Implementation Challenges and Evolving Solutions for Urban Communities
While the electric mobility market has accelerated substantially and charging infrastructure continues to grow, several key challenges remain. This section outlines these challenges, with a particular focus on concerns for urban areas. It also introduces emerging solutions for addressing these challenges and references sections of the toolkit where these solutions are described in more detail.
Upfront Vehicle and Charging Infrastructure Costs
EV prices span a wide range, with some new models starting as low as $25,600 and others costing over $90,000. While the cost of EVs continues to decrease, the initial expense of EV charging infrastructure and the higher cost of most EVs available today still pose a barrier to EV purchases. In 2022, the average cost of a new non-luxury light-duty vehicle overall was nearly $44,600, while comparable EVs available cost over $65,000 on average before applicable tax credits (9 percent higher than the average EV price in 2021). New EV models have recently trended toward larger platforms (SUVs and trucks) and more luxurious trims, which has driven up average EV pricing, along with increased consumer demand and supply-chain constraints. Medium- and heavy-duty EVs are also comparatively more expensive to purchase than their diesel counterparts.
As noted previously, EVs have a lower total cost of ownership than conventional vehicles due to lower fuel and maintenance costs, and therefore have the potential to yield significant savings for households. However, the upfront purchase price can be a barrier for many, particularly for low-income individuals. In addition, many people are not accustomed to considering the total cost of ownership when purchasing a vehicle, so they may perceive the cost of owning an EV over time to be higher than it really is.
The cost of purchasing or leasing an EV is expected to fall due to increased EV production volumes, innovations in battery storage, declining battery pack costs, wider availability of both used vehicles and non-luxury EV models, and increased competition among automakers producing non-luxury EVs. For example, DOE is investing in reducing battery costs through public-private partnerships that aim to reduce battery costs from more than $120/kWh today to $60/kWh by 2030; this would bring EVs to near cost parity with internal combustion engine vehicles. In addition, tax credits under the Inflation Reduction Act, signed in 2022, are designed to reduce financial barriers to acquiring new or used electric vehicles.
Investments in charging infrastructure can also be analyzed on a total-cost-of-ownership basis, based on operational needs and the constraints and cost structure of available (or feasible) utility service. Accurately assessing the total cost of ownership of such investments will lead to better long-term decisions and may make investments in charging infrastructure more appealing (see Lower Vehicle Fuel and Maintenance Costs for a discussion of total cost of ownership).
A higher volume of EVs on the road will increase the demand for public charging stations and improve the return on investments in these chargers. In addition, innovations in EV charging technologies and designs are expected to further reduce DCFC station costs. At the same time, Federal and State grants, loans, and other incentives continue to play a substantial role in driving down costs and spurring the EV market. For details on funding options, see Electric Mobility Infrastructure Funding and Financing for Urban Areas.
Limited Infrastructure Availability and Geographic Distribution
While home-, business-, and fleet-based charging are expected to remain the primary ways EV drivers charge their vehicles, the need for expanded public fast charging continues to rise with the growth of EVs.
Consumers are also concerned about the length of time it takes to charge an EV, the user-friendliness of chargers, the need to plan charging stops on long trips, and the relative convenience and safety of charging locations. Reduced battery performance and EV range during winter months are a further concern for communities in cold climates.
Placing public DCFC and Level 2 charging along travel corridors and at key destinations in urban areas can help to address these concerns and provide drivers with the confidence that they will be able to charge their vehicles when and where they need to.
The National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Funds and the State EV Infrastructure Deployment Plans will help with the buildout of a more reliable public charging network nationwide. The National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Standards and Requirements will help standardize the user experience at chargers across the network.
Safety for Micromobility Users
Electric micromobility users are considered “vulnerable road users,” who face potential conflict with other road users and increased safety risks when using unprotected or discontinuous bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Thoughtfully connected and high-quality bicycle and pedestrian facilities can improve safety for micromobility users. Because of their lower speeds, micromobility devices may not be authorized on all roadways, so additional consideration may be needed to ensure a connected and complete transportation network for all users. As public micromobility charging options expand, consideration of their siting to complement the travel network is critical.
Utility Upgrades and Electricity Rates
The increased use of EVs will create a corresponding need for additional electric grid capacity. A 2019 report published by a technical team of the U.S. DRIVE partnership, a voluntary government-industry partnership, concluded that: “based on historical growth rates, sufficient energy generation and generation capacity is expected to be available to support a growing EV fleet as it evolves over time, even with high EV market growth.” It is expected that any incremental needs will be highly localized and in some cases site specific. The U.S. Department of Energy and the national laboratories are completing additional research and analysis that examines longer-term needs from the electric grid, particularly as medium and heavy-duty vehicles electrify.
To meet the demands of larger or faster charging installations—such as DCFC stations, medium- and heavy-duty EV charging sites, and commercial EV fleet charging depots—it may be necessary to upgrade the electrical-service wiring running to a facility, or even upgrade certain components of the local power distribution infrastructure. Such upgrades are more likely where the grid infrastructure may be less robust to begin with or absent altogether. Local distribution network upgrades, such as the addition of three-phase power service and the installation of transformers at DCFC sites, can add substantial costs and time to EV charging projects. For more information on assessing the local grid infrastructure, including an explanation of three-phase power, see Utility Planning.
