Stimulus plan: $2.2 billion for EVs, $11B for grid, $30B for roads

The proposed U.S. economic stimulus plan unveiled by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives late Thursday includes funding for two challenges critically important to the mainstream adoption of electric vehicles (EVs): battery technology and the electrical infrastructure. The proposal was unveiled by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and is supported by President-Elect Barack Obama, who takes office on Tuesday.

Electric cars have improved dramatically over the last decade, to the point that they're almost ready for large scale production. If battery technology can be further improved -- and the electric grid is capable of supporting EVs -- it could spell a winning combination.

The plan allocates $2 billion to "Advanced Battery Loans and Grants." The proposal focuses specifically on EVs. "America should lead the world in transforming the way automobiles are powered," the text reads. Moreover, the proposal indicates the loans and grants are designed to "support U.S. manufacturers of advanced batteries and battery systems."

There are numerous battery technologies at various stages of development that promise to make EVs more practical than ever. The best electric cars on the market can travel up to 250 miles on a single charge, but issues remain. Typical lithium-ion batteries cannot withstand rapid-charging, they have a limited useful life expectancy, and they're still quite costly.

There are a number of promising technologies at various stages of development, including lithium-ion batteries with more advanced chemistries, batteries infused with nanotechnology, and ultracapacitors with high energy density. Of course, all of these technologies are expensive and, in some cases, experimental. The $2 billion dedicated to this area of research should serve to speed the commercialization of new technology, not to mention drive the cost down.

The stimulus package also includes an additional $200 million in grants to "encourage electric vehicle technologies." Presumably, this money would go toward startups in the EV segment.

A whopping $11 billion is to be set aside for another important aspect of the EV movement -- a more advanced power grid. Charging a large number of EVs slowly at off-peak hours (overnight) is already possible with the existing grid, but rapid-charging thousands of EVs during the day could strain the power infrastructure in some parts of the country.

The proposal indicates the money will go toward various projects needed to "modernize the electricity grid making it more efficient, secure, and reliable." The plan also aims to "build new power lines to transmit clean, renewable energy from sources throughout the nation. Another $8 billion will go toward loans for renewable energy power generation and transmission projects, while another $2 billion will be allocated for R&D in this area.

Further reaffirming America's commitment to the automobile, the stimulus plan calls for $30 billion in infrastructure spending, specifically related to roads and bridges. Combined with money already set aside on the state level, approximately 5,100 projects could be awarded within 180 days, totaling $64 billion in spending. A 2006 report by the Department of Transportation indicated $61.4 billion would need to be spent in the near term to improve highways and bridges, so the proposed spending seems appropriate.

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