This article was originally published on World Resources Institute. Read it here.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are on the rise in the United States.
The Biden administration aims for 50 percent of new light-duty vehicle sales to be zero-emission by 2030. Some states have even more ambitious targets, such as California, Massachusetts and New York, which plan to reach 100 percent new EV sales by 2035. Major automakers such as Ford and General Motors have announced plans to electrify large portions of their fleets over the next decade. And consumer demand is rapidly increasing, with EV registrations increasing 60 percent in Q1 of 2022 compared to a year ago.
All of these developments are important for decarbonizing transportation, the country’s largest-emitting sector. Yet even with all this momentum, there’s still a major barrier to EV expansion: there aren’t nearly enough charging stations available to support America’s EV targets. Furthermore, there are concerns around access to charging stations, including their locations, costs, ability to connect and reliability.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law could change that, enabling states and cities to fully develop a national network of charging stations to meet the expected growth of EVs in coming years.
The current state of EV charging infrastructure in the US
While home or workplace charging offers a convenient and low-cost option for many EV drivers and will be the location for most EV charging, a robust public charging network is also necessary so drivers can find a convenient source of power when they need it, even when they’re far from home. This is especially the case in rural areas, where daily driving distances are longer, as well as for people without dedicated parking spaces at home or at work, such as renters or residents of multi-unit dwellings.
There are currently about 6,000 fast-charging stations (suitable for highway corridors and rapid community charging) and about 40,000 Level 2 charging stations (suitable for locations such as hotels, office buildings and parking garages) across the country. This is inadequate to support national goals and growing consumer demand. Research shows that the United States will need about $40 billion of investment in publicly accessible charging infrastructure over the next 10 years to put the country on a path for 100 percent passenger EV sales by 2035.
How the bipartisan infrastructure law funds EV charging infrastructure
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides the largest federal investment in EV charging infrastructure, and thus serves as a critical down payment for the United States to reach its EV potential.
It includes the $5 billion National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) program, formula funding allocated to states over five years to create a nationwide EV charging network along highway corridors. When the national network is fully built out, NEVI funding can be used to add charging capacity on any public road or in other publicly accessible community locations.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also includes the $2.5 billion Charging and Fueling Infrastructure discretionary grant program for corridor and community charging and alternative fueling infrastructure. It also allows states to use several other flexible programs, such as the $70 billion Surface Transportation Block Grant program, to fund EV-charging infrastructure (discussed below).
The influx of new federal funding presents a unique opportunity to jump-start the effort to electrify transportation, but only if states and cities use funds effectively and equitably. Here’s how they can do so:
8 ways states and cities can effectively deploy EV charging funding
1. Implement coordinated planning processes across agencies and levels of government.
Following the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, state departments of transportation (DOTs) have a more prominent role in developing a national network of charging infrastructure. Many major funding sources for EV charging — including the NEVI program — will be administered by state DOTs. However, in many states, most EV charging infrastructure incentive programs (including those from the Volkswagen Clean Air Act Settlement) and other planning processes have, up until now, been developed and implemented by state energy and/or environment agencies.
As state DOTs enter this space, they can leverage the experience and expertise of fellow agencies, including energy and environment agencies, utility regulatory bodies and labor and workforce development offices. Oregon’s Zero Emission Vehicle Interagency Work Group (ZEVIWiG) and the new Michigan Infrastructure Office are examples of efforts to coordinate federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law across state agencies and in partnership with cities and other stakeholders.
States and cities will also need to ensure that new federally funded programs are well coordinated with existing state EV charging programs. States could leverage state and utility-led EV charging infrastructure investment programs to provide the required 20 percent non-federal funding match for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s formula and competitive grant programs. States and cities also can use existing programs in complementary ways, such as building infrastructure that is not eligible for federal funding (such as providing Level 2 charging at workplaces and multi-unit dwellings, which are not eligible uses of NEVI program funds).
