Have you ever worried about how you’re going to charge your phone today? Probably not. We’ve evolved past traditional landlines and now cell phones are the new normal. We don’t give a second thought to how pervasive our electronics have become.

On February 18, the Knoxville Chamber hosted a virtual discussion about the Tennessee Valley Authority’s electric vehicle (EV) strategy, featuring Amy Henry, Director of Transformative Innovation. Henry proposed that similar to the evolution of smartphones, EVs will soon take on the same shape – they will be ingrained in our everyday lives. And, TVA intends to make sure Valley residents reap the benefits of the electric transition.

Leading the charge

For nearly 90 years, TVA has sought to enhance the lives of residents in the Valley through its three key mission areas: energy, environment and economic development. Today, TVA is committed to decarbonization efforts and enabling the adoption of EVs in the Valley to create economic and environmental benefits for all citizens. 

Since 2005, TVA has eliminated about 63% of the carbon from the energy that TVA generates. Almost 60% of the energy they generate is by carbon-free sources like hydropower, nuclear, solar and wind. The public power provider aspires to increase that figure to 70% by 2030 and to reach net zero by 2050. This decarbonization transition will rely on new technology and business practices, including EVs.

“Every additional electric vehicle on the road represents a little bit less of carbon dioxide emissions to the tailpipe,” said Henry. “It’s also a little bit more locally produced fuel powering our transportation sector.”

Accelerating growth

TVA aims to remove common market barriers for EVs, such as a lack of awareness of how electrification will impact day-to-day life for residents. To do so, TVA has developed a roadmap to reduce the information and policy gaps. One of the first major actions TVA took was its Fast Charge Network program.

“It’s our goal to place fast EV chargers every 50 miles across major interstates and roads. The goal of this is to remove range anxiety,” said Henry.

Additionally, TVA’s collaboration within the National Electric Highway Coalition (NEHC) focuses on installing more fast charging stations.

“Not long from now, once these networks are completed, you should be able to get in your EV – drive from Knoxville to Memphis or New York City down to Orlando without worrying about whether you can charge your car. You can even get in your car and follow the Vols to all of their SEC conference games!”

TVA also has programs to educate, inform and promote the many benefits of electric transportation through EV awareness videos and community charging campaigns in cities like Nashville and Chattanooga. TVA intends to make Tennessee a great place for EVs. 

Tennessee is the #1 state in the Southeast for EV manufacturing – touting the Blue Oval City, Volkswagen Chattanooga, General Motors and Tritium, which will be making American-made charging equipment in Lebanon, Tennessee. 

“This reveals a multiplying effect – not only drawing in car manufacturers, but the battery facilities to charge them” said Henry. “We think this is just the beginning.”

The road ahead

State programs have started to embrace the proliferation of EV fleets. BrightRidge, a nonprofit public utility, partnered with TVA to release the first, state-of-the-art all-electric school bus in Tennessee. TVA has begun developing its own EV fleet too.

“In August, we announced that we will be converting 100% of our light-duty fleets – our sedans, SUVs and pickup trucks – will all be electric by 2030,” said Henry.

TVA is also partnering with local power companies to prepare for the electrification in the Valley through potential vehicle-to-grid experiments.

“We have seen some really exciting growth in this area over the past few years. There is a lot more to do, there is more to figure out. But the one thing we know we can count on accelerating this market is that this is a team sport,” said Henry. “Research partners like Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee and these cleantech accelerator programs that are rising in Knoxville are bringing new and exciting thinking to our area.”

The transition from hanging landlines on our walls to carrying electric phones in our pocket was once a gradual shift with worthy hesitation and uncertainty. Likewise, the electrification of Tennessee’s roadways will demand time, research and collaboration before EVs become ingrained in daily life.

Henry concluded the event with a call to action: “It’s really important for us to continue collaborating – making this area a good place for electric vehicles to be made so that we can accelerate this market and keep pushing the envelope on ways to continue this evolution in Tennessee.”

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