Electric vehicles (EVs) are still a small percentage of the U.S. automobile market (annual registrations for EVs totaled 367,000 in April 2019) but sales of electric vehicles will grow exponentially in the years ahead. Battery prices are plummeting and by 2025, EVs will be cost competitive with conventional cars. By 2022, in fact, there will be more than 500 different EV models available globally as automakers roll out all kinds of options.
Electric vehicle charging infrastructure has always been one sticking point for electric vehicle ownership; in other words, the lack of access to charging where and when it is needed. However, there is some good news for EV charging in North Carolina. First, in the waning hours of the N.C. General Assembly, legislators agreed to release the state’s $92 million VW Settlement Funds. Second, Duke Energy has an EV pilot still in the hands of the N.C. Utilities Commission which will expand the EV infrastructure in the state. Duke Energy plans to invest $76 million and build 2,500 new charging stations – more than double the amount of public stations currently available.
Despite these two pieces of “good news”, the EV infrastructure in North Carolina is exceedingly limited. This map from Plug-In NC, shows the public charging stations that are available including the address and type of charging. North Carolina has 80,000 miles of highways, consisting of 15,000 miles of primary highways and 65,000 miles of secondary roads. That’s a lot of highway to cover. What other ideas would spur public electric vehicle charging infrastructure in North Carolina?
Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure in State Parks
One idea with merit is adding electric vehicle charging at all state parks. North Carolina receives millions of visitors to state parks; as one data point, in 2018, the parks received 19.4 million visitors, a 25 percent increase since 2014. This will improve EV visibility and broaden the network to underserved regions of state. Although there are a still small number of EVs in the state (9,600 EVs as of 2019), Governor Cooper set a goal in Executive Order 80 for the state to have 80,000 ZEVs by 2025
Several states offer free EV charging at state parks and others are developing plans. These include:
o West Virginia: EV charging stations including infrastructure are available at nine state parks.
o Pennsylvania: EV charging stations including infrastructure are installed at all forty state parks.
o California: In 2019, Southern California Edison utility announced a plan to put 130 EV charging stations at 27 state parks and beaches. The plan was approved by the utility regulator and the cost will be recouped through charger fees.
Costs to Install EV Charging in North Carolina Parks
There are 41 state parks in North Carolina and this map shows their locations. Four parks have EV charging already: Crowders Mountain, Jordan Lake, Lake James, and Lake Norman state parks but that leaves 37 parks with no charging.
The cost to install an EV charger at the remaining state parks is roughly $203,500 assuming a Level 2 charger with an average cost of $4,500 and a cost of $1,000 for the EV charger. Installation costs vary significantly based on considerations such as the length of conduit run, access to paneling, and the need for trenching. EV charger costs are based on the number of ports but $1,000 is a reasonable estimate. The total of $203,500 assumes 37 parks at an average of $5,500 per park.
This investment is minimal compared to the benefit it would bring with additional EV charging, especially in rural areas that lack the infrastructure. The states of Pennsylvania, California, and West Virginia are sufficiently different but somehow found this investment worthwhile. I hope we can soon add North Carolina to this list.
 EV charging ranges from a regular wall outlet (Level 1) to networked charging stations (Level 2). Level 2 charging refers to the voltage the electric charger uses and it typically supplies 240 volts - equivalent to an oven or dryer. It uses a box and a cord for safety purposes. Level 2 allows for a range of charging “speeds” that can charge an average vehicle with enough energy for up to 70 miles of use.  Installation costs vary significantly based on considerations such as the length of conduit run, access to paneling, and the need for trenching. EV charger costs range based on the number of ports but $1,000 is a reasonable estimate. $203,500 is an estimate of the total cost based on 37 parks at an average of $5,500 per park.  Conduit run refers to the tube used to route and produce electrical wiring. A conduit system includes a wall system, mechanical protection, and material used to make the tubing.  Paneling refers to the location that controls electric current that flows to the EV charging station. Breakers control electrical flow to protect against power surges.