EV system will require shift in car charging habits, lawmaker says
Boulder, Colo. — A rollout of President Biden’s proposed network of 500,000 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations must be paired with a “paradigm shift” in the way Americans view driving, a House lawmaker said this week.
“I’ve spent my entire life … with a sort of pre-existing infrastructure in my mind — gas stations on every corner, right?” Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) told reporters during a tour of an EV charging pilot project in his home district on Thursday.
“My daughter, who’s 3, by the time she’s my age…one would hope that every one of those gas stations is replaced by a charging network,” he said.
The Colorado project, which enables a two-way transfer of electricity between a car and a building, allows a vehicle to be charged through the system when energy demand is minimal while sending power back to the building during peak hours.
The City of Boulder has tested the system using a Nissan Leaf from its fleet connected to a local recreation center. The project is a joint partnership between Boulder and Virginia-based Fermata Energy, which produces “vehicle-to-building” charging systems.
“We charge the vehicle at night when there’s very low demand happening here at the rec center,” said Jonathan Koehn, director of climate initiatives for the city. “And then during the day, when we see a lot of electricity demand at the site, we can actually pull off of those batteries and shave that demand at peak of electricity use at this site.”
Over the past year this setup has saved about 15 to 20 kilowatts each month, which amounts to about $250 on the rec center’s monthly electric bill, according to Koehn.
“Now, that may not seem extraordinary,” Koehn said. “But if we think about the scaling opportunity there, it’s pretty extraordinary.”
A city, for example, could integrate such a system in its vehicle fleet, while homeowners could generate revenues back as savings on their electricity bills, Koehn explained.
Such bidirectional or two-way charging capabilities could also contribute to climate resilience needs, Koehn added, referencing an exceptional windstorm that knocked out power lines throughout the region the day before.
“What you might imagine is being able to identify locations that are critical facilities like sheltering locations, emergency operations centers, critical loads, that are susceptible to power outages,” Koehn said. “We can draw power off of these batteries.”
And these new “mobile power plant” capabilities could extend to electric buses, he added while standing in front of an electric city bus.
Advocates say the Boulder project is just one example of how local governments might harness the funds coming to them from the roughly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by Biden in November.
The bill allocates $7.5 billion for establishing the EV charging network, including $5 billion in formula funding for states — of which $57 million is going to Colorado.
“It’s a transformational investment in our nation’s infrastructure the likes of which we really haven’t seen since the days of Dwight Eisenhower, the National Highway System,” Neguse said.
The funds, the lawmaker explained, will be used to both expand conventional charging infrastructure and launch more pilot programs. Still, the House Democrat described them as “a down payment.”
Many critics have questioned how the Biden administration will realize its vision of building 500,000 EV charging stations across the country by 2030, especially after the $15 billion initially proposed for the infrastructure bill was slashed in half.
Multiple media reports have indicated that to do so the network might need to prioritize slower “Level 2” chargers that use a 240-volt alternate current (AC) plug that can be installed at home or used in public places. Those chargers take a full night to fully recharge a car battery, according to the Department of Energy.
The faster — and much more expensive — option is “Direct-Current (DC) Fast Charging,” which enables rapid charging along heavy traffic corridors and can add about 60 to 80 miles of range per 20 minutes of charging, according to the Department of Energy.
The International Council on Clean Transportation estimated that Level 2 chargers can each cost up to $2,793 to install, while DC Fast chargers can each cost up to $140,000.
Neguse said he doesn’t have a firm answer as to which types of chargers will be prioritized in the Biden administration’s plans or whether there will be a mix of chargers alongside investments for fast charger deployment.
Koehn, Boulder’s climate initiatives director, said a broader social aspect is the presumption that “that everybody is going to charge in the same way.” He has looked into whether people prefer to charge at home overnight or while out doing errands.
In Boulder, Koehn said, he and his team have found that many residents prefer what he described as a “trickle charge” overnight, and the Level 1 or Level 2 “slow” chargers are sufficient for this purpose.
“There is a lot about charging behavior that we’re just understanding,” Koehn said.
Neguse echoed Koehn’s sentiments, noting that this “underscores why we’re calling this a paradigm shift,” as people have long been “operating on antiquated frames of reference.”
“The data shows that most people don’t drive more than 25 miles a day,” agreed Boulder County Commissioner Claire Levy. “By and large, being able to just top off at home is really going to be adequate for most people.”
Beyond charging behavior, Neguse also stressed the importance of broadening access to electric vehicles themselves — a goal he thinks that an EV tax credit in Biden’s proposed Build Back Better social spending package would help accomplish.
Also key to increasing EV accessibility is ensuring that cities “are creating those mobility connections” by identifying the optimal mode of commuter transport and “recognizing that these are really regional issues,” added Aaron Brockett, Boulder’s mayor.
As the new year begins, Neguse said he expects to see “a pretty robust set of oversight actions” regarding EV charging technology and deployment, to ensure that government agencies “are getting this money out of the doors as quickly as they can.”
“The reality is, our job is not done, simply by virtue of enacting the bipartisan infrastructure deal,” Neguse said.
“We’re now going to have to make sure that we hold the Department of Energy’s feet to the fire and the other various departments that will be responsible for implementing the law, and ensuring that the charging networks are at a level that would comport with the need that we’ve all tried to achieve,” he added.
Updated: Dec. 18 at 4:08 p.m.