With Tesla Easing Off, It’s Time For Other U.S. Charging Companies & EV Advocates To Step Up

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The recent firing of Tesla’s whole Supercharger team sent shockwaves through the EV scene. We were left with important questions about why a team that has been doing such excellent work all got sent home. But, what might get lost in the noise was another announcement from Elon Musk:

Since the first companies announced a switch to Tesla’s NACS plug and deals to access the Supercharger network, I’ve seen many EV fans act like that’s the whole solution to EV charging. I can’t really blame them, because Tesla does deliver an excellent charging experience at far more places than any other charging provider. So, it stood to reason that if growth continued, everyone could rely on Tesla stations to take care of travel needs.

But now, we’re seeing that Tesla isn’t the be-all and end-all solution. There are still some enormous EV charging gaps in the United States, even if you own a Tesla. Most interstates are covered pretty well now, and many rural routes, too. But, between what Tesla has now and under construction plus the coming Infrastructure Bill (NEVI) stations, there are still going to be some big gaps even in five years (and perhaps longer).

To be fair, gaps in the geographic reach of charging networks are only half the battle. As more EVs hit the road, there are many places that need more chargers. So, expansion at existing sites does make a lot of sense to focus on now that Tesla doesn’t appear to want to focus on both geographic and capacity expansion.

Who’s Going To Keep The Geographic Expansion Going?

At this point, it’s important to point out that other companies are already starting to fill in some of the charging gaps that Tesla hasn’t gotten to. So, the fact that Tesla isn’t going to be rapidly filling those in isn’t a disaster, at least not everywhere. For example, in southeast New Mexico, Francis Energy has put in a number of stations, even if some of them haven’t proven reliable. There are many other example of regional and local charging efforts that you can find if you peruse Plugshare and ask it to show upcoming CCS and NACS stations.

But, that doesn’t mean all of America’s rural charging gaps are going to be taken care of in the next five or even ten years. The biggest problem is that backroads just don’t have enough EV traffic or traffic at all to make EV charging profitable. NEVI will help offset the cost with some of these to make them profitable, but that program is only going to cover highways that are part of the National Highway System, leaving out many state roads and even some U.S. numbered highways.

Image by USDOT (Public Domain)

If you look at the charging gaps where there’s no station now and no plan to add any later, you’ll see that many of them are not on the map above, so Uncle Sugar will not be picking up 80% of the tab.

So, the challenge we now face is getting businesses in these non-funded gaps to connect with EV charging companies to bring innovative charging solutions to those areas. They’re hesitant to do it right now due to low traffic numbers, but low EV traffic into those areas is often caused by the lack of rapid charging, so it creates a Catch 22 that needs to be resolved.

Even along the highways that are going to get funded, this pays for only 4 150 kW stations every 50 miles. If you’ve ever been stuck at the Electrify America station in Quartzsite, Arizona (four stalls on a busy highway), you know that this is hopelessly and maybe even hilariously inadequate for future needs.

But, NEVI funding wasn’t meant to build out all of the charging infrastructure the United States would ever need. It was only meant to solve the impasse temporarily, break the Catch 22, and stimulate further growth of both EV ownership and more privately-funded stations. So, there’s plenty of room for stations everywhere, not just in rural areas.

What I’m Doing As An EV Advocate To Pitch In To Solving This

At this point, everyone needs to be finding ways to contribute to solving this problem. No one person can solve this on their own, nor can one company it seems. But, as the old saying goes, many hands makes for light work. We all need to be finding small and creative ways to do our small part. That may mean investing (if you’re an investor) into smaller charging companies. It may mean working locally to educate people about EVs.

There’s something everyone can do, but I can’t tell YOU what to do. You know what your capabilities are and what talents you can contribute to helping keep EVs on track and growing in the United States despite these headwinds.

For me, I’m going to shamelessly plug a project I’m already working on again: Charge to the Parks. Because national parks are often (but not always) in rural areas, they make for a good benchmark to see how the EV charging network is doing. The public instinctively gets that if they can get to the parks, they can get anywhere, so it makes for low-friction communication of the basic idea that EVs are good enough, even if not perfect.

My overall plan is to travel to every park I can get to in an EV, and do the following along the way:

  • Prove to people that EVs can do the job
  • Help new EV drivers learn the ropes with travel guides and stories
  • Recruit businesses in rural areas and connect them with charging companies to improve the situation

If you’d like to learn more about the project and see what I’ve done so far with it, you can visit the website here.

If you’d like to help me with it, drop me a line on social media. I’m always looking to improve the travel guides with any information you might have on these parks that I don’t, and share stories of people visiting parks in their EVs.

Also, if you’d like to help support the cost of doing it, I’m running a fundraiser to pick up a cheap travel trailer. This keeps me from having to pay for hotels and meals (the big bulk of traveling these days). You can find that fundraiser here.

Featured image: a Nissan LEAF I used to own, charging at a rural RV park because there wasn’t infrastructure on that route yet. Image by Jennifer Sensiba.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1983 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba