Electric Highways reinvent the road trip

by guest blogger Noel Brady

It’s the lure of the open road, the boundless horizon, the discovery of a dusty, old-west town and …a convenient place to recharge your car?

That’s right; road trips in Washington are going electric. In just six months a network of recharging stations along Washington’s Electric Highways – I-5 and US 2 to start – will break the range barrier for electric vehicles, making Canada-to-Oregon trips as easy as plugging in your laptop.

More than 1,500 people in Washington already drive the latest generation of electric vehicles (EV), such as the Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt, and markets indicate thousands more will be recharging instead of refueling in the years to come.

So far, EV drivers have been limited to short hops of 40 to 50 miles in city traffic before having to recharge. With limited options for recharging on the road today, they typically charge their batteries overnight at home. Soon, EV drivers will be recharging on the way to Stevens Pass (on US 2) or while visiting Oregon or British Columbia (via I-5).

California-based AeroVironment will supply the recharging equipment at nine locations to connect the EV grid in much of our state by Nov. 30. The stations will include DC fast-chargers, which fully charge any plug-in EV in less than a half hour, and Level 2 “medium-speed” chargers, a cheaper option that takes three to eight hours.

“It's all about offering choices,” said Jeff Doyle, director of public-private partnerships here at WSDOT. “People are choosing electric because it costs about 2 cents per mile, compared to 12 cents or more with gasoline. Most people who want to invest in an electric car are waiting for convenient recharging."

Doyle and his team looked at how EV drivers will fit recharging into their daily routine. They started scouting locations like malls, theaters, restaurants and large retail stores, where an EV driver might want to spend 30 minutes to a few hours while their car recharges.

They visited storefronts with a simple proposal for business and property owners – they provide the real estate (a couple parking stalls, usually) and we will help pay for the charging equipment with a recently-awarded $1.32 million federal energy grant for innovative petroleum-reduction projects.

Between Everett and Olympia, ECOtality will install additional charging stations through a federal program, The EV Project, administrated by the U.S. Department of Energy. Combined with Electric Highways, the two projects will connect Washington EV drivers along the entire 276 miles of I-5 between Canada and Oregon.

Electric Highways in Washington eventually will connect with similar projects in Oregon and California to the form the West Coast Green Highway, 1,350 electrified miles on I-5 from Canada to Mexico, serving more than 2 million EVs anticipated in western states by the next decade. Just imagine driving from Vancouver, B.C., to the Baja Peninsula without ever filling a gas tank.