Earlier this year, the Biden administration, via the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), proposed a new plan to increase vehicle emissions standards to their most stringent level ever. While the EPA has the authority to regulate these standards, and has done so in the past, the proposed standards would be so stringent, that the only way auto manufactures can hope to achieve them is by boosting electric vehicle (EV) production far beyond existing levels. Specifically, such levels are estimated to need to achieve 67% of new light-duty vehicle sales being EVs and 46% of new medium-duty vehicle sales being EVs by 2032.
The EV Adoption Landscape
The EPA’s proposed regulation is not without controversy, but it presents one of the biggest pushes yet in transitioning the United States, long a car-centric society, towards the widespread adoption of EVs.
Despite not reaching the EPA’s desired market share, over the past several years, EVs are booming in popularity and becoming increasingly affordable. While new car sales fell overall in 2022, EV sales surged to 65% year-over-year, with EVs accounting for 5.8% of all new car sales (up from 3.2% in 2021). Some studies have indicated that the 5% threshold marks the point-of-no-return regarding widespread adoption of EVs, based on nearly identical trends in 18 other countries. Accelerating this change is the rapid reduction in pricing for EVs, which not so long ago shared price points with far more luxurious internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.
Charging Infrastructure Challenges
EVs continue to climb in popularity and drop in price, however they still face challenges in terms of charging infrastructure availability and accessibility. Though improvements are continuing to be made, one of the primary concerns of potential buyers remains range, charging infrastructure, and charge times. Gas stations are available at nearly every off-ramp and on every convenient corner, but it often remains frustratingly difficult for EV drivers to locate an available and functional charging station without significant amounts of pre-planning.
To address this issue, and spur accelerated adoption, various levels of government have introduced incentives and programs to encourage the development of EV charging infrastructure in the Northeast Ohio area and beyond. These incentives are available not just to governmental entities, but also to private developers looking to capitalize on the shift to EVs.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021 established the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program, which will provide states with funding to install Direct Current Fast Chargers (DCFCs) along designated Alternative Fuel Corridors (AFCs), with Ohio alone receiving $140 million over five years of these funds. These AFCs are interstate and other state highways that have signage indicating the availability of alternative fuels, including EV charging infrastructure.
The NEVI Formula Program aims to ease range anxiety, support private sector investment, and spur economic development by expanding the network of DCFC stations across the country. The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and DriveOhio are developing a statewide EV infrastructure plan to implement this program and identify priority corridors and locations for charging stations. Already, the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission has invested in the installation of DC charging stations at most Ohio Turnpike rest stops.
ODOT offers grants to EV charging companies and private developers to install, maintain, and operate EV charging stations at numerous locations along the designated AFCs in Ohio. These grants are funded by Ohio’s portion of the NEVI Program and the grants cover up to 80% of the eligible costs, up to $500,000 per location. In return, the grant recipients are required to provide data on the usage and performance of the charging stations to ODOT for five years.
At this time, the following have been designated as EV approved AFCs in Ohio:
- I-70 from Dayton to the I-70/I-77 interchange near Cambridge;
- I-71 from Cleveland to Columbus;
- I-77 from Cleveland to Canton;
- I-80 from Elyria to Youngstown;
- I-90 from Elyria to Mentor;
- S. 13 from Mansfield to Newark;
- S. 33 from Columbus to Athens;
- The entirety of I-270 beltway around Columbus; and
- The entirety of the I-275 beltway around Cincinnati.
In addition to the existing approved AFC routes, nearly every major interstate highway in Ohio is currently under review by the EPA to be approved as an AFC.
For private developers to take advantage of NEVI funding for installation of DCFC charging stations, the installation location must be within one mile of an established AFC, be capable of supplying the power requirements of DCFC charging stations, have the capacity to charge four EVs at 150 kW simultaneously, and the developer must demonstrate the ability to cover any costs not paid for with NEVI funds. Eligible programs can receive up to 80% of qualifying project costs. To better facilitate unified charging networks and applying for NEVI funding, expert partners, such as KJK, can assist.
At the local level, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) has allocated $3 million for the installation of EV charging stations across the region as part of the 2021-2024 Transportation Improvement Project. NOACA has identified 120 locations in public spaces across the five counties served by the organization – primarily, the counties of Cuyahoga, Lorain, Lake, Geauga, and Medina. NOACA performed a literature review and an analysis of various criteria to select the most optimal sites for DCFC and Level 2 charging stations. These criteria include total employment, total population, highway lane capacity, arterial lane capacity, number of interchanges, transit service capacity, and transit stop density. The selected sites are within a half-mile walking distance to large employers and other major trip destinations.
The Economic Benefits of EV Charging Stations
Unlike traditional gas fueling stations – which take only minutes to fuel a vehicle, are usually self-contained, and cater largely to traveler needs such as quick beverages, snacks, and fast food – EV charging stations have the ability to have a greater influence on drivers and provide a greater benefit to surrounding businesses.
Some newer EVs are capable of charging from near-zero to near-full capacity in as little as fifteen minutes, thought many of the current generation EVs on the road can take anywhere from half an hour to an hour to charge to sufficient capacity to continue a journey at DCFC. This charge time may represent an inconvenience to a hurried driver, however it can represent an opportunity to, for example, a retail shopping center.
The installation of modern charging infrastructure at a retail location, which may represent the sacrifice of only a handful of parking spaces, can offer a plethora of economic benefits to the whole center. If, and until, EV chargers are as ubiquitous as gas stations, they have the power to attract customers with time on their hands to browse, can enhance customer loyalty by bringing repeat customers to a known and reliable charging station, can help a retail center stand out from competitors, and (quite literally) put a retail center on the map as a place to go to for charging needs as mapping service providers such as Google and Apple incorporate EV charging stations into their search offerings.
Further, EV charging infrastructure has numerous benefits to local economies and retail centers compared to gas fueling stations. Unlike the highly regulated and potentially negative environmental impact of gas fueling stations and their associated underground storage tanks, EV charging stations do not represent an environmental risk to the surrounding area and can be placed in highly convenient locations aimed at maximizing economic impact. Likewise, while many gas stations merely represent a self-contained waypoint for travelers quickly hopping off the highway and then promptly continuing on their way without making any noticeable impact on the local economy, EV drivers, for now, have time to kill while charging that could be best spent having a sit-down meal at a local restaurant, browsing nearby stores, or enjoying nearby parks or other attractions.
Developers who are interested in installing EV charging stations in the northeast Ohio area can benefit from various incentives and programs offered by different levels of government. These initiatives can help reduce the upfront costs, increase the profitability, and enhance the visibility of EV charging infrastructure. By participating in these programs, developers can also contribute to the environmental and economic goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting energy independence, and creating jobs.