It’s been a busy few months here at RELI, with major projects taking up a substantial amount of my time. Hopefully, I’ll be able to provide some details on that work in the next few days, but for the time being I wanted to pass along an article that I wrote for the March edition of the Missouri Municipal League‘s publication The Review. Enjoy!
There can be no doubt about it. Electric vehicles are on the way. In his 2011 State ofUnionaddress, President Obama put forth a firm challenge for theU.S.automotive industry when he called for theUnited Statesto “become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.”
Though President Obama’s goal of 1 million electric vehicles (“EVs”) by 2015 is probably overly optimistic, there are signs that the EV market in theUnitedStateis gaining momentum. In the span of one year, the market for EVs tripled from approximately 17,500 EVs sold in 2011, to approximately 53,000 new EVs in 2012. This growth is particularly impressive when you consider that even the most mainstream EV offerings such as the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, and Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid have often only been available in limited quantities in major markets. Additionally, it is unlikely that the market penetration of EVs will continue to grow at a slow, incremental pace. Instead, it is likely that the number of EVs on the nation’s highways will increase dramatically as consumers become more exposed to EV technology and manufacturers release a broader selection of makes and models of EVs that appeal to a wider range of consumers.
Being the “Show-Me” State, it is perhaps unsurprising that many Missouricommunities have delayed planning the local infrastructure and procedural processes that will be necessary to support wide-spread EV adoption. Fortunately, in 2011 the U.S. Department of Energy awarded a grant to the MetropolitanEnergyCenterin Kansas City, MOto produce a regional plan that can be implemented by municipalities in Kansasand Missourito prepare public resources and secure the economic and environmental benefits of EVs. This plan, which will be accessible at www.electrifyheartland.org, compiles expert analysis from EV industry participants, local communities, public utilities, and subject matter experts such as Black & Veatch and the law firm of Polsinelli Shughart to provide guidance to communities that are seeking to lay the foundation for widespread EV adoption.
Among the numerous findings detailed in the plan,Missouricommunities should perhaps benefit the most from the discussion of the unique planning and regulatory efforts that will likely be required to accommodate EV adoption. While at face value EV usage may not appear to require much attention, local governments should strongly consider taking the following steps before EVs start appearing on city streets:
- First, an estimate should be prepared of exactly how many EVs might be purchased in the community in order to get a sense of the scope and timing of the planning efforts that should be undertaken.
- Second, the municipality should examine its existing building codes to determine what standards should be applied to the installation of EV charging stations in residential and non-residential settings.
- Third, the municipality should examine its current electrical permitting and inspection process to determine how it will ensure that EV charging stations installations are conducted in a safe and reliable manner without unduly burdening either the installers or the permitting office.
- Finally, the municipality should examine its existing parking and signage ordinances to determine how it will treat parking spots with electrical vehicle charging stations.
Projections for Missouri EV Adoption
When talking about long-term national goals, it can be easy to lose perspective on local impacts. If theUnited Stateswere to reach its goal of 1 million EVs on the road, how many EVs could be expected in the average community inMissouri?
Based upon motor vehicle registration data gathered by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration,Missourihad a total of just over 5 million vehicles registered in the state in 2011, or roughly 8 vehicles for every 10 people in the state. As Figure 1 below illustrates, assuming that the 1,000,000 nation-wide EVs are distributed proportionally with population among the states, Missouri could expect a total of just over 20,500 EVs, or about one EV for every 300 people in the state. For a community of 10,000 people, this equals roughly 34 EVs, or roughly 340 EVs for a community of 100,000.
Of course, the real challenge for municipal governments lies not in the vehicles themselves, but with the infrastructure necessary to charge the vehicles, known as Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (“EVSE”) or simply as “charging stations.”
It is probably safe to assume that every person who purchases an EV will also purchase a charging station for their home, so they will be able to charge their vehicles overnight. Additional charging stations will likely be installed by local businesses, by potential third-party suppliers of electricity, and by the municipalities themselves. Taking these additional charging stations into account, it can be estimated that roughly 1.5 charging stations will need to be permitted, installed and inspected for every EV located within a community. Figure 2 below extrapolates this estimate across the state to show the projected number of charging stations that will be required.