2. Remove barriers to charging infrastructure installation.
State and local governments can remove administrative obstacles to timely deployment of charging infrastructure. For example, permitting processes for fast charging stations can oftentimes cause uncertainty, delays and higher costs. Recommended practices (see here and here) to facilitate fast charging station installation include: standardizing the permit review and inspection process, having an online permit application process, offering expedited processing, amending minimum parking requirements to count EV charging sites as spaces, and requiring utilities to develop and publish distribution system load hosting capacity maps so developers can proactively focus development efforts at favorable grid locations.
For example, in 2021, California passed AB970, imposing strict timelines for local governments to review permit applications for charging stations. The new law requires that a permit be granted 20 days from application unless the relevant city or county building official objects.
In addition to removing procedural and administrative barriers, cities can update their policies to incentivize EV charging, including by updating building codes to require EV charging infrastructure in new developments. In 2021, Orlando adopted an Electric Vehicle Readiness code requiring 2 percent of parking spaces in commercial and multifamily new construction and major renovations to have EV charging installed and 10-20 percent of these spaces to be "EV capable," with dedicated capacity in the electric panel and conduits running to future EV charging spaces.
Orlando also installed ADA-accessible charging spaces at 35 locations and found that there were no federal DOT standards for the design of those spaces, which caused delays. Federal guidance would help ensure that EV charging is accessible to all and streamline the permitting process.
3. Use technical tools and modeling to support planning.
Modeling frameworks and other technical tools are available from federal agencies, national labs and other organizations to help states and cities plan charging infrastructure deployment strategies, prioritize key charging locations and perform financial analyses. The newly established federal Joint Office of Energy and Transportation website includes a resource library of technical tools and examples of state EV program materials.
For example, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Modeling Suite includes tools to help identify the number and type of chargers needed to meet a given demand, find efficient charging station locations and assess ways to mitigate the impact of charging loads on the grid (by using renewable energy and managed charging technologies). Georgetown Climate Center and M.J. Bradley & Associates developed the Regional EV Charging Infrastructure Location Identification Toolkit (ILIT) and E-DRIVE to help planners, policymakers and other stakeholders compare and evaluate potential locations for EV fast charging infrastructure development. The Federal Highway Authority’s HEPGIS mapping platform also includes maps of federally designated Alternative Fuel Corridors.
New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) funded EValuateNY to provide access to comprehensive data from New York state’s EV market.
State-specific tools are also available to help states and cities understand how charging stations are currently distributed and where new infrastructure would be most beneficial, including from the perspective of equity. For example, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) funded EValuateNY to provide access to comprehensive data from New York state’s EV market. The tool contains useful information on EV registrations, types of EVs on the road, relevant demographics, charging deployment and charging use data for stations funded by NYSERDA.
Contra Costa, California, has also developed a mapping tool to support planning and investment in charging infrastructure. This tool includes information about the current availability of types of charging infrastructure and identification of disadvantaged communities that can benefit from an equitable deployment of charging stations.
4. Use equitable and community-led planning processes.
The NEVI formula program requires that states conduct public outreach and engagement to ensure more equitable outcomes. Among other criteria, the development of NEVI state plans should reflect "engagement with rural, underserved and disadvantaged communities," and states should consult with "community-based organizations, environmental justice and environmental protection organizations."
To inform each state’s first-year NEVI plan — which must be submitted to the Joint Office by Aug. 1 — states will benefit from any early outreach that they have initiated with their networks of community stakeholders, especially in communities that have previously been excluded from transportation planning processes, to effectively include them in the public engagement process. Community organizations understand the local circumstances and can help state and city officials determine and mobilize plans in their communities.
State and local governments may also consider using existing community-led or other public engagement forums to conduct the first year of outreach. For example, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is planning to leverage relationships with EV user groups established during stakeholder outreach for the Transportation Electrification Infrastructure Needs Analysis (TEINA), a study conducted by ODOT to meet the light-duty EV adoption goals included in 2019 Senate Bill 1044.
