Brian-Gerard Bessenaire

Brian-Gerard Bessenaire

Beijing, CN


One Big Fix

What is the title of your proposal?

Electric Highway: Building the Interstate Energy Infrastructure for Tomorrows Electric Car


How would you describe it?

Eastbound past Vegas Frankie croons hopping over the hum seeping out through the dash of that Tesla S-Series. Neon lights an old flame and desert stars lean cool against Zion mesas. Gas stations, gas stations, burgers and gas stations UNTIL Staccato sentries announce Connection Replenishment Rest. Recharge your batteries.


What does it fix and why?

Why dont Americans love the electric car (yet)? No road trips! Electric Highway is a vision of a clean energy infrastructure built to cut the cord that tethers the electric car to its home grid  setting it loose on the open road and into the heart of American car culture.


What makes it important?

The electric car has been struggling to win over the American consumer. While the average drive is just under ten miles and less than 10% of all trips go over 30 miles, even the current generation of electric car is more than adequate for most American driving habits. But a major stumbling block in its broader acceptance is its perceived (and largely actual) limitations in realizing the mythology of the open road; that powerful catalyst in Americas love affair with the car. In the cultural lexicon, the car remains the unmatched symbol of unfettered personal freedom. Lionized in the American canon, from Kerouacs On the Road to films like Thelma and Louise, Easy Rider and National Lampoons Vacation, the road trip is particularly integral to the modern American Identity, and people want to know that they can go more than 80 miles from home without waiting half the day before they can go another 80 miles.

Still, there are a lot of reasons to like the new batch of electric cars rolling off the lines these days. Increased power, greater range and shorter battery charging times are just a few reasons, but underlying the progress in this new technology is an undercurrent of consumer inertia forcing the new model to perform more like the gas-powered cars the American driver is used to.

And while the technology is advancing by leaps and bounds, there remains one powerful element as yet unreconciled: Long-haul Infrastructure. Imagine heading west out of Chicago across the open plains of northern Illinois in that next-generation electric roadster with the 300-mile range. Thirty miles short of Des Moines you hit the reach of your tether. Then what? Even if you could find an available outlet to plug into, are you really going to wait three to six hours for the battery to charge? And where is the electricity coming from? More likely than not, youre drawing power from a natural gas or coal-fired power plant, transferring the carbon footprint of the electric car from one hydrocarbon saved to another hydrocarbon burned. And with up to 65% of the energy expended in producing that electricity lost in transfer from plant to plug, the environmental benefits of the electric car begin to dissipate quickly!

Capitalizing on the existing infrastructure present in the thousands of rest stops along interstate highways, Electric Highway offers to turn places of personal rejuvenation into oases of electrical rejuvenation. Using interstate medians to site renewable energy facilities such as wind and solar farms, the electrical load needed to power the growing numbers of electric vehicles can be sourced locally, and not a carbon-intensive coal plant hundreds of miles away. And while recharging your batteries, take time to tap into the available wi-fi and cellular amenities, connect with fellow travelers at a locally-owned café or diner, or take in an old classic at the resurgent drive-in movie scene. All the while, you and your car are rejuvenated for the next leg of that classic American road trip.


How do the photos or renderings illustrate the concept?

1.A phalanx of towering wind turbines lining the highway median makes a strong statement of the possibilities for sustainable strategies in powering our lives, and is a welcoming sight for that weary traveler whose batteries are almost spent! And sourcing power locally makes good sense for the economy and good sense for the environment.

2.Imagine the rest stop not as a detour from your journey, but a planned destination along your route. Knowing you have time to decompress from your voyage while your car batteries recharge, what would you do with that time? Take a walk along xeroscaped paths, in bloom with local wildflowers and grasses? Or sit in the shade with the kids over a picnic lunch? Or just watch the wind turbines spin in the breeze just over the treeline. To slow down and take time is just one of the lifestyle benefits inherent to the Electric Highway.

