Launched in 2015 as a partnership between the Governor’s Office of Energy, NV Energy and Valley Electric Association, the Nevada Electric Highway is now nearing completion of both its Phase I and Phase II charging stations. With the original purpose of connecting the cities of Reno and Las Vegas with charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs) along US-95, the project has now grown to encompass all five major highway corridors in the state.
“We’re in the homestretch for the Nevada Electric Highway Phase I and II and estimating completion of both phases by June of this year,” David Bobzien, director of the Governor’s Office of Energy, said. “It’s certainly proved challenging, in some respects, to find and recruit host sites for this infrastructure, but despite the pandemic, we’ve actually had a lot of activity in the last year on these projects.”
Bobzien, however, acknowledges that completing the project has taken longer than originally anticipated, primarily due to challenges in identifying and implementing host sites in Nevada’s rural locations.
“Early in the process, we had a first round of hosts that were familiar with EVs and saw the business opportunity for engaging with us to receive these sites,” Bobzien said. “But certainly, with our rural and very vast expanses of these highways in Nevada, finding enough host sites has been a challenge and it’s been something that we’ve really had to work hard to do. But we’ve actually made a lot of strides in locating chargers, such that they provide meaningful support for drivers.”
In the interactive map below, circles mark the locations of actual or planned vehicle charging stations. Zoom in using the scroll wheel on your mouse or the buttons at top left. Dots outlined in green are active charging stations, and circles outlined in red are not active. Click on each dot for more detailed information. Circles with blue inner coloring are Phase 1 charging stations. Purple centers indicate Phase 2 sites. You can also select from a wide variety of base maps. This map is accurate as of March 13, 2021. Data source.
One example of these challenges, Bobzien cites, is the need for a charging station at Middlegate roughly 50 miles east of Fallon on U.S. 50, which as a remote location does not have the same electricity resources other sites have.
“Sometimes it’s not as easy as just plugging a charger into the grid and away we go,” Bobzien said. “[Middlegate] is a perfect example of these last mile hurdles we’re facing with the highway. So we’re looking at options like on-site solar power for this remote site that could store energy between charges, because it doesn’t have the same grid connectivity as some of the other sites.”
The Nevada Electric Highway has been funded in part by $3.7 million of Nevada’s allotment from the 2016 Volkswagen settlements with the US government, with additional funding coming from the state’s renewable energy fund. The highway has been implemented in two Phases with different types of charging stations.
According to the Governor’s Office of Energy website, Phase I charging stations are equipped with two Level 2, alternating current chargers and one Direct Current (DC) fast charger.
Marie Steele is Electrification Director at NV Energy.
“There’s different levels of the kW [kilowatts] and that means how fast the car can charge, so DC fast chargers are from 50 kW and above, while Level 2 chargers are 220 kW.
“The Level 2 chargers are much slower charge, so we pair them both together because especially when the early days of EV chargers, not all EVs actually took a DC fast charge. That’s not really necessarily true anymore but in that early adopter phase, we wanted to be inclusive of all vehicles and deploy both infrastructure types.”
Charging times for electric vehicles at these stations are said to be anywhere from twenty minutes to over an hour, depending on the battery and its level of need.
“Generally, the intent of DC fast charging is to get you charged up to 80 percent in 30 to 45 minutes,” Steele said. “But that also depends on the DC fast charger level, as there’s some that are supposed to [fully charge] in minutes. For Level 2 chargers, it’s more defined for a longer time, where perhaps you’re going to spend the night because it does take a couple of hours.”
The cost for charging an EV at each of these stations is based on a number of variables.
“The Phase I stations are required for a period of five years [from its operating date] to provide the charging for free, so that’s a great amenity for drivers,” Bobzien said. “The Phase II stations are given flexibility to charge what they want for electricity, so you see some (price) variation.”
The reasoning behind this policy decision, according to Marie Steele, Electrification Director at NV Energy, is related to the nature of the early stages of the business model in the EV industry.
“For Phase I, given when we started the [Nevada Electric Highway], [free charging] definitely was used as an incentive to help people move into the electric vehicle market,” Steele said. “With Phase II having a much larger deployment and the increased electric vehicle adoption in the state, it seems fair to allow those host sites to be able to charge for the electricity.”
Due to the unregulated nature of the market, host sites will retain variable pricing structures.
“There’s not a set price for what these sites can charge because it is an unregulated market,” Steele said. “So [host sites] can set the price whether it be to park per hour, or per kWh [kilowatt-hour], that’s up to the owner of the charging infrastructure.”
In order to become a host site for a charging station, certain criteria have to be met. One criteria is recognition by the Federal Highway Administration as being located on a stretch of highway certified as an alternative fuel corridor for EVs. Another requirement is that a charging station be located at 50 mile intervals along the route, in order to assure reliable and consistent availability to drivers.
