A Korean young woman charges her electric car by plugging it in at a power source parking spot. Her Golden Retriever watches patiently.
Taking a Regional Approach to Electric Vehicle Readiness
Getting around cities in electric vehicles (EVs) is getting easier as EV infrastructure grows. But traveling between cities is still a challenge as infrastructure, incentives, and policies aren’t always implemented on a regional scale.
The fear of EV suitability for regional travel has been a major roadblock to embracing the technology. Several surveys and studies, including those from McKinsey, Volvo, Autolist, and Venson, have cited “range anxiety” and a lack of charging infrastructure as leading barriers to EV adoption by individuals and fleets in recent years. While greater consumer knowledge of EVs can alleviate these apprehensions to an extent, adequate infrastructure in heavily traveled locations of a region will be essential to ease EV range concerns. Past studies have demonstrated that areas with the highest uptake in EVs generally benefitted from two to six times the availability of public charging infrastructure compared with the national average.
While it’s well known which cities contain large numbers of EV charging stations, we analyzed the development of EV charging infrastructure in the areas surrounding major cities to determine their regional preparedness for an increasing number of EVs. Recognizing that cities lack direct control over regional preparedness, we nevertheless sought to understand this area of infrastructure readiness. We reviewed and scored 60 prominent US cities including all 25 cities participating in the American Cities Climate Challenge, the five largest cities from each census-defined division of the country, and the largest cities in each of the 44 largest metro areas in the nation. These urban areas cumulatively encompass more than 57 percent of the US population.
We used three different scoring metrics to evaluate the EV infrastructure surrounding these cities:
- Metropolitan area readiness: The number of charging stations within 20 miles of the city center.
- “Day trip” destination readiness: The number of charging stations within 5 miles of the top five day-trip destinations of a city.
- Airport readiness: The number of charging stations at airport facilities.
The goal of focusing on these metrics was to paint a fuller picture of where people are moving throughout a region and the adequacy of infrastructure in those locations. The metrics and scoring methods can be seen here.
Five of the ten cities with the highest availability of surrounding EV infrastructure are in California, with San Jose receiving 45 of 48 possible points for regional readiness. Cities in California benefited from high levels of density and near universal commitment to EVs in the area. Outside of California, Denver, Hartford, Baltimore, Portland, and Salt Lake City also displayed above-average EV charging infrastructure in their surroundings. A full list of cities and scoring can be seen in Exhibit 1.
We also added up the scores of the most populous cities in the five largest metro areas of each census division to analyze division-wide readiness for EVs. The Pacific division performed strongly, as all its most populous cities received high point totals. Somewhat more intriguing was the preparedness exhibited by the New England and the South Atlantic divisions. Cities in New England enjoyed high metropolitan per capita charger counts as well as high availability of chargers at day trip destinations. The South Atlantic was elevated by cities such as Atlanta and Tampa in addition to Baltimore, as all three cities are in areas with strong airport readiness and day trip readiness. Exhibit 2 shows the aggregated scores for all nine census divisions as well as the most prepared city in each region.
Exhibit 1. Total Points for Each City Based on Regional EV Infrastructure Readiness
Exhibit 2. Aggregated Census Division Scores and Most Prepared City in Each Division
Although it was difficult to include this as a scoring metric, Exhibit 3 shows the distribution of all DC fast chargers in the United States as well as a map of the country’s primary highway network. The blue circles represent a 50-mile area around each charging station location, indicating the segments of major highways that are in the vicinity of a fast charger.
It is apparent that the most prepared cities in each division have strong fast-charger coverage in their immediate areas. Gaps are visible away from these more urbanized environments, which could lead to range anxiety for consumers taking longer trips outside of their home cities and states. Furthermore, fast-charger coverage in various major corridors of North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and some other states is limited to Tesla drivers only. This further complicates the question of regional infrastructure suitability for individuals that drive other brands of EVs.
Exhibit 3. US Primary Highways Within 50 Miles of DC Fast Chargers
Regional Readiness Leaders
We spoke with representatives from various well-prepared cities regarding their plans for regional EV collaboration. All stressed the importance of sharing resources and ideas to leverage their impact on electrifying transportation.
San Jose, CA: The city of San Jose engages in robust collaboration with several state, county, regional, and utility actors to expand regional charging infrastructure and promote EVs. The city received $14 million from CALeVIP, a state-run fund-matching program, to support the expansion of EV charging infrastructure in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. According to Laura Stuchinsky, emerging mobility program lead for San Jose’s Transportation Department, this funding was secured through coordination between San Jose Clean Energy and other regional utility actors such as Silicon Valley Clean Energy, Peninsula Clean Energy, City of Palo Alto Utilities, and Silicon Valley Power.
Denver, CO: Denver has focused primarily on information sharing with other regional municipalities to discuss best practices for EV adoption. Mike Salisbury, Denver’s transportation energy lead, stressed that it is important to work with tourist destinations to address charging needs moving forward, a particularly salient topic in Denver where many citizens frequent mountain towns west of the city. Salisbury articulated a need for the expansion of DC fast charging at airports as well to facilitate charging capabilities during drop-off and pick-up situations for ridesharing drivers in addition to private citizens.
Austin, TX: In 2012, Austin Energy developed the Texas River Cities Plug-in Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Plan. The report engaged various metropolitan planning organizations, dozens of private companies, the perspectives of more than 1,000 EV experts, and numerous other stakeholders across 10 different counties. The report’s authors Karl Popham and Cameron Freberg, from Austin Energy’s electric vehicle and emerging technologies team, stated that Austin Energy has since continued to build on the recommendations provided for the region, growing the Plug-In EVerywhere public charging network to nearly 1,000 ports.
A network of DC fast charging stations has also recently been deployed to provide more rapid charging capabilities, support high-mileage vehicles, and facilitate intercity travel in the region. In addition to rolling out this infrastructure, Austin Energy has been working with regional coalitions and the community to conduct education and outreach to further the adoption of EVs.
Nashville, TN: The City of Nashville is an active participant in the Drive Electric Tennessee (DET) program. The initiative brings together state agencies, universities, cities, utilities, EV manufacturers, advocacy groups, and private businesses to promote EV adoption in the state. Laurel Creech, assistant director of the division of sustainability at the Metro Nashville Department of General Services, and co-chair of the policy and programs committee as part of the DET Roadmap, stated they are focused on developing a local action plan that municipalities across the state can utilize. According to Creech, “Nashville will also play a role in supporting and participating in some of the other committee’s recommendations when finalized.” These state-level initiatives create a forum to facilitate communication regarding EVs among the entities of a given geographic area.
Expansion of EV charging infrastructure around cities will provide greater confidence for consumers hoping to travel throughout a region. The strategies and plans being undertaken by the cities above will be crucial in order to share ideas and resources among municipalities and other stakeholders on the path to widescale implementation of chargers and EVs.
While cities understandably lack full control over some of these metrics, this analysis is meant to steer the conversation toward a more holistic paradigm of EV-readiness. Actors that play a role in metropolitan areas, tourist destinations, airports, federal highways, and other highly traveled parts of a region are often in direct communication and should expand the ways and frequency in which they collaborate on EV issues in the future. This will be necessary to assuage range anxiety concerns and foster an environment that is ripe for EV adoption.
For more information on the methods of this analysis, or to learn more about Rocky Mountain Institute’s work in mobility transformation, visit rmi.org/our-work/mobility-transformation/ or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.