Solutions Journal: Spring 2011—Plug-in Pioneer: Is Raleigh Ready for EVs?

"PGRRaleigh is the East Coast leader in Electric Vehicle (EV) readiness, and its journey is one every American city will have to follow if we are to meet President Obama’s goal of one million EVs on the road by 2015.

So far the city of Raleigh has installed three EV charging stations, two in front of City Hall and one by the convention center that will become a pilot solar-charging station. Raleigh hopes to install 10 to 12 more stations before Plug In, a conference focusing on EVs that it’s hosting in July, and it plans to have 30 new stations before the year is over.

There are other charging stations around town that the city hasn’t been involved with. Sixteen stations are operating on a green parking deck that’s part of a LEED Platinum building the North Carolina State Energy Office is constructing. And the city of Raleigh, the local utility (Progress Energy) and a nonprofit advocacy group called Advanced Energy are working together to help Raleigh residents install residential chargers.   

"PGRMost of the chargers Raleigh will install this year will be downtown in public parking garages or near North Carolina State University’s Centennial Campus. Those will be part of a bigger wave that will bring more than 350 recharging stations to North Carolina, most financed by federal stimulus money. They will provide free electricity, though drivers will need to pay the parking meter.

Getting ready for EVs includes installing enough charging stations, of course, but there’s a lot more to it than just having the power to run the cars. Almost every city department needs to be involved. For example, once the stations are installed, who will maintain them—parking folks, the utility, others? Raleigh, along with many other American cities, is figuring that out.

The city’s plug-in vehicle deployment efforts got started in 2009, when Raleigh and the North Carolina Research Triangle Region joined RMI’s Project Get Ready, an initiative to help U.S. cities prepare for plug-in vehicles. Raleigh was one of the first three Project Get Ready cities. Project Get Ready is now working with more than 15 cities and a diverse group of technical advisers that includes automakers, electric utilities, charging station providers, academic institutions, and other nongovernmental organizations.

“There is no substitute for shared learning when building and pursuing an EV-readiness strategy,” says PGR’s project manager, Matt Mattila.

Raleigh assembled an interdepartmental team to tackle issues such as streamlining the permitting and installation process. The team includes representatives from the city’s departments of transportation, sustainability, development services, permitting, administration and public affairs, as well as from utility Progress Energy and energy adviser Advanced Energy. In addition to working together on the infrastructure, they educate residents about plug-in vehicles, work with auto dealers to ensure vehicle availability in the North Carolina market, and explore opportunities for job growth and economic development related to plug-in vehicles.

The city is also working with shopping mall operators and other real estate owners to locate charging infrastructure on these properties. Progress Energy and Advanced Energy have received grants to install additional charging infrastructure throughout the Research Triangle region and will collect data from these stations.

Permitting & Mapping

Raleigh aims to streamline the process of installing a residential or public charging station. Its permitting process is called a “walkthrough” because the city’s permit staff walk the applicant through the process. Getting a permit takes about an hour, and inspections can be performed the day after installation. As a result, a residential customer can complete the entire assessment, permitting, installation and inspection process for a simple home-based project in as few as two days. The city plans to switch to an even faster online permitting process as staff and electricians become well versed in installations.

Raleigh is currently focusing on sustainability mapping, which will show green roofs, renewable energy installations and locations of charging stations. The city will also collect data from the charging stations to see how many kilowatt-hours have been used and how many times a vehicle has plugged in.

Education & Communication

As one of the leaders in EV readiness and as a participant in Project Get Ready, Raleigh considers part of its mission to be the sharing of best practices and lessons learned with other cities.

Raleigh’s Office of Sustainability has made two how-to videos on installing charging stations and has held a training for electrical contractors. Raleigh is also sharing information with Plug in Carolina in South Carolina.

Raleigh will be sharing more of its best practices at Plug In 2011 Conference and Exposition, (, sponsored by the Electric Power Research Institute, to be held July 18-21 in Raleigh. The conference, previously always held in California, promises in-depth discussions about vehicles, component and infrastructure technologies, results of pilot programs, customer surveys, battery-electric and plug-in-hybrid vehicle readiness plans, and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.