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Key Challenges to Deploying EV Chargers: Takeaways from a BPC Discussion

In a recent event, “New Investments in Clean, Equitable, Affordable Energy and Transportation,” BPC hosted three industry experts for a panel that included discussion of challenges to implementing charging infrastructure and leveraging the $7.5 billion that will be provided through Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act grants.
Panelists included:

  • Karen Wayland – Chief Executive Officer, The GridWise Alliance
  • Phil Jones – Executive Director, The Alliance for Transportation Electrification
  • David Strickland – Vice President of Global Regulatory Affairs, General Motors

Here are three key takeaways from the panelists’ discussion on building out EV charging infrastructure.

1. Utilities may not yet be fully prepared to handle increased EV charging.

A substantial increase in demand for electricity, due to EV charging, may strain an unprepared grid system, according to Strickland and Wayland. Wayland explained that the grid will be able to absorb increased electricity use in the long run, but there will be challenges in the utility industry in the short run. Utilities often have to navigate cumbersome regulatory and engineering processes to adapt to changing electricity use—unlike EV consumers who can simply buy new cars overnight. Wayland added that smaller utilities may not have the inhouse expertise or experience required to navigate federal funding opportunities. If smaller utilities are not able to receive grid modernization funding, their customers will be left without the backbone infrastructure required to support a transition to electric vehicles.

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Getting access to [IIJA funding] is not easy… even some of the large utilities haven’t really gotten their head around how they’re going to go after this money. How do we help all utilities everywhere access that federal money? If we don’t… some of the smaller utilities will not have the resources to apply for the money and will find themselves falling behind in grid modernization…. [We] need to smooth those bumps because that’s the only way we’re going to make sure it’s an equitable transition to electric vehicles.
Karen Wayland, Chief Executive Officer, The GridWise Alliance

However, Wayland was hopeful federal funding for grid improvements provided in the IIJA could help utilities meet the increased electricity demand and that, over time and through technological advancements and grid modernization, a massive fleet of EVs could transmit unused power from EV batteries back into the grid. Wayland’s organization, the Gridwise Alliance, recently released a report on the near-term grid investments needed to accommodate EV adoption.

One of the challenges we have is the state DOTs don't understand the electric grid… building out some of these charging stations, I can tell you, especially for medium and heavy-duty vehicles there, it's going to put stress on the grid. These are large loads coming in.
Phil Jones, Executive Director, Alliance for Transportation Electrification

2. Residents of apartment buildings face barriers to EV charging access.

Most EV drivers can charge overnight and leave the house with a fully charged vehicle every day—the most convenient way to regularly charge. However, residents of apartment and condo buildings are less likely to have a dedicated spot to charge their EV, as Jones pointed out. In cities ranging from Baltimore to Los Angeles, large swaths of the population live in multifamily units while still driving regularly. Many homeowners’ associations also put restrictions on chargers, Jones noted.

Fortunately, the $2.5 billion competitive EV charging grant in the IIJA is intended to prioritize chargers for multifamily housing. Jones put forth a few additional policy solutions to bring chargers to residents of multifamily units. For example, Jones highlighted that Washington state passed a bill preventing HOAs from restricting chargers. Jones also said that building codes could require a certain percentage of parking spaces to be capable of charging EVs, as Chicago has done.

3. Our national EV charging system requires more investment than the IIJA provides.

To reach net-zero by 2050, the U.S. will need to utilize demand-side incentives to accelerate the deployment of EVs in the coming decades, such as EV tax credits as Strickland suggested. However, increasing the rate that transportation sector is electrified needs to be accompanied by investments in charging infrastructure and grid modernization. Strickland noted that in addition to federal funding, General Motor’s investments in charging infrastructure—which include chargers at 4,000 dealers across the country available to any EVs—is the start of a “long-term continuing investment.”

The $5 billion from [IIJA] is foundational… but unfortunately, that is truly a down payment. We’re going to have to make a lot more investment in the long term... We’re going to have to all work collaboratively, at the government-level, with the utilities, with other manufacturers, with the private infrastructure providers… for us to be able to achieve [an all electric car stock].
David Strickland, Vice President of Global Regulatory Affairs, General Motors

Jones asserted that, while $7.5 billion is a good start, the increased EV demand needed to meet our climate goals will require a great deal more investment. Jones cited two reports estimating that the U.S. will require between $29 billion to $39 billion in funding for charging infrastructure to transition to an entirely electrified national fleet of light duty vehicles—and even more money is needed for medium and heavy duty vehicles. After the five years of funding from the IIJA ends, we will require renewed investment, Jones said.

I call it an all-hands-on deck approach—local government, state government, private sector, utilities, and federal government. We all got to put capital in.
Phil Jones, Executive Director, Alliance for Transportation Electrification

Watch the full event here.

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