By Dave Revette, PE, and Jessica Robbins, PE
The push to electrify transportation, including the establishment of a robust local, regional, and interstate charging infrastructure, is a vital step in ultimately achieving net-zero emissions within the transportation industry in the United States. The Biden Administration has called for the installation of 500,000 new electric vehicle (EV) plugs throughout the U.S. by 2030. This ambitious proposal would increase the nation’s inventory of charging stations approximately five-fold, a considerable boost to the EV industry outlook.
According to BloombergNEF, which researches the global energy and transportation markets, passenger EV sales are predicted to reach 8.5 million worldwide by 2025, or approximately 10 percent of all new car sales. By 2040, that figure is projected to reach as much as 54 million, with EVs representing half of all passenger car sales. In the U.S., EVs will make up approximately 7 percent of the market by 2025 and 24 percent by 2030. Key factors that will enhance vehicle pricing and popularity include the decreasing costs of batteries, improvements to the flexibility and reliability of the electric grid, and the growing availability of charging stations.
Reducing “Range Anxiety”: Increasing the EV Charging Network
Industry experts vary on the ideal ratio of public chargers to the number of electric vehicles on the road. California currently has an estimated 25-30 EVs per public charging point. The International Energy Association has recommended an ambitious 10-1 ratio for the European Union, while some analysts have settled at a 15-1 or 20-1 ratio as a goal that should satisfy market demand.
While most EV charging will continue to occur at home, many municipalities, commercial businesses and energy providers are now launching programs to install public charging stations near office buildings, shopping centers, civic buildings, restaurants, multi-family housing complexes, and highway travel plazas, often with the support of government grants and a goal of meeting net-zero carbon goals.
Options for locating charging stations include raw land sites, gas stations, parking lots, and parking garages. Initial steps for a typical EV charging station project may include preliminary site audits, Phase I environmental site assessments, and utility coordination. It is imperative to understand existing local power limitations and opportunities early on, including the ability to provide new utility service to a site or upgrade existing service. Engineers can assist clients with identifying optimal locations, determining the number of charge stalls or posts at each installation, and parking layouts and configurations.
The next steps involve electrical engineering design, including utility routing; AC and DC power design; civil/site design; and site regulatory permitting. The permitting step can be complex, potentially involving zoning board approval, planning board approval, site plan review, and building and electrical permits. Local knowledge and experience often prove instrumental in the timely completion of this phase of work.
Ideally, engineers work closely with clients and authorities to install the charging stations efficiently while focusing on creating a positive customer experience. Successful locations allow people to charge their cars while shopping, dining, or running errands for at least 30 minutes. Forward-thinking clients, including state and local agencies, utilities, and car manufacturers, are also installing charging stations that can be expanded as demand rises.
Maryland’s largest gas and electric utility, Exelon-owned BGE, has installed more than 100 chargers as part of its utility-owned and operated EVsmart public charging network. The growing network, which also includes chargers owned and operated by Exelon utilities PEPCO and DPL, enables drivers to charge their vehicles at Exelon Level 2 smart chargers or DC fast chargers throughout the utilities’ service areas. BGE expects to install 500 chargers by the end of 2023, in support of Maryland’s goal to have 300,000 zero-emissions vehicles on the road by 2030. Dewberry has assisted BGE with the design-build installation of more than 20 sites, with another three dozen in design. Completed sites include Ripken Stadium, Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the Carroll County Library, the Howard County Library, the Harford County administration building, and three parking lots at Harford Community College.
“There are many opportunities for municipalities and regional utilities to pursue a charging station installation program similar to what BGE has done with the EVsmart program,” says Joe Estrada, PE, an associate and energy services program manager for Dewberry. “There is an increasing amount of grant funding available at the state and federal levels. That financial support, combined with the expertise that engineers can bring to the table in terms of cost analyses, project siting, design, permitting, and equipment selection can make these initiatives highly feasible. It doesn’t need to be burdensome to municipal budgets and staffing.”
For clients nationwide such as BGE, New Jersey Transit, and other commercial clients, Dewberry engineers have assisted in carefully assessing costs, which can vary based on location, permitting requirements, and equipment selection. Considerations include subsurface conditions and grading; proximity to underground electric service; the location of storm sewers, sidewalks, and other features; and ADA requirements. Ideal site locations offer short distances to utility tie-ins and ease of access. Parking garages provide another set of challenges, involving structural analyses, space constraints, and electrical constraints.
Commissioning is also important to finalize the successful installations of charging stations. During this phase, the commissioning team will assess the electrical checks and balances and verify connections. In addition to final site punch lists, Dewberry works closely with the charging manufacturers and the field installers to ensure proper turn up and operation of the installed chargers.
“As we expand the charging station infrastructure, we relieve drivers of the ‘range anxiety’ that can inhibit the purchase of EVs,” says Estrada. “We’re seeing many successful investments that will contribute to the continued growth of the electric vehicle ecosystem.”
Levels of Charging
Level 1 Charging: Equipment charges through a 120V AC plug requiring a dedicated circuit. Level 1 generally refers to a standard household outlet. This may require 8-12 hours or more to completely charge an EV battery.
Level 2 Charging: Equipment charges through a 240V AC plug and requires a dedicated 40 amp circuit and installation of charging equipment. This may require 4-6 hours to recharge.
Level 3 Charging: Equipment charges through CHAdeMO technology, known as DC fast charging, with a 480V DC plug. This can provide an 80 percent charge in 30 minutes.
Dave Revette, PE is an associate and project manager.
Jessica Robbins, PE, is an associate vice president with Dewberry.