more convenient.
Leading those western initiatives is the two-year-old, $230 million EV Project managed by San Francisco cleantech firm Ecotality and funded in half by federal stimulus. The project has helped install 14,000 fast chargers in homes and businesses across 18 cities in California, Oregon, Arizona, Texas, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C.
Coplon-Newfield said that building public charging stations, the centerpiece of the Northeast's efforts under the DOE grant, will be "one of the most important factors in incentivizing this new market."
The region had nearly 500 of the stations in place as of Sept. 30, according to DOE figures—about 13 percent of the nation's roughly 3,800 public charging points. Participants have not yet determined how many public chargers will be added under the initiative, but it's likely to be "in the hundreds," said Adam Ruder, a program manager at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, a public agency. Ruder also co-chairs Georgetown's clean vehicles working group.
Charging Stations Key—But Are They Enough?
Some electric car proponents have started warning that providing plenty of places to recharge won't necessarily lure Americans to make the switch.