By Luke Carothers

One of the leading solutions to reducing carbon emissions is the replacing of traditional gas engine cars with electric vehicles.  Particularly within the United States where billions of dollars are being allocated to improving and maintaining vehicle infrastructure, electric vehicles represent a viable solution for limiting carbon emissions in some capacity.  However, current limitations on electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure need to be removed to demonstrate their viability.

Although many experts project a steep rise in the number of EVs on the road over the next few years, there are currently large areas of the country that have inadequate infrastructure to support this rise in EVs.  Several programs, initiatives, and private entities are pushing to extend the current network of EV charging stations in the United States, making longer distance trips to any part of the country a reality for EV users.  Programs such as Electrify America and the Electric Highway Coalition and companies such as Tesla are leading the push for the further development of EV charging infrastructure.  

The absence of a robust EV charging infrastructure network results in anxiety for EV users.  Like combustion engines, EV have a limited range of travel before refueling.  However, unlike gas cars, EV users don’t have the luxury of a charging station at every exit like we see with gas stations.  This causes what is known as “range anxiety” where EV users are less likely to take long trips in their vehicle.  Although EV charging infrastructure is becoming more widespread, there are still significant portions of the map that don’t provide easy re-charging options for EV users.  Matthew Selkirk, a Project Engineer at Dewberry, says that this lack of EV infrastructure means that EV users are often “siloed” in their options, meaning they are forced to travel certain routes.  This is especially prevalent in rural places like Western Louisiana, Western North Carolina, or rural Texas, according to Selkirk.  

With current projections seeing the number of EVs on the road increase significantly over the next few decades, it’s critical that infrastructure projects be undertaken that reduce the level of range anxiety and prevent siloing.  The majority of EV users make a single trip to work and back every day, totalling less than 50 miles.  For this, an at home level 2 EV charger is ideal, requiring a hard wired connection to the home’s electric panel.  However, as more EVs are on the road, their capacities have to expand if they are to replace gas powered cars.  According to Dave Revette, a Professional Engineer at Dewberry, one of the first steps in this process is constructing adequate Level 3 EV charging stations along various routes across the country.  Level 3 EV charging consists of DC, fast charging ports that power the battery at a vastly quicker rate than a level 2 charger or plugging into an outlet at home.  By constructing these Level 3 EV charging stations along alternative fuel routes, range anxiety can be reduced, and EVs will become a much more viable option for users on longer trips.

Much of our current EV charging infrastructure in the United States has been in development for over a decade, and, according to Selkirk, there has been a significant amount of development during that time.  Selkirk also believes that the development of these new infrastructure networks mirrors a shift in the way vehicle infrastructure is designed and developed.  Much of the new EV charging infrastructure is being constructed with exclusivity, meaning it is separate from the existing fueling stations.  There is a recent trend in EV charging infrastructure towards greenfield development.  While this is a positive in its future effect of fueling infrastructure, this means that instead of small scale, rapid-deployment engineering projects, many of these are becoming larger in scale.  By requiring “full blown site civil design”, according to Selkirk, the lead time on these greenfield EV solutions is increased from one month to three or four.  The end goal of the numerous different initiatives to improve EV charging infrastructure–both public and private–is to create a robust, nation-wide network of easy-to-access stations.  One of the biggest challenges of doing such a thing is inherent to its very nature.  The process of creating an EV charging network that spans multiple states and jurisdictions creates opportunities in some places and challenges in others, which has partially resulted in siloing.  

Despite the challenges posed by working across numerous jurisdictions, the rate of construction for EV charging infrastructure is on the rise as a result of both public and private partnerships between different entities.  As these new networks are being built out, this is an opportunity to learn from our past infrastructure mistakes, using this as a space to build a network that is designed with traditionally underserved communities in mind.  In doing so, EVs and the infrastructure necessary to support them represent fertile ground to build a future transportation network that is designed from the standpoint of sustainability and equality.


Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.  

Comments