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Electric cars need more charging stations, and the White House wants to help

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Bay Area Plans Major Expansion Of Electric Vehicle Charging Stations Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Today the Department of Energy announced that it was expanding its $4.5 billion loan guarantee program to include charging stations for electric vehicles (EV). Charging stations could be seen as an “efficient electrical transmission or distribution technologies,” which would make them eligible under the law for this specific loan program.

The rapid decrease in the price of batteries — more than 70 percent between 2008 and 2014 — and the introduction of more mass-market EVs is certainly encouraging some consumers to consider switching to electric. But the other major obstacle is the lack of a sufficient charging infrastructure, which the Energy Department says it hopes to address through its loan guarantee program.

Banks want a guarantee that their loans are being put to good use. And electric cars are still seen as a risky investment for most commercial lenders.

The goal of the loan program is to encourage companies to build more charging stations, which in turn would encourage people to buy more electric cars and reduce their dependency on those that burn fossil fuels. More than 66,000 plug-in electric cars were sold in 2016 so far, as well as 161,000 hybrid electric cars, according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association. But those numbers are essentially flat compared to previous years.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration unveiled a partnership with nearly 50 automakers, utilities, states, and charging station manufacturers to increase the number of charging locations. According to Reuters, participating companies include Tesla, General Motors, Ford, Nissan, BMW, Daimler, Duke Energy, and ConEd. The partnership, which is a little amorphous, entails these entities signing a set of “guiding principles” to encourage the expansion of more charging stations.

There are more than 16,000 electric vehicle charging stations today, a 40 fold increase from 2008, the White House says. But electric vehicle sales have not met their earlier expectations. The hope is that the feds can help bring those numbers back up to target.