EV Connect CEO, Jordan Ramer, has led finance, business, and product strategy at companies in clean energy, transportation, and efficiency.
The many smart city initiatives either already underway or planned worldwide should include EV charging in their plans. While we do not yet have the fully autonomous vehicles smart city visionaries imagined, conventional EV charging is being deployed in cities everywhere. Today’s EV charging is still hands-on. These deployments often place the burden of knowledge and expertise on nontechnical managers and administrators. Smart, electrified cities, however, require ample charging for both residents and commuters. As the CEO of a company that offers EV charging management solutions, I believe that infrastructure should be at the core of smart city planning, not a complicated add-on to be dealt with later.
The EV charging blueprints city leaders and charging companies create today will pave the way for the transportation future. It’s important that their EV charging plans are sophisticated but not cumbersome and that they are flexible enough to meet future needs. Not only can smart and value-engineered decisions make EV charging feasible for a post-fossil-fuel future, but this infrastructure can make a positive impact on economic growth, environmental goals and services for residents.
Cities are the epicenters of commerce and human life for many, all of which stay on the move by turning wheels. According to a REN21 report (via Reuters), “Cities account for 55% of the global population yet account for around three-quarters of energy consumption and are responsible for about 75% of carbon dioxide emissions.” According to the EPA, transportation accounts for about 28% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions — it’s 47% in California — making it the most significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions domestically.
As the Covid-19 pandemic spread worldwide, cities demonstrated that lockdown measures reduced daily global CO2 emissions by 17% in early April 2020 compared to mean 2019 levels. In recent months, major global automakers have announced additional investments and plans for electric vehicles. It is clear to me that the world is accelerating toward electrified transportation. The focus should now be on ensuring that the infrastructure required to make electric vehicle adoption work is widely available and usable.
City planners and sustainability directors are the natural owners of public infrastructure. Their importance to the electrification of transportation is undeniable.
Take New York State, for example. With one of the most generous and ambitious clean energy goals in our country, New York has invested $4 billion in 91 large-scale renewable clean energy projects across the state. Through this investment, New York demonstrates how setting up new charging infrastructure in locations like the JFK Airport and across bridges can be the starting point to real change. (Full disclosure: My company provides the management system for these chargers.)
In California, an aggressive plan to eliminate all new sales (paywall) of gas-powered vehicles in 2035 is causing companies and families to think about how they’re going to power their cars in the near future. This dynamic begs the question: Can the supply of available charging stations keep pace, and will city planners take the time to ensure that charging infrastructure serves the public’s needs beyond 2035?
By ensuring they build an infrastructure that is reliable, convenient and aqequate for the population, planners and the EV charging companies that support them could even have the opportunity to add revenue streams to fund education programs, serve the community at large and provide charging equity for disadvantaged communities. Tourism and dwell times at tourist locations could also be a source of new destination-due-to-charging revenue.
Cities should take a proactive approach to take advantage of available electric vehicle and infrastructure funding. As we speak, federal and statewide financing and grants are available to offset electric vehicle and infrastructure costs.
In preparing to implement EV charging, it’s important for planners to hire partners or staff with years of experience in the space as well as familiarity with driver dynamics and needs. They should also look for tried and tested solutions to support their plans.
Unlike gas stations, EV charging can be incorporated virtually anywhere in the city. Planners can maximize the success of their plans by incorporating charging stations in places like bus or rail station parking lots, i.e., charge-and-ride, municipal parking garages, solar carports or overhangs, public parking garages, fleet depots, and unique locations in cities such as the DMV, city hall, parks, libraries, community centers, courthouses, publicly owned parking structures, city-owned companies and other infrastructure on city-owned land.
Communicating and collaborating with local utility companies is also an important part of this process. Creating programs and partnering with utilities could allow EV charging to scale further out to all city components: hospitals, fleets, retail locations, schools and universities, workplaces, multifamily buildings and more. Planners should also engage with the private sector to incorporate or partner on EV charging, as it could draw in consumers who’ll be more likely to eat, shop or park overnight with convenient EV charging options available.
Companies that provide equipment, software and services for the EV charging space have a significant role to play beyond selling their wares, too. With much of the information and best practices around building EV charging infrastructure still trapped within industry siloes, the ecosystem of suppliers frequently holds not only the technology but also the information and institutional knowledge around advanced EV charging. As such, EV suppliers of all stripes will do well for their municipal customers to establish paths for knowledge transfer and ongoing public-private partnerships to ensure the continued flow of best practices and new insights.
I believe decarbonizing transportation is central to the ambition to become carbon-neutral. Boston plans to be carbon neutral by 2050. According to GreenBiz, Boston’s parking structures must include EV charging in 5% of spaces, while an additional 10% must be EV-ready. According to the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, San Francisco’s emissions have decreased 30% since 1990. Leadership aims to make 80% of municipal travel sustainable by 2030. The Hawaiian Electric Company has announced plans to expand its EV charging rollout (paywall).
City leaders and their partners face essential decisions and should apply forward-thinking strategies to transform cities into greener, cleaner and healthier places. Those decisions should be made sooner rather than later.