TWM Contributor: Eric Allmon, PE, St. Charles Branch Manager

The Rise of Electric Cars & the Road Ahead

The current transportation market is beginning to shift from being powered by gas/diesel to running on electricity. The electric vehicle (EV) market is expanding, with several large auto manufacturers, such as Ford and Chevy, offering new and redesigned vehicles that are fully electric. Newer manufacturers, like Tesla and Rivian, provide electric vehicles only. The term “Range Anxiety” is now a concern for many EV owners and those considering transitioning into the market.

What is Range Anxiety?
Most of us have no issues with hopping into our cars and driving across town, across the state, or even across the county. We are confident that when the “Low Fuel” alert lights up on the dashboard, we are within a few miles of a gas station where we can pull in, fuel up, and continue down the road. This is because the gasoline engine has been around for decades and the supporting infrastructure has grown as well. However, the EV market is outpacing the Electric Vehicle Charging Station (EVCS) market, requiring EV drivers to take more time to plan their routes around the availability of EVCS’s to re-charge their batteries. Thus, the term Range Anxiety.

A Little Background:
EVCSs are placed into three levels of chargers:

  • Level 1 Charger: This type of charger is typically found in a private residence. The charger connects to a standard household grounded outlet. These chargers are usually provided with the vehicle and look like an extension cord with a special plug that connects to the vehicle. Depending on the size of the battery, fully charging the vehicle can take 8-20 hours of charge time. equating to 3-5 miles/hour of charge time.
  • Level 2 Charger: This type of charger has the largest range of options. The charger requires a 220-volt outlet, which is what would run a household electric dryer, oven, or AC unit. Private units are small weather-proof boxes that hang on the wall and include a cord that connects to the vehicle, while commercial units are typically similar in size to a small gas pump. Fully charging a vehicle takes 4-8 hours, or 12-80 miles/hour of charge time, depending on the size of the battery. The placement of the commercial units requires consideration of ADA accessibility and other safety considerations and has the option to charge customers for the power usage.
  • Level 3 Charger: This type of charger is called a DC Fast Charger (DCFS) and is found only at commercial locations. The Level 1 and 2 chargers are AC chargers that provide power to a converter in the vehicle – like a cell phone charging cube – that converts the AC power to DC power. Because DFCSs require a 480-volt power supply, the size required to power a large commercial HVAC unit, these units are only found in commercial areas.  Fully charging a vehicle can take just 30-60 minutes.

How are People using EVCSs?
Understanding how these charging stations are being used helps guide the decision on which level of charger can be recommended at each location. It’s important to note that approximately 80% of charging occurs at home or work.

If you think about the average daily commute and the fact that even the shorter-range electric vehicles can go around 120 miles/charge, a user can get from home to work and run errands around town without worrying too much about needing to fully recharge. These drivers are looking for a place that they can plug into for a short period of time while going into a business. Shopping centers, malls, grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, and fitness centers are good examples of where someone might plug in for an “electric snack” to gain another 50 miles of range.

Users traveling near major travel corridors or passing through town may have a need for a “full” charge using a DCFS charger. Depending on the size of the battery and level of charge, these stops provide a nearly-full charge in just 30 minutes to one hour. Because the vehicles will be connected to a charger for a much longer period of time than it takes to fill a tank with gas, considerations should be given to placing these chargers next to amenities that provide entertainment or activities that can occupy that time. This will provide drivers with an opportunity to get out and stretch, shop, or recreate and will make the locations more desirable. As the newer fleet of EV vehicles become larger and begin to include trucks, the EVCS spaces should allow for pull-through access to accommodate vehicles towing trailers.

Are There Funding Opportunities?
The Biden administration has made the U.S. transition to EV’s a high priority and has provided significant funding in the current Infrastructure Bill.  These opportunities will likely be available to municipalities and other government entities through organizations such as East-West Gateway.

For private businesses in Illinois, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is utilizing funds obtained through the Volkswagen Diesel Settlement and is accepting applications through the end of the year that will provide 80% reimbursement for the installation of two or more Level 3 chargers for sites in Madison, Monroe, and St. Clair Counties, as well as a number of other Counties through the State. The reimbursement can be used towards the equipment and installation costs.

In Missouri, Ameren MO has a 50% reimbursement program that is available to public and private entities for the design and installation of Level 2 or 3 charging stations.

In Tennessee, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) are partnering to develop Tennessee’s EVCS network every 50 miles along Tennessee’s interstates and major highways. Funding is from their share of the Volkswagen Diesel Settlement as well as directly from the TVA.

What’s Coming in the Future?
As a new technology, the sky’s the limit. A key focus right now is wireless charging similar to your cell phone.

Though it’s a small portion of the market share, the age of the EV vehicle is here now and rapidly growing. The range anxiety that currently exists will dissipate as EVCSs become more available and accessible. Planning for the installation of EVCSs early in your project will reduce the costs of installing the needed infrastructure later. Understanding how the chargers will be used will allow you to select the proper charger and site layout to make the experience pleasant for the user and to potentially increase traffic to your site.

TWM is experienced in designing EVCS facilities. Let our team help you plan and develop a transportation solution for this growing market.

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