Obama revs up loan program, pushes for more charging points

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E reporter • Posted: Sunday, July 24, 2016

The White House on Thursday rolled out several initiatives to boost electric vehicles, including expanding a $4.5 billion loan guarantee program to include EV charging technology.

The administration launched a plan to develop a national network of electric vehicle charging stations and identify “zero emission and alternative fuel” corridors. It plans to partner with local governments to procure electric vehicles at a discount and host an “electric vehicle hackathon” this fall to explore innovations in electric vehicle charging.

The loan guarantee authority at the Department of Energy already exists and is not a new budget proposal, said Brian Deese, senior adviser to the president, on a call with reporters.

Currently, the DOE loan guarantee program supports renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. “So this makes clear that the EV charging site can participate in that as well,” said Lynn Orr, undersecretary for science and energy at DOE. Innovative electric vehicle infrastructure, including hardware and software, would become eligible under the program, he said.

Deese said the Department of Transportation and DOE would work with the national labs to develop a national network of electric vehicle fast-charging stations. The idea is to help reduce “range anxiety” among drivers concerned about running out of a battery charge and pinpoint optimal locations within corridors where it is best to site charging infrastructure.

“Any of us, as we leave our home in the morning and head for work, we pay attention to how much gas is on board,” Orr said. “The kinds of things we’re talking about today make it possible to provide the same kind of service for electric vehicles.”

The Office of Federal Sustainability also would invite local governments to partner in jointly purchasing low-carbon vehicles, Deese said.

Simultaneously, almost 50 companies, states and utilities pledged to support wider electric vehicle adoption and access to charging infrastructure by signing new guiding principles. They include five broad statements of support for EVs, including a call to “drive the market transformation to electric vehicles by making it easy for consumers to charge their vehicles with grid-connected infrastructure that is accessible, affordable, available and reliable.” Signers include utilities like Con Edison and companies such as Tesla Inc. and General Motors Co.

Additionally, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory plans to lead research in building smaller, cheaper and more efficient batteries. Orr said a research team lead by PNNL will receive up to $10 million annually for five years for the effort. The administration separately is launching a feasibility study in conjunction with industry and the national labs to assess faster charging speeds for batteries.

President Obama called for 1 million alternative vehicles to be on the road by 2015. The United States lags behind that goal, with about 500,000 vehicles.

Deese said the original goal was deliberately “ambitious and visionary” to advance the market. “I think it is important to look at all of the progress that we’ve made and the fact that the rate of growth is increasing,” he said. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said earlier this year that low gasoline prices were a chief factor in lagging electric vehicle sales (Greenwire, Jan. 25).

Since 2008, the number of EV charging stations increased from about 500 to more than 16,000. Battery costs also declined about 70 percent, the White House said.

DOE and DOT said they would begin discussions this fall on creating a national network of fast-charging stations for EVs. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy said it would host the “hackathon,” which will bring together scientists and other experts and coincide with the release of new data on EV charging stations.

Also today, DOE signed a memorandum of understanding with the American Public Power Association to “pursue collaborative efforts to advance EV adoption.” DOE said it would develop an action plan with APPA focused on communities with fewer than 200,000 electricity customers and work with the group to provide EV information to utilities and government officials.