3.Retrofitting rest stop parking spaces with high-voltage charging ports capitalizes on existing infrastructure. And where a single gas station might have up to twenty pumps (or as few as one or two!), rest stops often have hundreds of parking spaces to charge any manner of vehicle types – from Smart Cars to Winnebagos.

4.Connecting out on the highway isnt just catching a wi-fi hotspot or getting five bars on your phone. Connecting is as much about slowing down and taking the time while your batteries charge to commiserate with your fellow travelers in spaces that celebrate the communality of the road.

5. The state visitors center is one of the last bastions of local flavor left on our increasingly anonymous national highways. This project celebrates these interpretive centers that punctuate the journey with an appreciation of culture and place. Why not pry the kids away from Finding Nemo and learn a little something instead about the local fish species. Dont worry  youve got a few minutes.

6.With lithium-ion batteries developing rapidly, the fact remains that it takes time to charge a battery  be it 15 minutes or two hours. Got some time? Why not hop online to play an RPG, check your stocks or upload a movie for the kids? Technologies like heads-up displays and electro-obscuring windshields make it possible and are just around the corner!

7.Clean energy resources are viable over much of the United States, especially in those areas in the South, Southwest and the plains states that are far between urban centers. This map examines the viability of wind and solar power in relation to the interstate highway system, showing the huge potential to provide long-haul electric cars with clean electricity from sustainable sources!

8.As much as it is great to slow down and enjoy the journey, sometimes you just have to fill up and go. With standardization and interoperability between car models, spent batteries can be quickly swapped out for fresh cells that have been charging on site off surplus energy from the grid.


What is your business plan for realizing your proposal?

We are not fundamentally proposing anything new, but simply anticipating an emergent trend and looking for ways to help it along. The technology underpinning the electric car is developing by its own inertia, and the same could be said for solar and wind power. There are over 2000 rest stops already dotting the highways across the country with ample parking spaces that could be converted to electric charging stations with relatively little impact, able to draw off a locally-sourced, renewable energy grid.

No problem, right?

The one little challenge is an obscure federal regulation: U.S. Code § 111. As it happens, everything we have proposed – the highway median wind farms, the rest stop charging stations  all of it is illegal. This federal statute states: The State will not permit automotive service stations or other commercial establishments for serving motor vehicle users to be constructed or located on the rights-of-way of the Interstate System. Of course, like so many others, this law has little to do with the public good, and everything to do with aggressive lobbying by an entrenched special interest. In this instance, the National Association of Truck Stop Owners.

Our plan for realizing Electric Highway is to pursue a counter-lobbying and public relations campaign to advocate for the public/private enterprise needed to mobilize the capital and political will necessary to oppose NATSO. We intend to synergize the interests that will profit from our proposal: developers of electric cars and batteries, as well as developers of solar and wind resource technologies. Even the petroleum-based energy concerns stand to profit from diversification into renewable resources, provided they can find a reliable level of demand and favorable operating environment. Private industry will be called upon for the infrastructural development, and government will be asked to repeal U.S.C. § 111, while providing favorable leasing terms, tax subsidies, shelters and other such insulating policies as appropriate to attract capital while insuring an unequivocally sustainable and clean infrastructure.

There will inevitably be resistance from entrenched interests who will argue that this scheme will cost jobs in the truck stop and fast food and sundry other service industries related to the current model of refueling gas-powered vehicles. However, this proposal promises to create new green jobs in research and development, maintenance, service and operations of the rest stops and their associated power matrix. We think trading a carbon-heavy job for a sustainable job is a good trade!

To this end, our third front in this fight is to mobilize public opinion in support. Our plan, then, is to use the winnings and exposure raised through the Next Gen competition as the catalyst to jump-start a grassroots effort to raise awareness, foster relationships and make noise. Our role in this process is that of pragmatic organizers  bringing together common interests toward a greater good. All the pieces are there; the only thing left to do is put them together, opening up the interstates to a truly clean and renewable driving experience.

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Status: Competition Entry