Author: Chris Teale            Published:  10/17/19        Utility Dive

Credit: Yujin Kim, Industry Dive

The number of U.S. electric vehicles is expected to skyrocket in the coming decades. But how are cities and utilities preparing for that influx? In a two-part special report, Utility Dive and Smart Cities Dive explore that question from both the urban planning and power sector perspectives.Read our Deep Dive on the utility perspective here.

As environment and transportation goals drive cities to foster the growth of electric vehicles (EVs), they face a major challenge in ensuring there is enough charging infrastructure to meet demand.

Cities have looked to legislation, new building codes and partnerships with businesses and public utilities to encourage EV use and build out infrastructure, however concerns like range anxiety linger. Experts say cities need a wide-ranging strategy if they are to help more residents go electric in a way that is accessible and equitable.

“If we want EVs to succeed, they have got to be available to all Americans,” Rep. Paul Tonko, D-NY, said at an event celebrating the rollout of 1 million EVs in the U.S. hosted by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) last year.

Legislation

The most direct way cities have flexed their planning muscles in the preparation and expansion of EV infrastructure has been through legislation. That includes beefing up building codes and emphasizing the need to use renewable energy sources for charging, as well as new laws that deal with EVs directly.

Such plans can start relatively small. Spokane, WA last year moved to waive the building and construction permit fees for new EV charging stations and solar panels. Permit fees for the charging stations are typically around $50, and while the change may seem small financially, it could make a big difference by encouraging more infrastructure installation.

Elsewhere, the push for more charging infrastructure has been brought into a push to modernize building codes.

Berkeley, CA passed a historic law in July banning the use of natural gas in new low-rise residential buildings, beginning Jan. 1, 2020. That legislation also requires that all new buildings in Berkeley be “electric-ready,” with proper solar panels and wiring conduits to support electric infrastructure.

The mandated preparations for electrification will be significant with more EVs coming online, as previously such panels sometimes haven’t been big enough to support EV charging.

“We don’t want to have to adapt later,” Councilmember Kate Harrison saidbefore the vote on the new law. “We want to make sure that as they’re built, they’re ready to take on the challenge of being electrified.”

It is a similar story in San Jose, CA, which became the biggest U.S. city to ban natural gas infrastructure from being installed in many new residential buildings. It also requires all new multi-family buildings to have 70% electric vehicle (EV) capable parking spaces, at least 20% EV ready spaces and at least 10% EV supply equipment spaces.

“[We] try to educate the public and really get around that range anxiety issue that is probably still the number one reason the average consumer is not putting the EV higher on their shopping list.”

Rick Ricart

President, Ricart car dealership

In a statement for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) after the San Jose City Council’s vote, Maria Stamas, western director for energy affordability, and Pierre Delforge, senior scientist for building decarbonization at the Climate & Clean Energy Program, said the new law means more visible and available charging infrastructure, and “even more San José residents will have the opportunity to purchase EVs and easily fuel them.”