The Unique Challenges Of Expanding EV Charging In Alaska
While working on our plan for EV charging for the Biden Administration, I’ve been getting a lot of feedback from readers. One of our readers is Kris Hall, the founder of Recharge Alaska, an organization dedicated to bringing more charging stations to the state. Between his research (which is extensive), local knowledge he shared in a text conversation, and my own internet research, I found that the state will have some very unique challenges that require a very different approach than other states.
I was originally going to put off doing Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and other territories until I was done making a rough map for the Lower 48, but decided to go ahead and do Alaska because it’s actually part of the interstate system that I thought was completed.
It turns out that the Alaska Highway is still sort of a US highway. The Army Corp of Engineers built the first version of it during World War II, and it was transferred back to Canadian ownership and control after the war. With the Alaska Highway and two stubs going off to different parts of Alaska, some officials estimate that around 85% of traffic is still US citizens, and for this reason the two governments came up with an agreement in the 1970s for the US to foot the bill for future upgrades.
To make sure we are keeping up our end of the agreement, it makes sense to provide the Canadian government with the funds for EV charging stations along the Alaska Highway and some of the feeder roads. The US should also pay to add stations even where there are already Canadian-built stations to make sure US EV traffic doesn’t eat up all of the charging stalls that local Canadians need.
This will require a little over 50 stations to cover the Alaska Highway itself, common feeder roads Americans use to get to the beginning of it in Dawson Creek, BC, and the side roads to Haines and Skagway, Alaska.
Inside Alaska, I followed Recharge Alaska’s recommendations for locations along the main highways. Technically Alaska’s main roads are part of the Interstate Highway System, but are not signed as such and are largely not built to full interstate standards. As part of the system, though, they do get some funds and the federal government should upgrade these routes with some basic EV charging.
I first added Recharge Alaska’s recommended placements, and then looked at its chart of available power to add some extra fill-in stations to make sure most EVs can make the trip even in winter.
The rest of Alaska is going to be a huge challenge. The rest of the state is not connected to the highways that connect the Alaska Highway, Fairbanks, and Anchorage. There are a few gravel roads that work in the summer, but the outlying communities supply almost all of their needs by ferry, cargo ships, river barges, and planes. Cars are driven locally in many places, though. They’re just brought in and fueled by barges in the summer and from local tanks in the winter that the barges top up in the fall.
The rural stations in Alaska should be powered by renewables whenever possible, but to do that, they’re mostly going to need to be level 2 charging. There’s just not enough sunlight or possible hydroelectric power locally to generate level 3 power. In some cases, like Juneau, level 3 is possible (and presently available), but won’t be possible in most other places without some serious power upgrades.
When looking at the full Alaska map with interstate and rural stations, keep in mind that the rural stations might not be level 3 for these reasons. They’re just a good starting point for local drivers to drive on local roads and for people visiting on the ferries to get a charge.
The rest of Alaska is almost pointless to add stations for at this point. There’s no ferry service, and vehicles brought in on barges most likely wear out and never leave the towns except possibly as scrap metal. Vehicles don’t tend to last terribly long in Alaska, either, due to rusting and the harsh conditions.
Perhaps most importantly, the smallest towns get most of their electricity from diesel generators. The rivers freeze over, sunlight is only a few hours a day (if at all), among many other challenges in the winter. For the short trips that happen at these outlying settlements, an EV is likely not a terribly good option unless the federal government wants to pay to put in geothermal facilities all over Alaska, assuming that’s a good option.
Considering how few people are left after covering Alaska’s road system and the ferry stops, the remaining people burning fossil fuels don’t have a very great impact on climate change. The epic sparsity, just how spread out everyone in rural Alaska are from each other, means you won’t really see the pollution have much impact, either.
Given all of these challenges and what little could be gained offering level 2 charging in such places, the rough plan I put together in the map takes care of the state and its connection to the lower 48. I hope we can get the Biden Administration to take this side quest!