Electric vehicles still make up a very small segment of the overall cars on the road, but their ranks are rising fast. And while they can be a component of efforts to reach climate goals, the gap between demand for the cars and the infrastructure to support them has the potential to cause some strain.
Below, we share some trends that help illustrate why you’ll want to consider EVs as you’re planning mobility, infrastructure and energy projects. You’ll also learn what some cities and utilities are doing to help close the gap. — Kevin Ebi
Sales of electric vehicles jumped more than 64 percent worldwide last year, and that was nearly 10 percentage points stronger than the rate of growth the year before. Between new carbon-reduction incentives — for example, Lyft and Uber are both promoting EVs — and rapid chargers that let drivers recharge in minutes instead of hours, they are on track to make up an increasingly large share of the cars on the road.
While there are environmental benefits, without planning, cities and utilities are going to feel strain. By itself, California estimates it will need a quarter-million chargers in public spaces and at multi-unit dwellings by 2025. And those chargers could add 1 GW of peak demand to the power grid.
So what can cities and utilities do to close the gap? Here are a few ideas:
Partnering to expand the charger network
Since most electric vehicle owners are likely to drive them to work, some utilities are trying to build out the charging infrastructure more rapidly by partnering with employers.
In Massachusetts, Eversource plans to deploy 400 charging stations through a partnership that gives businesses control of the charging stations. Businesses can charge for the power, or they can elect to give it away as an employee benefit or as a green incentive.
Southern California Edison works under a similar model where it installs the chargers for businesses or cities, but they own and maintain the infrastructure. American Electric Power Ohio provides rebates for businesses that choose to install charging stations.
Making EVs cost efficient too
The case for EVs is mostly an environmental one. California’s Pacific Gas & Electric is trying to make them cost-effective too.
Under the current rate structure, the cost of electricity could be higher than the per-mile gas or diesel equivalent for some businesses and transit operators. It’s proposing a subscription plan for commercial customers that could cut the power costs by up to a third. Commercial customers would pay a flat fee each month for up to a certain amount of energy.
The idea is to make it easier to adopt EVs for transit or fleet use by making them competitive with gas or diesel vehicles. The effort may also help the utility avoid demand spikes at peak times by encouraging charging during periods of the day when there’s more available solar energy than demand for it.