Jan 24, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Pop-up charging stations for EV wilderness adventures

Image of a hiker napping on the hood of his car near a trailhead while hikers walk by.
Hikers in Colorado. Photo by Jeremy Papasso/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images

Pop-up fast-charging stations near remote outposts like hiking trails could give electric vehicle owners more confidence to take their EVs off the beaten path.

Why it matters: Pickups, SUVs — even RVs — are now going electric, encouraging families to take outdoor adventures. But if you already have range anxiety about road tripping in an EV, imagine being stranded in the middle of the woods with a drained battery.

What's happening: GM, Ford, Jeep and Rivian are touting the go-anywhere nature of their new electric and plug-in hybrid models.

  • This week, Winnebago unveiled an electric prototype RV with an 86-kWh battery pack that also runs interior appliances.
  • The camper van's driving range is only about 125 miles, though — not great for long road trips.

You can find charging stations at some national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite — 140 EV plugs to date, says the National Park Service.

  • EV manufacturers are beginning to roll out branded charging stations at outdoor sites and trailheads across the country.
  • Rivian, for example, plans to install its Waypoint chargers at Tennessee's 56 state parks and also at upscale campgrounds operated by Under Canvas, starting with its Moab and Lake Powell-Grand Staircase locations in Utah this summer.
  • Jeep, through a deal with Electrify America, is installing charging stations (some with solar panels) at popular off-road sites like Moab, as well as Big Bear and Rubicon Trail in California, to support its new Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid.

The catch: Most are slow Level 2 (240-volt) chargers — adding only 25 miles of range per hour — making them best suited for overnight use, not a quick recharge to keep the adventure going.

What's new: General Motors might have a way to bring faster battery refills to the wilderness: portable DC fast-charging stations powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

  • The mobile generators are designed to power worksites, data centers, military encampments and even outdoor events like concerts.
  • They can also be used as digital current (DC) fast-charging stations — refilling an EV battery in about 30 minutes (instead of eight hours).
  • The advantage for remote recreational areas is that they don't have to draw power from the grid. And they're mobile, so they can be used seasonally, then relocated elsewhere.

Yes, but: one big hurdle is keeping the mobile generators filled with hydrogen.

  • Without a robust pipeline infrastructure, hydrogen must be transported by truck, which can be expensive and adds carbon to the atmosphere, undermining EVs' clean energy mission.
  • Longer-term, GM hopes cleaner hydrogen from renewable sources will be produced closer to where it's used, bringing down the cost.

The bottom line: A wilderness adventure in an earth-friendly electric truck or RV sounds awesome, but only if you're confident you'll have enough juice to drive out of the woods again.

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