PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Stephanie Terrell was happy to join the wave of drivers embracing electric vehicles when she bought a used Nissan Leaf this fall.
But Terrell hit a bump in the road on her road to clean driving: As a renter, she doesn’t have a place to plug in overnight, and the public charging stations near her are often in use. The 23-year-old almost ran out of power on the highway recently because a charging station she was counting on was busy.
“It was very scary and I was very worried that I wasn’t going to make it,” she said. “I feel better about it than buying gas, but there are problems I didn̵[ads1]7;t really foresee.”
The transition to electric vehicles is underway for homeowners who can plug in their own garage, but for millions of renters, access to charging remains a significant barrier. Now, cities across the U.S. are scrambling to come up with innovative public charging solutions as drivers pull power lines across sidewalks, set up private charging stations on their way into town and queue at public facilities.
The Biden administration last month approved plans by all 50 states to roll out a network of high-speed chargers along interstate highways using $5 billion in federal funding over the next five years. But states must wait to apply for an additional $2.5 billion in local grants to fill in charging holes, including in dense urban areas.
“We have a very big challenge right now in making it easy for people who live in apartments to charge,” said Jeff Allen, CEO of Forth, a nonprofit that advocates for equity in electric vehicle ownership and charging access.
Cities need to understand that “promoting electric cars is also part of their sustainable transport strategy. Once they make that mental shift, there’s a whole bunch of very tangible things they can – and should – do.”
Fast chargers, also known as DC Fast, can top up a car in 45 minutes or less. But slower Level 2 chargers, which take several hours, still outnumber DC fast chargers nearly four to one. It is not practical to charge at a normal residential outlet, or level 1 charger, unless you drive little or can leave the car connected overnight.
Nationwide, there are about 120,000 public charging ports with Level 2 charging or higher, and nearly 1.5 million electric vehicles registered in the U.S. — a ratio of just over one charger for every 12 cars nationally, according to the latest U.S. Department of Transportation data.
A briefing prepared for the US Department of Energy last year by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory estimates a total of just under 19 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030, with a projected need for 9.6 million additional charging stations.
In Los Angeles, for example, nearly a quarter of all new vehicles registered in July were plug-ins. The city estimates that over the next two decades it will need to expand its distribution capacity anywhere from 25% to 50%, with about two-thirds of the increased demand coming from electric vehicles, said Yamen Nanne, head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Powers transportation. electrification program.
In the middle of the boom, dense urban areas are quickly becoming pressure points.
In Los Angeles, the city has installed more than 500 pole-mounted EV chargers — 450 on street lights and 50 on power poles — and wants to add 200 more per year, Nanne said.
Similar measures to install pole-mounted chargers are in place or under consideration from New York City to Charlotte, NC to Kansas City, Missouri. The Seattle City Light utility is also in the early stages of a pilot project to install chargers in neighborhoods with limited private parking.
Other cities want to change building regulations for the electric transition. Portland is considering a proposal that would require 50% of parking spaces in most new apartment complexes to have an electrical cord; in complexes with six or fewer spaces, all will be EV-ready.
Such policies are critical to the widespread use of electric cars because with tax incentives and an emerging market for used electric cars, zero-emission cars are finally within reach of more Americans, said Ingrid Fish, who is in charge of Portland’s transportation decarbonization program.
The initiatives mimic those that have already been deployed in other nations further along in EV adoption.
London, for example, has 4,000 public chargers on street lights. It’s much cheaper — just a third of the cost of plugging a charging station into the pavement, said Vishant Kothari, head of the electric mobility team at the World Resources Institute.
But London and Los Angeles have an advantage over many American cities: their street lights run on 240 volts, better for electric car charging. Most U.S. city street lights use 120 volts, which takes hours to charge a vehicle, said Kothari, who co-authored a study on the potential for pole-mounted charging in U.S. cities.
So cities must use a mix of solutions, from zoning changes to policies that encourage fast charging in the workplace.
Changes can’t come fast enough for renters who already own electric cars.
Rebecca DeWhitt and her partner run an extension cord from an outlet near the front door of their rental home, down a path and to their new Hyundai Kona in the driveway. Outside of the standard outlet, it takes up to two days and a lot of planning to fully charge the electric car for a trip.
“It’s impractical,” DeWhitt said. “And if we didn’t value having an electric vehicle so much, we wouldn’t bear the pain of it.”
Associated Press Climate Data Reporter Camille Fassett in Denver and AP video reporters Eugene Garcia in Los Angeles and Haven Daley in San Francisco contributed to this report.
Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter: @gflaccus
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