“We started by identifying communities on a map that would meet those requirements and we have some variability between stores and gas stations [as charging stations],” Bobzien said. “We also have a partnership with the Department of Transportation for some of their facilities where we don’t necessarily have access to a gas station or store. But essentially, the value proposition to the host sites is that you’ll be provided this infrastructure and your responsibility is to keep an eye on it and make sure it’s publicly available at your property.”
By having charging stations across rural communities in Nevada, an additional aim is for the Nevada Electric Highway to also bring economic benefits to local economies while the cars are charging.
“When you plug your vehicle in, it’s gonna take a little time to charge,” Bobzien said. “So the rural tourism opportunity is that we’re supporting drivers to visit all parts of the state and visit with the community while you’re charging your car. So if you want to get a bite to eat or do some shopping, this gives you a new way to experience the road trip.”
Bobzien also clarifies that there is a distinction between the Nevada Electric Highway and the Tesla Charging Network. The chargers along the Nevada Electric Highway stations support most of the makes and models of EVs on the road today. The Tesla Charging Network stations, however, require an adapter specifically tailored for Tesla vehicles.
“For the most part, a Tesla driver can plug into the Nevada Electric Highway, but other makes and models of cars outside of the Tesla line can’t plug into Tesla’s network,” Bobzien said. “It was just a different business model direction that [Tesla] chose, because that’s a separate investment handled by that company for their vehicles.”
A Regional Effort
Beyond the borders of the Silver State, the Nevada Electric Highway will also play a role in the region’s greater infrastructure for EVs with what’s known as the Regional Electrical Vehicle Plan for the West (REV West), which was announced in 2017. Initially, REV West was a partnership between the states of Nevada, Colorado and Utah, but has since been expanded to include the states of Idaho, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona and Montana.
“We recognized that the value of these investments we made in these corridors inside our own states could be maximized if other states were doing something similar,” Bobzien said. “REV West is not designed to mandate that any given state build out a certain number of chargers, but there’s value in coordinating standards for the charging stations to make sure we’re approaching the technology the same way so that you could, for example, essentially hand off an EV driver at the state line when they travel to another state in the western region.”
As completion of Phase I and Phase II charging stations nears, the Office of Energy is beginning to explore other ways through which the charging infrastructure can be enhanced in the state. Through a partnership with NV Energy, the state is working on an incentive program to support charging infrastructure for low-income, multifamily developments and government facilities such as libraries and state parks. As far as the Nevada Electric Highway goes, however, additional funding has not been identified yet so no commitments have been made for future phases.
Nonetheless, Bobzien is confident that the Nevada Electric Highway will serve a significant role in the state meeting its renewable energy goals moving forward, even though the highway is ultimately just one piece to the puzzle in addressing statewide greenhouse gas emissions.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
“Transportation is the largest sector [of emissions] and accounts for 36 percent of all statewide emissions, so the Nevada Electric Highway fits squarely in that the need to clean up the transportation sector,” Bobzien said. “But we still need to look at charging needs in urban areas, for people that are commuting or living in apartments and for people that maybe don’t own their own home. These are all the things that need to be addressed by policymakers as we’re going down this road towards transportation electrification.”
For Bobzien, however, Nevada is well on its way to meeting the projected demands of the growing number of future EV drivers in the state.
“We certainly have seen the cost of EVs come down steadily over the years as we see more and more major auto manufacturers come out with models and making commitments for converting their lines to all electric,” Bobzien said. “The highway plays an important part in communicating to EV drivers and potential EV owners that if they need to travel long distances in the state, we recognize it’s important that Nevada is ready to embrace them.”
Steele also envisions a growing number of EV drivers in the state moving forward as the cost of EVs continue to become accessible to a greater portion of the population.
“There’s definitely a misconception on the price point of EVs in that it’s not an accessible technology and only for the rich,” Steele said. “In the secondary market, people are getting electric vehicles for $11,000 or so. So the market is expecting price parity with internal combustion engines in the next couple years, especially with federal legislation happening and how quickly EVs are going to become commonplace.”
But with the Nevada Electric Highway to be fully in place by June, Steele is confident Nevada will see its benefits in the time to come.
“Having this basic level of charging infrastructure across the state supports the ability for people to move toward EVs,” Steele said. “Once we have an abundance of EV adoption, there’s air quality benefits by sourcing renewable energy versus combustible fuels and then those fuel savings going back into the economy. But having that basic level of infrastructure to realize those benefits from mass EV adoption is critical.”
Scott King writes about science and the environment for the Ally. Support his work.