OPINION: 1,100-mile EV road trip a sign of the changing times

Written by: Carl Lisek

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Technology has changed the way we take road trips dramatically in recent years.

We’ve gone from large roadmaps we could never quite get to fold back together just right to turn-by-turn directions printed from Websites to GPS devices to cell phone apps to in-vehicle navigation systems, all in the last two decades.

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That doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the advancements in the technologies of the vehicles themselves, including electric vehicles.

My wife and I recently drove our all-electric vehicle from Florida to Northwest Indiana. Range anxiety – or worrying about running out of a charge before reaching a charging station — wasn’t an issue, as our vehicle gets roughly 250 miles on a full charge, which is comparable to a full tank of gasoline on a similarly-sized vehicle.

Because we know how to find charging stations using the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fueling Station Locator app and other private provider’s apps, we were able to map out in advance where we would stop to charge along the way and found ample locations throughout our more than 1,100-mile drive to get us home.

We had a plan and it worked just fine, but it certainly was not as convenient as driving a traditional gasoline-fueled vehicle, where you can count on your choice of a variety of gas stations at nearly every exit along the interstate, fuel up and be on your way.

It is precisely why more and more traditional fueling retailers and convenience store chains are investing in electric vehicle charging stations. They, too, see the trend moving toward electric vehicles and see the opportunity to add more diversity to their product offerings. The Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing last year launched the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Program to establish relationships with organizations interested in supporting the installation of electric vehicle charging stations at convenience stores.

BP and Shell have already committed to adding electric vehicle charging stations globally and more and more are announcing plans to join them. Local fuel retailers also have plans in the works to add electric vehicle charging stations to their offerings as well.

Like so many things related to sustainable transportation options, the issue comes down to choice. The fueling retailers aren’t planning to abandon traditional fueling options. Instead, they’re looking to add another option with electric vehicle charging stations.

While the overwhelming majority of electric vehicle charging occurs overnight at home during off-peak hours – which reduces strain on the grid –not every resident has easy access to charging at home.

That’s why we’re partnering with 12 other Clean Cities coalitions on the U.S. Department of Energy-funded Vehicle Charging Innovations for Multi-Unit Dwelling (VCI-MUD) project. Although EV adoption is accelerating nationwide, apartment and condominium residents face difficulties in access to charging stations. The project partners are working to break down those barriers and create a toolkit to help alleviate them.

South Shore Clean Cities is working to boost public charging as well. We are a partner on the Michigan to Montana (M2M) I-94 Clean Fuel Corridor project, which seeks to ensure a 1,500-mile span of Interstate 94 from Port Huron, Michigan to Billings, Montana will have adequate fueling sites to serve alternative fuel and electric vehicle driver needs. The U.S. Department of Energy-funded project is a partnership between Gas Technology Institute and Clean Cities coalitions along the route.

The barriers to EV adoption and public charging for rural communities is being addressed as well. South Shore Clean Cities is a partner on the Helping America’s Rural Counties Transition to Cleaner Fuels and Vehicles project with Transportation Energy Partners, the goal of which is to reduce barriers to alternative fuel and electric vehicle adoption in rural communities.

What will the EV road trip of the future look like? We can only imagine, but in the short-term, we’re proud to be part of the solution for more sustainable travel, increased access for underserved communities, improved air quality and increased investment in domestic fuel and energy sources.

Remember, it’s never too late to begin your environmental legacy.

This column originally appeared in The Times of Northwest Indiana. Carl Lisek is executive director of South Shore Clean Cities and vice president of Legacy Environmental Services. The opinions are the writer’s.

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