In a November 2021 U.S. Conference of Mayors survey, more than half of the mayors identified all-electric vehicles as the “most promising technology” for reducing carbon emissions and energy use in their communities. That is no surprise because transportation emissions are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the United States. And electric transportation is one of the few areas that a community can control, especially in the Southeastern United States’ vertically integrated electric utility environment.
Many cities and counties across the country, however, are wrestling with electrifying their fleet to meet binding carbon neutrality commitments. The first task in this journey is installing EV charging infrastructure, and that is where some local governments are getting stuck. This article is meant to provide initial guidance on what must be considered to ensure that a systemwide EV charging plan does not develop piecemeal, rushed, and ineffective.
System Wide EV Infrastructure Plan
The first step for EV infrastructure deployment should be the completion of an EV master plan that strategically identifies EV charging station locations. The master plan must factor in EV adoption, the phase out of internal combustion vehicles, and consider fleet vehicle replacements, vehicle location, and a community’s facilities. Coordination with other local communities will help integrate EV infrastructure planning with other corridor planning efforts.
In short, the EV master plan should specify and consider:
Where EV infrastructure should be deployed and what type of charging (DC Fast Charging, Level 2 Charging);
Whether privately-owned vehicles are allowed to charge at city-owned stations;
Whether analytics are needed on driver behavior (length of charge) for better planning and what analytical software provides that data;
What vendor options exist for EV charging installation.
Level 3 offers 50kW to 360kW charging, making it the fastest and most efficient of any charging. It provides the same charge as an 8 to 12 hour Level 2 charging session in a mere 1 to 2 hours or less depending on the speed of the chargers. Local government jurisdictions might be best served going with Level 3 charging rather than Level 2 charging if the speed of charging is important.
EV Charging Business Model
Local governments need to determine who will own/operate/maintain electric vehicle infrastructure and all of its electrical network. There are primarily two business models: owner-operator and third-party owned/operated. In the first business model, the local government is responsible for installation, operation, and maintenance, but also has control over the price to charge vehicles. Three pricing options include a no fee structure, one with a nominal fee to cover costs, and a profit making scenario. Under the no fee pricing structure, charging is provided solely as an amenity (think of a state park where charging is a benefit provided when visiting the park). Under the nominal fee pricing structure, fees are set only high enough to recoup operational and/or installation costs. Finally, the fee for charging may be designed to turn a profit from the sale of charging services (an unlikely scenario for a local government, and more the case for a retail establishment). When the local government is the owner/operator of an EV charging station, the question must be answered about whether to include a fee for public use of these stations and if they are prepared to service the stations for the life of the machines. New technologies, especially chargers, require expert maintenance and troubleshooting.
In the second business model, a third-party vendor owns and operates an EV charging site. In this case, the company will pay 100 percent of the upfront capital costs and any maintenance and upkeep costs. This model may be the best one for local governments because the government will not have to set aside funds to pay to install and maintain EV charging sites when they need attention.
An electric utility may also operate as a third-party vendor as well with several ownership arrangements. These range from a traditional model where the utility provides all the equipment and wiring; the make ready model, where the utility installs, owns, maintains, and upgrades as needed all the wiring that will interface with the electric vehicle infrastructure; or the full ownership model, where transformers, meters, wiring, and charging infrastructure itself are all owned and maintained by the utility. Duke Energy’s Park and Plug program, for example, is the full ownership model, but the local government must pay for the energy after the third year of the program at which time the utility does not pay for the energy.
Driver Analytics and Other Issues
Once it is clear where to locate charging infrastructure and what is the appropriate business model, driver analytics must be determined. Software such as Geotab can be used to analyze data on length of charge, route, and dispatch optimization. In fact, the State of California awarded Geotab a blanket purchase agreement so all local governments can purchase Geotab for their telematics.
Remaining questions to consider include whether electric vehicles can be used in an emergency and whether emergency personnel (fire) understand the protocol with an electric vehicle battery fire (i.e., New York City Fire Department has devoted considerable time to this issue). Local governments must also consider Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant charging stations that should be easy to use and safe. ADA compliant means accessibility, such as ensuring adequate space for exiting and entering the vehicle, and clear paths and close proximity to any building entrance.
A municipality can accelerate electric vehicle adoption by establishing a comprehensive plan to identify charging infrastructure. Once the vision and plan are established, cities should begin rollout, starting with public properties like municipal buildings, parking lots, garages, parks, community centers, and libraries.