Utility pricing can also be a challenge for EV charging installations. Without outside incentive programs, the revenue from DCFC stations typically covers only about one-third of their operating costs. This is largely due to utility demand charges, which are premiums charged by some utilities for using large amounts of electricity during peak hours or when high power is drawn at high rates that exceed certain thresholds. Since rate and demand charge structures (discussed more in Utility Planning) vary greatly between utilities and across States, these costs could have substantial effects on the business case for deploying fast-charging EV infrastructure in urban communities. Ultimately, both affordable charging rates and high station utilization are essential for station operators to earn sufficient revenue to offset the costs of purchasing, installing, and operating charging stations within a reasonable payback period (five years or less).
Early and ongoing coordination with local utilities and assessing opportunities to use off-grid power sources can help address these challenges.
Charging Station Planning and Permitting Coordination
The electric mobility sector is still developing, and some localities have little experience with permitting and siting charging infrastructure, including co-locating charging for multiple modes. There are also significant differences in geography, technical expertise, staff capacity, and right-of-way policies across local jurisdictions, potentially hindering knowledge exchange. The different processes and timeframes for reviewing and approving permit applications across local jurisdictions can further lead to confusion and frustration for project developers. Therefore, it may be helpful for States and localities to review and clarify their permitting processes and to support training and capacity building within their planning and permitting departments.
To ease this process, prior to seeking permits charging station developers and utilities should conduct thorough planning and analyses of several factors including projected local EV adoption and the associated demand for public charging, local electric grid capacity, right-of-way access and easement issues impacting the siting of charging stations, and other factors.
Public Awareness and Exposure to Electric Mobility
Range anxiety—the fear that a vehicle will run out of charge mid-trip—remains a concern among potential EV drivers and poses a barrier to EV adoption. For this reason, poor or lacking infrastructure signage along roadway corridors, along with generally insufficient information on the availability of charging infrastructure, still stymies the EV market.
Public outreach efforts by entities such as the DOE-designated national network of Clean Cities coalitions are critically important for bolstering EV awareness, equitable access, and adoption (for more information, see Clean Cities Coalitions). Such outreach efforts can include public education workshops, ride-and-drive events, e-scooter and e-bike test rides, fleet outreach and trainings, taxi and ride-hail partnerships, and highway corridor signage.
The National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Funds and the State EV Infrastructure Deployment Plans will help with the buildout of a more reliable public charging network nationwide to reduce range anxiety.
Local government agencies are responsible for establishing EV charging requirements for multifamily housing projects in development. Some cities have minimum parking requirements based on unit type and number of units (e.g., one parking stall for one-bedroom units, two stalls for two-bedroom units). Establishing how many of these spaces are required to be equipped for EV charging is informed by factors such as construction type, new construction versus retrofit, utility infrastructure, and the size of planned parking stalls.
Local agencies can work to establish options for encouraging EV readiness in all new construction to ensure all multifamily projects include installation of EV charging infrastructure.
Some housing agencies are also working to provide safe and protected charging for electric micromobility, in part to improve safety.
Availability of utility infrastructure is the largest challenge in implementing EV charging in multi-unit projects. Installing EV charging infrastructure at the time of construction on a new building is much cheaper than installing the same infrastructure during a building renovation. Most of the cost increase is due to trenching, demolition, and additional permitting costs, all of which are avoided in new construction. Shared micromobility charging may be possible at lower cost per end user.
In denser residential areas where people rely on on-street parking, at-home charging can be more difficult than in lower density residential areas, where homes have garages or other off-street parking options in which charging infrastructure can be more easily located. Lack of formal on-street charging infrastructure in residential areas may lead to residents running cords from their homes to their vehicles, creating safety hazards and accessibility impediments for sidewalk users. Residential curbside charging, particularly in the case of charging infrastructure paid for and installed by residents, may also raise concerns about maintaining streets and curb space as shared, public resources.
In commercial areas, on-street EV charging must be balanced with other curbside uses, such as pick-up/drop-off zones for passengers, freight delivery, micromobility parking and charging, and bicycle and pedestrian facilities, as well as anticipated future needs in the public right of way. The length of time needed to charge EVs using Level 1 or Level 2 charging equipment may be incompatible with short-term parking priorities typical of commercial districts. Electric mobility infrastructure installed at curbside locations should be sited to avoid impeding pedestrian and micromobility travel and avoid creating accessibility conflicts for people with disabilities. To plan for and prioritize curbside charging infrastructure, the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Curbside Inventory Report can serve as a resource.
Users of all modes, including EVs, electric micromobility and electric buses, have a vested interest in current or future access to curb lane infrastructure in the public right of way. For example, curb lanes that currently service parking needs may in the future be repurposed to transit-only lanes or protected bicycle and scooter lanes. Implementing EV charging at the curb for street parking access requires significant infrastructure investment. Therefore, when identifying those locations communities may benefit from considering their long-term priorities for improved or expanded sidewalks, a safe and connected bicycle network, dedicated transit lanes, and new public spaces such as plazas or parks. Installing curbside EV charging stations may preclude other changes to the street for years to come, and so installation should align with public space and multimodal strategies.
For more information on curbside site hosts, see Partnership Opportunities.
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Benefits and Implementation Challenges of Urban Mobility Electrification