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Jan Lee headshot

VW's Electrify America Gets Ready to Charge Up U.S. Cities

By Jan Lee

Very rarely, good things have been known to come out of devastatingly bad company decisions. Such is the story of VW's court-negotiated Electrify America program, which is about to transform the country's electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Electrify America, (EA) which was designed with the needs of electric vehicles in mind, is the result of the Volkswagen "defeat device" scandal that rocked the automotive industry in 2015 and 2016 and, with the exception of sales in China, is still continuing to steer the company's recovery. Negotiations between VW and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) eventually led to a new subsidiary that would oversee the installation of some 500 charging stations across the United States.

The decision dovetailed with California Gov. Jerry Brown's vision of the state's up-and-coming green transportation, which lacks adequate charging stations. It was the "perfect" answer to a scandal that significantly impacted the reputation of green transportation and, at the same time, could put a company that had inside knowledge of environmental-friendly automotive systems in the driver's seat of new technology. After all, for Californians to really take advantage of electric transportation, they needed to be able to go somewhere -- including outside of their state. And there was no one better suited to expedite the construction of hundreds of charging stations than a company that truly understood the challenges associated with new goal.

Ergo, the Electrify America charging network was born.

Last week EA announced that it had been tapped U.S.-based companies to construct its ultra-fast DC charging stations. Engineering, renewable energy and construction specialist Black & Veatch and SAI, well known for its civil and commercial construction accomplishments, will install the 2,000 stations.

More than 400 sites have been designated to receive s charging station on this first leg, with an anticipated completion date of June 2019. EA states that they are designed to be "close to retail, dining and other facilities that offer convenience for EV drivers … "between four and ten 150kW and 350kW individual DC fast chargers at each location before June 2019."

In May the company published a map of the planned construction, which traces some of the continent's most-traveled routes. It connects cities like Boston, Miami, Seattle, Fresno and Los Angeles, promising EV drivers what they have always wanted: unfettered access to “free” electricity tank-ups.

The two contractors will divide up the designated routes, with Black & Veatch covering installations in 24 states including California and the Pacific Northwest region, while SAI will cover 16 other states, including those remaining ones in the Southwest. Between four and ten chargers will be installed at each location.

EA said the $200 billion project is part of its wider effort to educate the public about its zero-emission vehicles (ZEV). According to the organization, half of all Americans have never heard of ZEVs and only about a third have ever looked into purchasing one. The result, says EA, is that ZEV market share is less than 1 percent of the national EV market.

“Electrify America will tackle this challenge head on and intends to develop and deploy a national awareness and education campaign directed at car buyers not yet in EVs,” the organization said. It intends to do that not only by establishing charging stations but by launching a series of “brand neutral” public relations programs aimed at getting drivers to test-drive electric vehicles.

Flickr image: www.routexl.com

Jan Lee headshot

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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