From the Grand Canyon to the majestic Tetons, over 80 million visitors annually travel to Western US national parks, often relying on personal or rental vehicles. Electric vehicles (EVs) now make up over 7% of new light-duty vehicle sales in the US, with projections of 30%–50% by 2030. This growth raises concerns about sufficient EV charging infrastructure. A recent NREL study, in collaboration with PacifiCorp and Utah State University, delves into the fast-charging infrastructure needed by 2030 for seamless EV road trips to and from national parks in seven Western states.
The report, titled “Fast-Charging Infrastructure for Electric Road Trips to and from Western U.S. National Parks,” authored by NREL’s Dong-Yeon Lee, Kaylyn Bopp, and Alicen Kandt, comprehensively assessed the necessary on-route fast-charging infrastructure quantity and locations. The study also included estimations of the potential impacts on the electric grid.
The broad ranges outlined in the report depend on crucial assumptions, including factors like EV adoption rates (quantity and types of vehicles), charging habits, average distance between charging stations, station usage, and whether vehicles are towing trailers.
“Travel to and from the national parks represent a distinct type of travel demand because the parks are typically located in remote areas, necessitating long road trips of 100 miles a day or more,” added Lee, a research engineer and lead author of the report. “When it comes to EV charging infrastructure for road trips, direct current fast charging, or DCFC, is the most applicable solution because it enables travelers to minimize the time spent charging, providing 100–200+ miles of range in about 30 minutes with today’s technology.”
“Our unprecedented high-resolution spatial and temporal analysis showed that the requisite number of DCFC charging ports varies greatly—ranging from 1,200 to 22,000—depending on key assumptions,” Lee said. “We also examined electrical load profiles for fast-charging infrastructure to inform electric grid operations and planning, and found that the load varies greatly, ranging from 70 MW to 400 MW.”
“Planners across the country can use this type of information to better understand what is needed to enable EV road trips in their regions and beyond,” added Bopp, a transportation project leader and co-author of the report. “The study shows how different assumptions result in differing degrees of impact on various aspects of charging infrastructure, illuminating the complexities that planners or decision makers must navigate when designing EV charging infrastructure for road trips.”
For over 10 years, NREL has collaborated with the National Park Service to achieve net-zero emissions across the park system. This study serves as an illustration of how NREL contributes to making travel to and from the parks more sustainable for everyone involved.