March 18, 2024

The surge of EVs and the role of city planners

Electric vehicles being charged in an urban parking lot

The growing popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) is no longer in question as more electric cars and trucks hit the road year after year.  

Although still only making up a marginal percentage of American drivers, battery electric vehicle (BEV) and plugin hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) sales rose 49% in 2022, despite a total light vehicle market drop of 17% year over year.  

To help communities navigate through the shift to electric transportation, city planners play a critical role in the success of future charging infrastructure development.  

Widespread EV adoption requires public EV charger stations

Today, EV drivers primarily charge their batteries at home and work, but the demand for public EV charging is still a reality. For out-of-towners and commuters hoping to recharge their EVs, public-access charging stations allow drivers to continue their journeys even further. 

Many cities own substantial amounts of property with parking spaces that can easily integrate a Level 2 EV charger. For example, in September 2017, then-New York city mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $10 million investment in EV fast charging stations housed in city-owned public parking lots and garages. 

Across the country, areas like Denver, Colorado are getting creative by adding EV charging stations to libraries, concert venues, the zoo, and other popular city-owned destinations. 

Of course, thoughtful planning should not stop at city limits, and the country’s most populous state is leading the way to making public EV charger stations accessible. With a recent $1 billion investment in EV infrastructure on top of existing solid policies, California is building the necessary support for its residents to adopt electric transportation to meet carbon and emissions reduction goals.

Incorporating EV chargers in smart city planning initiatives

Since nearly half of the largest cities in the United States have greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals in place, incorporating EV charging plans into urban initiatives should be resistance-free. Especially when combined with green energy installations, intentions to add EV charging stations to city properties can simultaneously meet consumer demand and curb emissions percentages.  

With initiatives taking on many forms, cities like Boston, Massachusetts, have created zero-emission vehicle roadmaps to help set goals and launch programs supporting EV adoption. Guided by its EV roadmap, San Francisco recently amended its city planning code to make public charging stations easier to install.  

When looking into the future of EV chargers, city planners can take a two-pronged approach to focus on public charging station support and the electrification of their vehicle fleets. 

Planning for public EV chargers 

To support the widespread growth of EVs in major U.S. cities, charging stations must be added to public parking spaces wherever possible. While cities have more control over street parking and lots outside government-owned buildings, planners should also work with private companies to encourage charger installations with tax breaks, rebates, or other financial incentives.  

As thousands of new chargers around the city will add considerable amounts of electricity demand to the local power grid, plans must be laid out to include any additional infrastructure improvements that may be necessary. While some municipalities manage and provide their own power, most city planners must work directly with more than one local electric utility to safely incorporate large charging capacities.

City vehicle electrification and EV fleet charging

Leading by example with an electric fleet, converting its vehicles to emission-free transportation is one of the most important things a city can do to encourage EV adoption and meet greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. When drafting EV fleet charging solutions, city planners should consider all forms of transportation, including taxis, buses, and other forms of getting around.

While EV fleet charging can be available wherever vehicles are parked each night, adding more public chargers to support their daily operation can also benefit the private citizens allowed to use the equipment.

Most critically, however, electric vehicle fleets also carry tremendous economic benefits. A recent study in Arizona concluded that if ten of the state’s largest cities pivoted to fully electric fleets, a total of $80 million could be saved over the duration of the vehicles’ lifetime. With all that extra money, cities could push forward other green initiatives or social programs that benefit their residents.

4 ways city planners can maximize the success of their EV charging infrastructure

Regardless of your EV infrastructure initiative, here are four guiding principles to follow as a city planner preparing for widespread transportation electrification: 

1. Prioritize and incentivize EV drivers

Above all else, city planners must keep their citizens’ interests at the forefront of their planning. When actively trying to meet emissions reduction goals by encouraging EV adoption, cities must make electric vehicle purchases as easy and rewarding as possible to keep drivers happy.  

Here, city governments can pile onto the existing federal EV incentives to make purchases more financially feasible for local consumers. Out on the road, city planners can also consider things like free parking for EVs, priority lanes to avoid traffic congestion, and discounted or no-cost charging at municipal charging stations. 

2. Partner with commercial entities

As things can move slowly in government with so many distinct aspects of local life to prioritize, city planners should also be aware that they do not need to install every new EV charger themselves to meet their goals. By partnering with large commercial entities in and outside the city limits, governments can co-op commercial EV chargers that benefit both local drivers and the businesses that host the stations.  

To start, city planners can push forward the development of documents or fast-tracked programs to help businesses like hotels, restaurants, and retail spaces add EV charging stations to their properties. While local governments can offer some financing initiatives to encourage growth, companies may also jump at the opportunity to add a new revenue stream through on-site EV charging. 

3. Integrate charging with other sustainability initiatives

EV chargers are just one piece of the larger sustainability puzzle. By integrating movements to install EV charging stations around the city with other forward-thinking initiatives, city planners can adequately demonstrate their commitment to everything people need to live, work, and be well.

Looking at a broader smart city framework, EV chargers can complement initiatives to roll out local renewable power generation, stationary energy storage, and city-owned microgrids. To help policies pass, city planners can consider allocating any money generated from new EV charging stations to support disadvantaged communities or fund educational programs. 

4. Use data, software, and industry expertise

City planners should leverage real-world data, industry experts, and technologically advanced hardware and software for the best overall success rates of EV charging installations. By consulting the right people for station placement, energy generation, and EVSE (Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment), cities can properly create solutions that maximize the value of their chargers, both in the present and the future.  

With city planning, the work is never truly done, so systems should be put into place for continuous analysis and best practice implementation as the EV charging industry evolves. In the long term, city planners should pay close attention to developments in solar power, energy storage, and vehicle-to-grid integrations to design the best possible EV charging infrastructure. 

Securing the right equipment for EV charging

From the drawing board to the installation, city planners adding EV chargers must ensure that the purchased equipment is durable, versatile, and powerful enough for efficient public use.  

If you are interested in learning more about how to implement EV infrastructure with high-quality charging equipment properly, contact the experts at Enphase are here to help you identify the best chargers and installation plans to help your city accomplish its goals.