Updating Building Codes to Address Charging Stations
Once local planners have a sense of how many EVs can be expected in their jurisdiction, the question raised is what changes should be made in the local ordinances and policies to accommodate this influx of new vehicles and charging stations. Because there is no state-wide authority for building codes inMissouri, it will be necessary for local communities to review their building codes to ensure that EV charging stations will be safely integrated into new and existing structures. As with any revisions of building codes, the main goal of the process is to incorporate as much flexibility as possible while still maintaining the highest level of safety for installers and citizens.
Specifically, there are a number of revisions that communities can make to their building codes that will significantly improve the processing time and effectiveness of their planning efforts for EV charging stations, a few of which are described below:
- To ensure safe and up-to-date practices are utilized during installations, adopt the most current version of the National Electrical Code (“NEC”), or at least Article 625 of the NEC which includes best practices for wiring methods, equipment construction, control and protection, and equipment locations for EV charging stations.
- Require all new, reconstruction and renovation building projects to ensure that the electrical room and all conduits leading to the electrical room in new multi-unit, commercial or industrial developments are appropriately sized to accommodate future electrical equipment necessary for charging stations, as well as the voltage and amperage capabilities of the accompanying infrastructure.
- Require that all newly permitted construction or renovation projects install sufficient conduits, junction boxes, wall space, electrical panels and circuitry capacity in locations that could potentially serve EVSE sites in the future, such as garages and parking facilities.
Update Electric Permitting Ordinances to Address Charging Station Installations
For most municipalities acrossMissouri, the primary logistical hurdle for EV adoption is how to design a permitting and inspection process for EV charging stations that will allow for safe and reliable installations without unduly burdening their administrative staff. Currently, when faced with an electrical permit for the installation of an EV charging station, most municipalities default position is to either follow the pre-established procedure for miscellaneous electrical permits, or fail to permit the installations at all. Both scenarios present unsatisfactory results and fail to consider the particular complexities of installing an EV charger. This puts the public confidence in EVs and EVSE at risk unnecessarily.
When designing these inspection programs, one of the easiest ways to minimize the administrative burden while efficiently allocating resources is to recognize the fact that communities will face a wide spectrum of potential scenarios for charging station permits, and there is no single permitting process that would be appropriate for all occasions. For example, significantly less regulatory scrutiny will be needed for installation of a small charging system in a residence than would be required for a large commercial entity that wants to install numerous charging stations for use by customers and employees. As discussed more thoroughly below, in order to accommodate these different needs and allocate resources appropriately, many communities across the country are adopting a multi-tiered process that applies different levels of scrutiny to projects based upon the project’s complexity.
Single-Family Residential Installations
By far the easiest EV charging alternative for most consumers is to utilize an existing 120-volt outlet located in the garage. Obviously, in these cases an electrical upgrade is not required, so no permit is needed. In cases where a dedicated 120V or 240V receptacle and circuit is desired for a charging station, a minor electrical permit likely needs to be issued, though it can easily be handled under the city’s existing permitting requirements.
However, in cases where the resident’s existing electrical panel cannot safely meet the increased electricity needs, then an additional permit will be required in order to either upgrade the electrical panel or install a new panel and meter. In order to gather all of the information needed to properly assess the safety of the installation, many municipalities across the country are adopting a stand-alone permitting form for these installations. Often, these permits are based in large part upon a form permit application that has been prepared by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center, available at http://www.afdc.energy.gov/pdfs/EV_charging_template.pdf.
Beyond adopting a specialized stand-alone permit, there are other steps that a community can take to streamline the permitting process. For example, if the non-minor permit application has been submitted by a certified electrician that has received training in the installation of EV charging stations from an nationally-recognized training program, the local government can have some comfort that the installation is safe and therefore can adopt less stringent inspection processes, such as inspecting one out of ten installations or foregoing inspections altogether. Where the installation was conducted by an electrician that has not been trained in EVSE, then many local governments have made it a priority to inspect the projects as soon as possible. For example, many municipalities across the country have committed to conducting inspections within 24 hours of the installation of the charging station equipment.
