Time to Charge Ahead:
Great Lakes Region Requires Infrastructure to Power EVs

By Tom Van Heeke

The automotive industry is undergoing profound changes. For its part, General Motors (GM) is on its way to an all-electric future with a plan to have 30 electric vehicles (EVs) in our global portfolio by the end of 2025 and an aspiration to eliminate tailpipe emissions from our new light-duty vehicles ten years later—part of our company’s broader contribution to addressing climate change. But here at GM we know that we can’t achieve these goals alone. Rapidly electrifying the transportation sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions means building a new market, supported by new infrastructure and doing so at an ambitious pace across the country. We know we can do it, but it will be a challenge that requires bold public action and collaboration among all stakeholders. In that context, the Biden Administration’s vision for a national network of 500,000 EV chargers by 2030 could not have come at a better time. But this is just a waypoint on a longer transportation electrification journey. This goal likely represents just a down payment on what it will take to decarbonize the transportation sector. Fortunately, a broadly shared sense of purpose is taking root, creating the right conditions for the work we will need to do together to install millions of EV chargers and do so thoughtfully to build a network in the fullest sense of the word.

The need for EV charging is significant. According to a recent analysis published by Atlas Public Policy, the U.S. will need to install 1.4 million new public charging ports in the coming decades to meet the needs of a light-duty vehicle fleet that is almost fully electrified by mid-century. By 2030, 495,000 of these new public ports will need to be in place. It might be prudent to approach these estimates as conservative. The analysis assumes that half of all EV owners will have access to home charging–far from guaranteed for renters and those living in apartments. It also assumes that publicly available direct current fast chargers (DCFCs) will be the more powerful–but currently far less common–350kW variety that might allow for relatively fewer installations. Of course, these will need to be built to serve all communities, with particular care for those that have been historically underserved, and include new installations at fleet depots, single-family homes, and multi-unit dwellings. It all amounts to a need for tens of billions of dollars in public investments in the United States and likely several billion more in Canada.

To get everybody in an EV, GM is taking action to contribute to the development of a charging ecosystem that meets customer needs. For example, GM partnered with charging provider EVgo to triple the size of its public DCFC network across 40 key metropolitan areas in the U.S. When complete, the project will add 2,700 fast chargers to the national network with benefits for EV drivers who need to charge on the go or cannot easily charge at home or work. The first of these new stations opened in April 2021. And this year, Chevrolet announced it plans to cover standard installation of Level 2 charging capability for eligible customers with the purchase of the MY22 Chevrolet Bolt EUV or MY22 Chevrolet Bolt EV, further lowering barriers to EV purchases.

Powered by 100 percent renewable energy, the EVgo fast chargers will be located in cities and suburbs.

While these actions have led to tangible benefits for EV drivers, it also positions GM well to bring a wealth of knowledge and insight to the table as policymakers consider how to expand infrastructure in their jurisdictions to support vehicle electrification. GM is committed to working with stakeholders at all levels of government, and especially around the Great Lakes region we call home, to continue building toward success.

EV charging infrastructure in the binational Great Lakes region–including the eight U.S. states bordering the Great Lakes, Ontario, and Quebec–has room to grow. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC) reports that the eight states and two provinces currently host just a little over 10,400 publicly available charging stations combined for a total of approximately 19,800 public charging ports. But this is to serve a region with a population of 107 million, major bilateral trade routes, and an economy that, if it were a country, would be the third largest in the world. To support a mass market for EVs by 2030, the Great Lakes will require an order-of-magnitude more chargers on the ground than currently exist.  

The states and provinces of the region should begin the work of evaluating their infrastructure needs with a sense of urgency. Building the necessary chargers will take time. Even when charging providers have identified the necessary capital, site acquisition, permitting, and construction can all add significantly to a project’s schedule. There is no time to waste in identifying how many chargers to build and where. Potential models to emulate include California’s recent EV infrastructure needs assessment, a detailed and clear-eyed review that found that even the State of California, with clear commitments and several years of foundational work behind it, needs to take stock and redouble its efforts to ensure that they do not fall short.

Thinking regionally, a focus on highway corridors and destination charging that serve more than  the local population is always important in these efforts, but nowhere is that truer than around the Great Lakes. With so much cross-border commuting, trade, and travel–especially between Ontario and Michigan and New York–planning and implementing an EV charging network that coheres across the region will be critical. It could also have strategic and economic benefits given the importance of the automotive industry, including EV manufacturing, to the region. Ubiquitous charging infrastructure on one side of the Ambassador Bridge but not the other, whether along the highway or at work or leisure destinations, could make commuters, families, or fleets think twice about switching to an EV. Meeting that challenge means bringing stakeholders together to develop a shared strategy, and we have seen an example in the American West of what regional partnership to advance vehicle electrification can look like. There is an opportunity for the Great Lakes to build on this example and continue the foundational discussions started by the Council of the Great Lakes Region, with its unique mandate and reach.

With a drumbeat of announcements and new vehicles launching, there is exciting momentum across the auto industry as it accelerates the pace of its transition to an all-electric future. But it’s critical that policymakers not lose sight of the complementary investments in infrastructure that the EV market will need to succeed. Those needs are substantial and will need to be carefully planned, starting now, and ideally implemented regionally to maximize impact. The deeply interconnected Great Lakes region should take these steps. With the right planning and cooperation, our states and provinces can become global leaders in building the infrastructure needed for transportation electrification with benefits for residents, visitors, the environment, and the regional economy.   

About the Author

Tom Van Heeke is the Senior Policy Lead for Mobility and Climate Change at General Motors.

Tom is responsible for policy considerations related to urban mobility and the decarbonization of transportation. He has experience analyzing and advocating for forward-thinking transportation and climate policy across sectors, including as a fiscal and policy analyst for the California State Legislature and as a researcher at The Frontier Group, an advocacy-oriented think tank, where he researched and wrote extensively on transportation and environmental matters. He and his work have been quoted and featured by media outlets including the New York Times, the Associated Press, and E&E News. Tom has also been called to present and testify before state legislatures on several occasions.  Tom graduated with honors from Grinnell College and holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. He lives in Detroit’s West Village neighborhood. You can connect with Tom on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Tom was a featured speaker at the Great Lakes Economic Forum’s “Electrifying Mobility in the Great Lakes Region: from EVs to Green Batteries” virtual event on April 29.

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