Gas prices continue to skyrocket, causing many to consider electric vehicles (EVs) as a viable alternative for transportation and leaving others to wonder if the state's power grid can handle the additional load.

EVs seem to be the wave of the future. Most automobile manufacturers have adapted to add EVs to their stables in recent years.

Tesla is by far the most popular EV, according to Car and Driver. The two most purchased EVs in 2021 were the Tesla Model Y (172,700 units sold) and Model 3 (128,600 units sold). In third place was the Ford Mustang Mach-E (27,140 units sold).

In 2021, Alabama was ranked amongst the worst states to buy EVs due to the state’s ban on purchasing EVs directly from the manufacturer, which is Tesla’s preferred business model. Alabama also imposes an annual $200 licensing fee on EVs as a part of the Rebuild Alabama Act, which also included the state's gas tax.

According to the Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, there are currently only 2,890 registered EVs in the state, but that number is expected to grow. EV registrations in the U.S. shot up 60% in the first quarter of 2022.

Despite Alabama’s current low numbers, that state is attempting to broaden EV infrastructure as more Alabamians consider EVs a viable alternative.

One worry people have about switching to EVs is the “range anxiety” or limited driving range.

According to Blink Charging, a charging station manufacturer, range anxiety is the number one reason people are hesitant to buy EVs. Depending on the size of the battery, your driving range can be anywhere from 60 to 200 miles, meaning that forgetting to recharge or not having access to a charger could leave drivers' stranded on the side of the road.

According to Cedric Daniels, the Electric Transportation Manager with Alabama Power, utilizing funds from The Rebuild Alabama Act - combined with additional allocations from state and federal lawmakers - Alabama is attempting to increase the number of EV chargers in the state.

“We are getting $79 million from the state to, over five years, put in, especially the DC fast chargers, primarily along interstates, having some of those stations within every 50 miles of one another, as well as major highways,” Daniels said. “Those are going to be going in as those grants are provided over the [next] five years or so. That’s going to be a lot of charging stations going in.”

Currently, there are 17 direct current (DC) fast-charging sites with 38 charging ports in the state, and nine Tesla-only DC fast-charging sites with 76 charging ports.

In 2020, the Alabama legislature created programs at the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) to coordinate a statewide EV infrastructure plan.

In June 2021, the state of Alabama combined funds appropriated by the legislature with Volkswagen settlement funds, which led to ADECA awarding 18 grants totaling more than $4.1 million to finance the installation of EV support equipment across the state.  

By the end of 2022, Alabama is expected to more than double the number of publicly accessible fast charger locations statewide.

Some have speculated that the rapid increase of EVs would have deleterious effects on the state’s power grid. If more people begin driving EVs, it will place additional strain on the state’s power grid, which does not have unlimited capabilities.

According to Daniels, Alabama Power has been preparing the state’s infrastructure for EV use for two decades, learning through Alabama Power’s use of EVs for their personnel.

“Alabama Power Company is ready to have many, many electric vehicles charging, especially at night at people’s homes,” Daniels said. “80% of people drive 40 miles or less a day; 50% of people, by week’s end, drive 20 miles or less a day; which is a very small amount of energy.”

To reduce any possible strain on the state’s power grid, Alabama Power offers incentives to charge EVs at night, when far less of the grid’s output is being diverted to other sources. Alabama Power offers a rate discount of roughly 15% for EV drivers between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., a discount that would apply to the whole home, not just the charging station.

“We are [incentivizing] people to charge during that time," Daniels said. “That is the normal routine and habit for people to charge, and that’s not really a lot of charging that people are doing, because they really don’t drive that much and really use up a very small amount of energy. We could absorb many, many, many, many vehicles, and we have that capacity very comfortably.”

Some have also speculated that EVs would not provide environmental benefits due to power plants producing most of their electricity by burning coal and fossil fuels.

According to Wards Auto, an automotive research group, the "juice is not worth the squeeze" if EVs are charged exclusively using coal and fossil fuels.

“It’s one thing if electricity to fuel EVs comes from an eco-friendly hydro plant, solar panels or windmills,” said Steve Finlay, Editor of WardsAuto Dealer Business magazine. “It’s altogether different if a coal-burning facility creates the electricity. It is a distinction without a difference if the pollution is emitted from a smokestack instead of a tailpipe.”

Alabama produces the majority of its energy through coal (43%), with oil and gas (25%) just beating out nuclear (24%). Only 8% comes from hydro.

Daniels claims that, even though Alabama Power plans to eliminate emissions by 100% by 2050, coal power plants are far more efficient than internal combustion engines.

“Our grid is getting cleaner and cleaner and cleaner,” Daniels said. “From the very time that someone operates and starts an internal combustion engine vehicle, every time it cranks, it gets dirtier and dirtier.”

“We are continuing to invest in new technology to make the coal we do burn cleaner," said Alyson Tucker, Media relations with Alabama Power. "We also are looking at different sources so we can make our overall [power] generation cleaner."

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