Smart cities use technology like sensors, WiFi connectivity, and data collection, to better equip urban planners in managing a region’s environmental resources. Until recently, cars and trucks were not electronically connected to a city’s energy and data infrastructure, but with the rapid rise of electric vehicles that plug into the grid, everything changes. Smart city planners can accelerate the shift to sustainable transportation—kickstarting the process by installing electric vehicle charging stations.
For a smart city the most immediate environmental benefit of EVs is straightforward: taking polluting internal combustion vehicles off the road—and replacing them with zero-emission cars, trucks, and buses.
A January 2020 report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors revealed that cities are stepping up their plans to reduce carbon emissions and air pollution. The report is based on input from 182 cities. Sixty percent of those cities have launched and many will significantly expand a climate initiative in the coming year. It’s not a coincidence that a nearly identical 61 percent of those cities support public electric vehicle charging stations.
Seattle is a prime example of how smart cities have influence over EV adoption. The city’s Department of Construction and Inspections estimates that new legislation will support the creation of thousands of new EV-ready parking spaces each year. “Seattle has always invented the future, and we will lead the transition to electric vehicles to combat climate change,” said Mayor Jenny Durkan. “Our actions to reduce emissions from transportation will help create a healthier and more just city, with a stronger economy.”
U.S. mayors are preparing for the coming wave of electric cars to arrive. Right now, in mid-2020, there are well over 1 million EVs on North American roads. Guidehouse Insights, a research firm, forecasts that number to increase to 1.8 million by 2030. By most accounts, that’s a conservative estimate.
Urban planners must keep in mind that if they want the growing EV market to flourish in their city, they must first ensure that zero-emission vehicles have a place to charge. The International Energy Administration (IEA) recommends one public charging station for every 10 EVs in a region. To maintain that ratio, cities will have to pick up the pace.
The California Energy Commission estimates that the Golden State will need a quarter-million chargers in public spaces and multi-unit dwellings by 2025. Those chargers could add 1 GW of peak demand to the power grid.
It’s not strictly a matter of spreading new technology and charging stations around a city in order to create a transport system that aligns with the smart city initiative. Comprehensive plans need to consider real-world charging patterns. Commercial charging stations with connectivity and robust analytics tools can show which locations are being utilized and better manage grid demand. Smart city planners want to avoid installing charging with outdated technology, with insufficient power, and at low traffic locations where chargers will seldom be used—sometimes referred to as “stranded assets.”
Focus on high-use vehicles
It’s critical for smart city planners to understand that nearly all EV charging takes place at home. Private vehicles are parked (and not in use) for about 95 percent of the time. That’s why the World Economic Forum recommends that cities put a high priority on electrifying high-use vehicles, such as the city’s municipal fleet, taxis, rideshare services, and public transportation.This would not only help build smart infrastructure for the transit system but also help the traffic condition and smart parking as well. Policies that support more EV charging will need to work with multiple stakeholders, especially grid operators. San Diego Gas & Electric works with the Port of San Diego to install chargers for electric medium- and heavy-duty vehicles and forklifts. Virginia-based Dominion Energy and Duke Energy in North Carolina collaborate with school districts to utilize electric school buses.
“Electric buses are the biggest thing cities are doing, in addition to light-duty fleets,” Lang Reynolds, Duke Energy’s director of electrification strategy, told Utility Dive in a recent interview with the industry publication. Bill Boyce, supervisor of electrified transportation for Sacramento Municipal Utility District, added, “We’ve worked with city staff, even helped them get grants from the state to help the planning.”
The city of Columbus, Ohio, is adding EVs to its public fleet and promoted the use of EVs deployed by Columbus Yellow Cab. Cab companies and local car dealers who install charging stations are often tied directly to the city’s carbon-reducing goals. This is a great example of a city that is providing transportation options that creates smart city solutions.