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Lack of Electric Vehicle Charging Stations a Growing Concern

High costs, driven by permitting, building code and regulatory red tape, could hamper growth of stations needed to power the EV market, but some states and localities are starting to change the status quo.

Smart Node Charging
According to recent research from the International Council for Clean Transportation (ICCT), the country will need to increase workplace and public fast-charging stations in metro areas by 400 percent in the next five years to service the electric vehicles (EVs) projected to be on the road by 2025.

Unsurprisingly, the demand for charging stations is greatest in cities that combine large population and success in encouraging EV adoption. Los Angeles alone will require an additional 35,000 charge points, seven times the total in place as of 2017.

City leaders recognize the need to meet these goals. A newly released report from Boston University’s Initiative on Cities found that two-thirds of U.S. mayors surveyed agree it’s important to improve EV charging infrastructure, even if it means sacrificing parking spaces for other vehicles to do so.

This is reflected in a growing commitment to action. In mid-January the New York State Department of Public Service recommended that a utility-supported “Make Ready” program be established to support deployment of charging stations. “The Make Ready initiative will direct the state's utilities to build the grid infrastructure needed to enable the installation of publicly accessible chargers, encouraging more New Yorkers to choose electric vehicles while creating jobs and ensuring our energy dollars stay in-state,” said Gov. Cuomo in announcing the effort.

 
Highway-based fast chargers will be needed to connect metro areas together if EV-based transportation is going to succeed. ICCT estimates that 10,000 more fast chargers are required along corridors between them. For longer stretches of highway, the California Energy Commission has estimated that anywhere between 9,000 and 5,000 fast chargers will be essential to serve EV drivers traversing the Golden State alone.  The impetus for building adequate infrastructure is fueled by more than keeping drivers on the road. Thanks to improvements in efficiency and the growth of renewable energy, transportation is now America’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions

As long as the electricity that powers an EV comes from a coal-or gas-powered plant, it’s an over-simplification to say that driving it is truly a “zero emission” activity. Even so, the Union of Concerned Scientists notes that when emissions from these plants are taken into account, as well as emissions from production of the fuel they use, an average EV in the U.S. is still as clean as a 80 MPG gasoline-powered car.

Cost is always a concern when scaling up infrastructure. A new study from the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) reveals that in the U.S., the soft costs of installing chargers are three to five times the cost of the chargers themselves.  

“We found that the EV charging industry needs to do what the solar industry did starting about a decade ago: streamline and de-bottleneck installation,” reports Chris Nadler, manager of RMI’s mobility project. “Just as with the solar industry, ‘soft costs’ such as permitting delays, complex utility interconnection processes, compliance with a balkanized framework of regulations, re-engineering projects because they were based on incorrect information, and so on were frequently cited as more significant cost drivers than charging station hardware in the United States.”

Some of these issues can be addressed in advance during building construction. An analysis by Pacific Gas and Electric found that installing charging capacity during construction could reduce the cost per EV charging space by as much as 75 percent. Code developers have been working on this issue, and guidelines for incorporating charging capability in commercial buildings and high-rise residential buildings are included in proposed changes to the International Energy Conservation Code. 

“Making sure every building built has 100 percent availability of charging is where we need to go, says Mike Nicholas, senior researcher for ICCT. “When I say availability, I mean the ability to add it later. Just make it an easy upgrade path in all building codes.”
Carl Smith is a senior staff writer for Governing and covers a broad range of issues affecting states and localities. He can be reached at carl.smith@governing.com or on Twitter at @governingwriter.
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