Ten electric cars, including Teslas, Rivian pickup trucks and potentially Ford F-150 lights, will travel more than 1,000 miles on the Dalton Highway from Fairbanks to the Arctic Ocean and back, to demonstrate the technology electric vehicles in a remote, rugged and low infrastructure environment.
The 2022 Arctic Road Rally, organized by Launch Alaska and funded by the US Department of Energy, will take off on August 12 and spend two days driving to Oliktok Point, the northernmost point in the United States on the connected road network. After a day’s break, drivers will spend another two days returning “to a very remote place, a very austere environment, along a pretty iconic stretch of road,” said Launch Alaska transportation manager Tim Leach.
“The idea of this technology demonstration is to help prove that these vehicles and charging stations do indeed work in a very remote location,” Leach said. “It’s obviously an industrial corridor, but it’s quite remote in other ways. It’s something that we hope will capture the imagination and really pique people’s interest and excitement.”
This year the event is not open to the public, but people will be able to follow the rally virtually, on the Arctic Road Rally website, https://www.arcticroadrally.com. Just before the rally, there will be an electric car show hosted by the Golden Valley Electric Association in Fairbanks on August 12.
To power vehicles on their journey north, drivers will rely on a series of temporary charging stations installed with the help of the Alaska Electric Vehicle Association, spaced about 140 miles apart between each one, said Kirsten Swann, communications manager for Launch Alaska.
While the power generation infrastructure is quite developed in Fairbanks and Deadhorse, the highway offers few natural gas and diesel generators. This condition makes the route a perfect example “of a remote stretch of road where there needs to be preparation and planning for vehicle electrification,” Leach said, particularly “before the consumer crosses the next step to adopt or try this new technology.”
In addition to the development of electric vehicle charging stations, the transition to electric vehicles in Alaska requires adapting the battery capacity of the electric vehicle to extreme cold.
“While there is a decrease in effective range that you can use in really cold weather, as long as you have that understanding and awareness, and you have enough battery capacity, you generally have pretty good maneuverability to the actual vehicle and snow and ice conditions,” Leach said.
While it’s summer now, Dalton Highway can challenge drivers in any season, for example, with culverts after rain, but, according to Leach, electric vehicles do quite well in tough conditions.
“It can be tough, especially when it’s raining or when you have washes,” Leach said. “But outside of those particular extreme examples, when it comes to rough roads, wet roads, mud and gravel, the performance of EVs in terms of driving on those kinds of surfaces is something we don’t expect to have any problems with it.”
When it comes to barriers to transitioning to electric vehicles in Alaska, access to public charging is one of the biggest hurdles for people, Leach said. Currently, the only alternative fuel corridor we have in the state is between Anchorage and Fairbanks, but installing more stations is being discussed by industry enthusiasts.
Another concern expressed by customers, according to Leach, is the high price – although decreasing over time – of electric vehicles. On the bright side, electric vehicles cost less to refuel and electricity prices are more stable than gasoline prices.
Living in small, remote towns and villages often requires riders to travel fewer miles, which can be perfect for riding an electric ATV or snowmobile, although more testing is needed to safely use the technology for subsistence and search and rescue, added Leach.
“You still have to test that before you make sure the vehicle lineup is right for people,” he said, “before you say, ‘Oh, yeah, go ahead and buy an electric snowmobile so that you can go out and hunt caribou.'”