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Tesla unlocks EV network. What’s next in making chargers as easy as pumping gas?

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Biden administration efforts to guarantee at least 500,000 electric-vehicle chargers across the U.S. in coming years got a boost with White House confirmation that Tesla will make at least 7,500 of its chargers — long notoriously limited to its own cars — open to any EV by the end of 2024.

Tesla
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had to concede opening its network to qualify for federal incentives after the White House used 2021’s infrastructure law to push for more EV charging, including making charging open to any model of EV, as well as requiring uniform payment methods.

Biden has set a goal of at least 500,000 chargers, including a presence in all states, by at least 2030. He has said that’s an important step toward his goal of EVs comprising over half of new car sales by 2030.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk had hinted at opening his SuperCharger network late last year, after he met with Biden officials. But a timeline was not clear.

Tesla’s move will include at least 3,500 new and existing 250  kW Superchargers along highway corridors and so-called Level 2 Destination Charging at locations like hotels and restaurants in urban and rural locations. White House officials said there were efforts between the administration and Tesla charging executives to make sure charging would be compatible, but EV experts said adapters may be required.

The rules update announced Wednesday made clear that all new chargers built with federal funds must support the Combined Charging System (CCS) plug standard. Currently, the CCS standard is used by most automakers other than Tesla.

Read: Longtime Tesla bull Ross Gerber said to announce he’s seeking board seat

And: Elon Musk discloses Tesla stock gift to charity worth about $2 billion. Last year, his donations all went to his own foundation.

Tesla plans to triple its nationwide network of Superchargers over the next few years, the White House said. The company has been assembling some of its charging equipment at a facility in Buffalo, N.Y, that was originally intended as a solar-panel factory.

The number of publicly available charging ports has grown by over 40% since Biden took office in 2021, Biden’s senior adviser Mitch Landrieu said.

“And there are currently more than 3 million EVs on the road and 130,000 public chargers across the country,” he said. “But our work is far from over.”

About 6% of all U.S. vehicles on the road are EVs in 2023. Consumers have expressed concerns about charging availability and many have “range anxiety” even as new models have added to far vehicles can go on a charge. Availability of EV inventory has also been an issue. But Biden, who wants the U.S. to halve its overall greenhouse gas emissions
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by 50% no later than 2030, wants EV ownership well into the double digits by then.

Read: Super Bowl EV ads drove consumers to search electric cars online, but good luck actually finding one

U.S.-built charging, reliability, payment compatibility

Biden officials announced Wednesday that effective immediately, all EV chargers funded through the bipartisan infrastructure law must be built in the U.S. The plan  requires that final assembly and all manufacturing  processes for any iron or steel charger enclosures or housing occur in the U.S. By July 2024, at least 55% of the cost of all components will need to  be manufactured domestically as well.

“We’re incentivizing companies to make more the parts of EV chargers here in America, built by American workers,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said of Wednesday’s update.

“We’re going to provide a transition period for companies to onshore those supply chains back to the U.S. and we’re already seeing how rapidly the industry is investing to create new manufacturing plants and capacity here, having gone from almost no EV charging manufacturing here a few years ago to at least 11 companies establishing new U.S. facilities or headquarters today,” he said.

U.S. manufacturing interests generally welcomed the domestic production focus.

The “Buy America” provisions “leverage infrastructure spending into U.S. economic activity, well-paid jobs, stronger supply chains, reduced reliance on imports from foreign adversaries and a cleaner economy,” said Scott Paul, president of trade group Alliance for American Manufacturing.

“We must also ensure that the guidance remains free of loopholes that undermine the congressional intent of the Build America, Buy America aspects of the infrastructure law,” he said.

Updated standards announced Wednesday include efforts making charging a “predictable and reliable” experience, by ensuring that there are consistent plug types, power levels and a minimum number of chargers capable of supporting drivers’ fast-charging needs, officials said.

“We want to make sure that you will be able to plug in, know the price that you’re going to be paying and charge up with a predictable and user friendly experience,” Buttigieg said. “Just as when you are filling up with gas
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today, you know that the experience will be broadly consistent, regardless of your location and regardless of the vendor.”

Also, requirements say chargers must be working when drivers need them to, by requiring a 97% uptime reliability requirement, and that drivers can easily find a charger when they need to by providing publicly accessible data on locations, price, availability and accessibility through map apps.

That means drivers will not have to use multiple apps and accounts to charge depending on whose charger is accessed — new requirements mandate that a single method of identification works across all chargers, allowing for universal credit cards or tap payment capabilities.

Truck stops, airports and ‘gigahubs’

Administration officials said other U.S. companies are taking steps in line with Biden’s intentions. For instance, Hertz
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and BP
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intend to bring charging infrastructure to Hertz locations, with charging hubs will serve ride share
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and taxi drivers, car rental customers and the general public at high-demand locations, such as  airports. A number of installations are expected to include large-scale charging  hubs, known as “gigahubs.”

BP has said it aims to invest $1 billion in EV charging in the U.S. by 2030. Hertz’s objective is to make one-quarter of its fleet electric by the end of 2024. 

Meanwhile, truck stop company Pilot, General Motors
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and charging company EVgo
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have joined to build a coast to-coast network of 2,000 high power 350 kW fast chargers at Pilot and Flying J  travel centers along American highways.

GM, in a separate partnership with FLO, also plans to install up to 40,000 public Level 2 EV chargers in U.S. communities by 2026, which will become part of GM’s Ultium Charge 360 network, and be available to all EV drivers. Ford
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has committed to installing DC Fast chargers at 1,920 of the company’s dealerships by January 2024.

Read: Ford halts production of its electric pickup truck due to battery issue

Clean electricity?

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said part of the latest distribution of funds will include incentives for medium- and heavy-duty freight trucks to use electric charging or adopt cleaner-burning hydrogen.

Officials said it will be “company dependent” whether EV chargers that are federally funded are powered by renewables or “clean electricity,” or connected to the existing electrical grid today might be powered by coal, natural gas, or alternatives like wind and solar.

Transportation emissions are responsible for 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions tied to climate change. Much of that pollution comes from tailpipe emissions, but charging with “clean” electricity increases the climate benefits of switching to an EV.

The bipartisan infrastructure law passed in 2021 invested $7.5 billion in EV charging, $10 billion in cleaner-fuel transportation and over $7 billion in EV battery components, critical minerals and materials. Supply chain issues and U.S. reliance on trade for key components has slowed EV adoption, experts say.

In addition, the climate-heavy spending bill, known as the Inflation Reduction Act, provides incentives for advanced batteries and new and expanded tax credits for purchases of EVs. It, too, included some spending meant to support installations of charging infrastructure, as well as dozens of other federal initiatives designed to drive domestic manufacturing and build a national network of EV charging.

Language clarifying which vehicles qualify for the IRA’s $7,500 break on select new EVs has been evolving since passage, however, including news earlier this month More electric vehicles made by Tesla, GM and other auto makers will be eligible for tax credits under a revamp that changed how SUVs are defined, allowing their typical costs to come under the law’s limitations. The incentive is $4,000 on select used EVs.

This portion of the IRA is also under review as more overseas makers of EVs sold in the U.S. look for help from consumer incentives.

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