A Second Way To Make EV Charging Succeed In Rural Areas

A couple of months ago, I read an article that got me to thinking (a dangerous pastime, I know) about rural charging stations. In the article, the author points out that rural America’s lack of electricity compared to the city is a song we’ve heard before, so it’s a problem we already know how to solve. With some creative government intervention, including financing for power line buildouts, rural electric coops, and even subsides for electric appliances in rural America, power went from mostly unavailable in 1930 to available at 99% of farms and ranches by 1960.

But, there’s a second way to solve it that doesn’t involve spending a bunch of government money and trying to get Senate Republicans onboard. We’re going to need a DeLorean equipped with a flux capacitor, though.

Back To The Future

If you wanted to see the second way America can solve a lack of electrification in rural areas, you’d have to take a similar journey as Marty did in Back To The Future. But, you’d need to gas up the DeLorean because you can’t start the journey in Hill Valley. Hill Valley had electricity back in 1955, so you wouldn’t learn much. Instead, I’d recommend taking a road trip to the Very Large Array, which is a large array of radio telescopes in New Mexico. Bring the extra plutonium with you so you don’t get stranded and can come back to 2022 at the end of the article!

Just to be sure you get the full effect, be sure to set your time circuits for June 1950. I’d also recommend staying on US Highway 60 as you speed up to 88 miles per hour, as that’s the only road that was there in those days and from what I can see, it hasn’t changed locations. Arriving in June would help you avoid any mud from the rainy season, which won’t matter on Highway 60, but will matter later.

A portion of the official 1950 highway map of New Mexico (Public Domain).

Oddly enough, you won’t notice any huge differences upon arrival. The Plains of San Augustin are barren today just as they’ve been since a huge ice age lake dried up. The one big difference: you won’t see any of the radio telescopes in 1950. Other than that, you’ll see the same cows and maybe a few more wild animals and perhaps more grass. If you’re really lucky, you might even spot a jaguar. Be sure to slow down a little and pay attention, as there are probably more deer and antelope you don’t want to wreck into.

I’d recommend going west until you reach the small town of Datil, and then turning left on New Mexico Highway 12, which will be gravel. I didn’t tell you to change “time zones” here, because going 88 miles per hour on pavement and suddenly being on gravel is a good way to lose control and kill yourself. I know this because this actually happened to a girl I knew in high school, and it’s a good idea to learn from what happens to others instead of pissing on every electric fence for yourself to see if it’s on.

But, now that you’ve safely arrived at Highway 12, keep going for about 28 miles, and take it easy. The further you go down this road, the more you’ll see animals that just aren’t around today as much. If you’ve ever been there in 2022, you’d notice that its a lot greener and nicer in this part of the plains. The dry lakebed might even have a little bit of water in it if you stick around a few weeks. Be careful to not blink, because if you do, you might miss Horse Springs, a little town (a few houses) with a gas station and a general store. Stop in and ask for directions to the nearest ranch house. They’ll think your car is weird, and that you talk funny, but other than that, they’ll probably direct you to my great-great uncle’s ranch I told readers about in another article.

If you manage to find his ranch, you’ll figure out pretty quick that there’s no power and no indoor plumbing out there. Need to use the water closet? There is no water closet. You’ll need to use the outhouse, and if you’re a dude, don’t let any part of you swing up under the seat (there are often Black Widow spiders in the outhouse). But, when he finds out you’re the reader of a magazine (he won’t know what a website is, so just tell him CleanTechnica is a magazine) that covers home energy generation and storage, he’s going to get excited and want to show you one of his sheds.

A 1935 advertisement for an electric windmill.

Near the shed, you’ll see a windmill. On the way to Horse Springs, you’ve seen a lot of windmills that pumped ground water for cattle, but this one looks different. Turns out, it’s hooked up to turn a generator, and the generator is hooked up to a bunch of batteries. It can’t put out a bunch of power like a grid connection, but the ranch isn’t going to get any wires run to it for about another decade. Being able to give the wife and kids a little bit of power is a big deal out here, as is having some power for farm work.

Just because congress hadn’t found its way out to Horse Springs by 1950 doesn’t mean that the ingenuity of other ranchers hadn’t arrived. One of the earliest renewable energy companies was Jacobs Wind, started by a farmer who built his own windmill to provide electric power. This impressed the farmers, who wanted the Jacob family to build some for them. Eventually, they became a household name, assuming your house was a farmhouse. A number of other companies got into the business, selling and shipping wind energy kits to farmers out of reach of the grid.

Feel free to spend some time exploring 1950 New Mexico, but whatever you do, don’t shoot my grandfather (he’s the teenager who visits the ranch sometimes). This would create a nasty paradox that risks the spacetime continuum.

Bringing This Idea Into The Present

As I pointed out earlier, most places had electricity by 1960, but there are still some areas today that don’t have it. They’re not inhabited by people, but we do have major highways running through them. There are also areas where there’s power, but it’s only a trickle, and not enough to support extra loads, like a 350 kW rapid charging station, without running bigger lines over dozens or perhaps over a hundred miles. So, the same challenge my great-great uncle had in the 1940s exists today, but for electric vehicles.

Unlike in those days, America had the will to solve big problems that big corporations didn’t find it profitable to solve. We’re not going to New Deal our way out of this, and we’re not going to get EV and charging companies to suddenly stop liking money.

In Part 2, I want to identify a few locations where this is a problem and take my great-great uncle’s solution into the 21st.

Featured image: Moonset over the Very Large Array in New Mexico. NRAO/AUI/NSF Jeff Hellerman CC-BY 3.0 License.


 


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