Large Single-Family Residential, Multi-Family Residential and Commercial Installations
While small single-family residence installations likely present relatively few safety risks, charger installations in larger settings can be significantly more complex and thus require more significant oversight from local permitting bodies. As an example, compare the installation of a new 120V / 1.8 kilowatt outlet in a residential garage to the installation of ten quick-charge stations outside of a movie theatre or grocery store, each of which are capable of handling 240V and up to 20 kilowatts of electricity. For these more complex projects, communities should consider requiring applicants to fill-out a specialized permit and provide significantly more scrutiny to these types of installations.
EV Signage and Parking Marking Plans
Though we seldom stop and think about their impact, street signs can serve three important functions to facilitate the adoption of EVs in a community. First and most obviously, they can direct EV drivers to the nearest public charging stations. Second, they serve to educate non-EV drivers about the availability of charging stations, and thus promote confidence that, should they decide to purchase an EV, there will always be a charging station readily-available. Finally, they can publicize premium reserved parking spots, should the government choose to utilize the parking locations as an incentive for EV drivers.
Given the potential importance of signage to the public’s perception of EVs, it is perhaps not suprising that a significant amount of debate has occurred at the national level regarding the adoption of a uniform standard for EV charging station signs. Currently, roadway signage is regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration (“FHWA”). Specifically, approved signage requirements are contained within the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (“MUTCD”).
In its current form, the MUTCD does not contain any requirements for EVSE signage. However, there is a process by which state transportation agencies may submit a request for so-called “experimental” signage. If approved, the experimental signs may be used within the state subject to certain requirements and restrictions. By way of example, in 2011, the Departments of Transportation for the States of Washington andOregonsubmitted a request for the FHWA to consider an EV Charging General Service symbol, displayed as Figure 3 below. The FHWA granted those states an interim approval to use the signs to designate charging station locations.
In order to promote consistency,Missouricommunities should seriously consider adopting this FHWA-approved signage, and encourage the Missouri Department of Transportation to submit a request and obtain approval from the FHWA to utilize the symbols in the State. These symbols have already been thoroughly evaluated by the FHWA and were found to be highly visible and comprehensible by a large segment of the population. Additionally, adopting a symbol that is being utilized in other jurisdictions across the country increases the effectiveness of the symbols by promoting uniformity and recognizability.
While the FHWA approval process is being pursued, local communities can also begin to present this signage as an option for local businesses to utilize on private property, similar to what many businesses use currently for “Pregnant Mother” parking spaces. Of course, such signage would be unofficial and entirely without the force of law, but its adoption would signal that the business recognizes and supports the needs of its EV-driving clientele.
Incentives or Penalties for EV Charging Station Parking
Finally, once the stations are installed and the signs are put up, public and private parking facility owners will need to determine whether, and to what extent, such signs will be enforced.
InMissouri, the enforcement of street signs on public property is currently a prerogative of local governments, and thus each community will need to determine the level of enforcement that is appropriate for its populace. However, when setting these enforcement policies, it is important that communities carefully weigh several competing interests. First, during the early years of EV adoption, parking spots with EV charging stations may be vacant for large periods of time. It is possible that a negative sentiment could develop if these spots are located in high-traffic areas and parking by non-EVs is prohibited and strictly enforced. On the other hand, the availability of these charging locations is critically important for fostering range confidence for EV drivers.
To successfully balance these concerns, local communities might consider promoting the placement of EVSE in locations that are convenient and accessible, but not necessarily in the most desired or prominent parking locations. Additionally, if the community is considering adopting punitive actions for non-EVs parked in an EV spot, the community might consider foregoing enforcement of those penalties until the level of EV adoption in the community is strong enough to ensure that the spots are filled a significant amount of the time.
Proper Planning Will Lead to a Smooth Transition to EVs
There can be no doubt about it, EVs are on the way. By taking a few relatively minor steps to prepare for this influx of new vehicles and the infrastructure needed to support those vehicles, local communities will be able to minimize logistical and administrative burdens and ensure that local residents across the state are able to enjoy their new vehicles safely.