US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm recently took an EV road trip from Charlotte, North Carolina to Memphis, Tennessee in order to draw attention to the billions of dollars in funding the White House is making available to promote electric vehicles.
Granholm addressed audiences at town hall stops along her road trip. “Things are happening fast. You are in the center of it,” Granholm told voters in South Carolina. “Imagine how big clean energy industries will be in 13 years. How much stronger our economy is going to grow. How many good-paying jobs we’re going to create.”
NPR’s Camila Domonoske rode along with Granholm’s entourage, which included a Cadillac Lyriq EV, a Ford F-150 Lightning and a Chevy Bolt EUV. (The Secret Service apparently didn’t get the electric memo—its agents tagged along in the obligatory huge black gas-guzzling SUVs.)
Domonoske notes that the Road Trip looms large in the American automotive imagination. Although road trips are a tiny fraction of the trips Americans take, charging on the road tends to be the main concern of EV-curious drivers. A recent study from J.D. Power found that skepticism about public charging is the #1 objection cited by prospective EV buyers.
Secretary Granholm wanted to get a feel for the charging challenges ordinary EV drivers face on the road, and she certainly succeeded. At a public fast charging site near Augusta, Georgia, her advance team found that one of the station’s four chargers was broken, and others were occupied. A staffer decided to park a legacy gas-burner in front of a vacant charger to reserve a spot for the Secretary’s photo op. An irate EV driver called local police, only to find out that in Georgia, there’s no law against ICEing out charging spots. (Other more sensitive staffers shuffled the cars around so everyone could charge, and smoothed things over with the incensed driver.)
Of course, various less dramatic charging challenges cropped up—one of the Georgia chargers had a dead video screen, and at an Electrify America station in Tennessee, a charger plodded along at a third of the advertised rate.
However, Granholm’s team found that charging on the road worked most of the time. The caravan was able to charge all the EVs at every stop, and the 770-mile trip cost one of the Energy Department’s drivers just $35 for electrons, less than half what dinosaur juice would have cost.
“The private sector has stepped up” to build out public charging sites, Granholm told NPR, adding that the response to federal incentives has been “a blockbuster.”