TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- On Wednesday afternoon here, a two-part session on "Electric Vehicles, Infrastructure, and the Battery: Change is Happening ... Fast!" will likely point out that more efficient battery technology will lead to longer ranges, helping to make the transition to EVs a fait accompli.
But the most important word in that title is the one most often overlooked in the Tesla-inspired run toward electric mobility: infrastructure.
You can look north across Lake Michigan to see why "infrastructure" is by far the biggest hurdle to overcome if we are to collectively reach that goal nationwide.
With few exceptions, most of Michigan's Upper Peninsula remains the same wild, undisturbed, rustically beautiful landscape that it has been for generations. "Up North" is embedded in the identity of this state. But for all its natural beauty, the Upper Peninsula's remoteness and lack of energy generation means that consumers there pay some of the highest electricity costs in the nation, and they can outstrip the available supply of locally produced electricity.
Couple those facts with the long drives to reach population centers, and you are left with a stubborn case against EVs.
But there may be hope. Even there.
Researchers at Michigan Technological University are studying a novel idea to use something the Upper Peninsula has in excess — flooded, abandoned mine shafts — to supplement the region's electrical supply. The idea, already in use, involves pumping water from deep in the mine during times of low demand on the power grid, into an upper elevation and storing it there behind a barrier. When grid demand is high, the barrier is opened and water flows down the incline through turbines, generating on-demand electricity.
Infrastructure development is the key to making EVs functional, and it will require this level of grassroots engineering creativity to get us all from here to there.