PORTLAND, Ore. — Stephanie Terrell was thrilled to join the wave of drivers adopting electric vehicles when she purchased a used Nissan Leaf this fall.
But Terrell has encountered an obstacle in the road on her journey to clean driving: as a renter, she has no place to plug in at night and nearby public charging stations are often used. The 23-year-old nearly ran out of power on the highway recently because a charging station she was relying on was busy.
“It was really scary and I was really scared that I couldn’t make it,” she said. “I feel better than buying gas, but there are issues that I didn’t really anticipate.”
Cities are looking for charging solutions
The transition to electric vehicles is underway for owners who can charge in their own garage, but for millions of renters access to charging remains a significant barrier. Today, cities across the United States are trying to provide innovative public charging solutions as drivers roll up power cords on sidewalks, erect private charging stations on city rights-of-way and line up in public facilities.
Last month, the Biden administration approved plans for all 50 states to roll out a network of high-speed chargers along interstate highways using $5 billion in federal funding over the next five years. But states must wait to apply for an additional $2.5 billion in local grants to fill pricing gaps, including in dense urban areas.
“We have a very big challenge right now to make it easier for people who live in apartments to charge,” said Jeff Allen, executive director of Forth, a nonprofit that advocates for equity in vehicle ownership. electricity and access to charging.
Cities need to understand that “promoting electric cars is also part of their sustainable transport strategy. Once they have made this mental shift, there are a whole lot of very tangible things they can – and should – TO DO.”
Fast chargers, also known as DC Fast, can fill a car in 45 minutes or less. But slower Level 2 chargers, which take several hours, still outnumber fast DC chargers nearly four to one. Charging from a standard household outlet, or a Level 1 charger, is not practical unless you drive little or can leave the car plugged in overnight.
Millions of charging stations are needed to meet EV demand
Nationally, there are approximately 120,000 public charging ports offering Tier 2 or better charging, and nearly 1.5 million registered electric vehicles in the United States, a ratio of just over a nationwide 12-car charger, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Energy.
A briefing prepared for the US Department of Energy last year by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory projects a total of just under 19 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030, with a projected need for 9, 6 million additional charging stations.
In Los Angeles, for example, almost a quarter of all new vehicles registered in July were plug-in. The city estimates that over the next two decades it will need to expand its distribution capacity by 25% to 50%, with about two-thirds of the increase in demand coming from electric vehicles, said Yamen Nanne, head of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Transportation. electrification program.
In the midst of the boom, dense urban neighborhoods quickly become pressure points.
Several cities are installing pole-mounted EV chargers
In Los Angeles, the city has installed more than 500 pole-mounted EV chargers — 450 on streetlights and 50 on utility poles — and wants to add 200 more per year, Nanne said.
Similar initiatives to install pole-mounted chargers are in place or being considered from New York to Charlotte, North Carolina, to Kansas City, Missouri. Utility Seattle City Light is also in the early stages of a pilot project to install charging stations in neighborhoods with limited private parking.
Other cities want to amend building codes for the electric transition. Portland is considering a proposal that would require 50% of parking spaces in most new apartment complexes to have electrical conduit; in complexes of six spaces or less, all would be EV-ready.
Such policies are critical to the widespread adoption of electric vehicles, because with tax incentives and an emerging market for used electric vehicles, zero-emission cars are finally within reach of more Americans, a said Ingrid Fish, manager of Portland’s transportation decarbonization program.
The initiatives mimic those that have already been rolled out in other countries that are further along in the adoption of electric vehicles.
London, for example, has 4,000 public chargers on streetlights. It’s much cheaper – only a third of the cost of wiring a curbside charging station, said Vishant Kothari, e-mobility team leader at the World Resources Institute.
But London and Los Angeles have an advantage over many US cities: their streetlights run on 240 volts, better for EV charging. Most streetlights in US cities use 120 volts, which takes hours to charge a vehicle, said Kothari, co-author of a study on the potential for pole-top charging in US cities.
Cities must therefore use a combination of solutions, from zoning changes to policies that encourage fast charging in the workplace.
Changes can’t come fast enough for renters who already own electric vehicles.
Rebecca DeWhitt and her partner thread an extension cord from an outlet near the front door of their rental home, down a path, and to their new Hyundai Kona in the driveway. Outside of the standard plug, it takes up to two days and a lot of planning to fully charge their EV for a trip.
“It’s embarrassing,” DeWhitt said. “And if we weren’t enjoying having an electric vehicle so much, we wouldn’t be in the pain.”