Additionally, clear communication about the state engagement processes for the NEVI will be helpful in facilitating meaningful public participation on an ongoing basis. States may consider providing information about how the first year state plan and planning process will be part of the broader five-year NEVI program, and how their use of NEVI funds will be complemented by additional charging infrastructure and clean transportation investments (see strategy 6 below).
Groups such as Greenlining Institute, EV Hybrid Noire and Grid Alternatives have developed frameworks for incorporating community-led engagement processes in electrification plans, which can be valuable resources for states and cities.
5. Prioritize new charging infrastructure in communities overburdened with air pollution and underserved by the transportation system.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides a unique opportunity for states and local governments to ensure more equitable deployment of charging infrastructure. This could include targeted investments to provide charging access for rural communities and to reduce air pollution from communities experiencing poor air quality.
Currently, EV charging infrastructure is not equitably distributed, with residents in rural, low-to-moderate income communities, communities of color and multi-family housing lacking access to public charging infrastructure. Analysis of EV charging access in the 50 largest U.S. cities found that Black and Latino communities have fewer charging stations compared to white neighborhoods. In Baltimore, Atlanta, Boston and Washington, D.C., the percentage of Black people living within 5 minutes’ walking distance from a charging station is at least 20 percent lower than in the rest of the city.
Rural drivers typically drive longer distances and operate less fuel-efficient vehicles compared to urban drivers. As a result, the potential for fuel and cost savings and emissions reductions for every EV purchased is higher in rural communities.
The NEVI program, along with other EV charging infrastructure investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, are included in the Biden administration’s Justice40 Initiative, which aims to direct 40 percent of the benefits of federal investments made by climate and clean energy programs to "disadvantaged communities." NEVI state plans must include an explanation of how these program investments will be consistent with the Justice40 Initiative. USDOT and USDOE developed a joint definition of "disadvantaged communities" for the NEVI program, and have released an EV Charging Justice40 Mapping Tool to help state and local governments identify communities for investments.
6. Leverage multiple federal funding sources for transportation electrification.
In addition to the two dedicated EV charging infrastructure programs — NEVI and the Charging and Fueling Infrastructure discretionary grant program — the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law makes EV charging an eligible investment under multiple additional federal funding programs administered by states. For example, states can fund charging infrastructure for cars, trucks and buses using monies from the Surface Transportation Block Grant (STBG) program, which allocates more than $70 billion to states over five years. Other federal programs that can be used to fund charging infrastructure include the State Carbon Reduction Program, the National Highway Performance Program, the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program, the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity discretionary grant program, and the State Energy Program.
The availability of these funds may vary by state, as many are oversubscribed and EV charging infrastructure competes with other eligible projects. In making decisions about leveraging different federal programs, states and cities should ensure that investments in other low-carbon modes of transportation, including public transit and cycling, don’t get crowded out.
7. Ensure public funding results in convenient, reliable and accessible EV charging infrastructure.
To ensure drivers have a convenient and reliable network of charging stations, it is critical that charging stations funded by federal and state programs include requirements for station uptime and operations, ensure accessibility across vehicle types, provide transparent and consistent pricing, and more. The U.S. Federal Highway Administration released proposed minimum standards and requirements for EV charging infrastructure funded under the NEVI program and other federally funded programs. The proposed standards cover installation, operation and maintenance of stations; interoperability of EV charging infrastructure; EV signs; data accessibility; network connectivity; and information about pricing, station availability and accessibility.
States should also consider where operational support may be needed in the early years, especially in rural communities and other locations where there is currently low use of charging infrastructure. In addition to providing funding for the capital cost of installing chargers, there is an opportunity to provide additional funding for maintenance and operation costs, eligible expenses for federal funding under the NEVI program.
8. Create a national charging network through regional coordination.
Given that drivers often travel across state and city borders, any transportation infrastructure build-out must be regionally coordinated to ensure a consistent and efficient driver experience. Fortunately, there is significant opportunity to leverage ongoing coordination and planning efforts, including regional EV initiatives by states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, the West, the Southeast and the Midwest. Among other things, all four regional initiatives focus on identifying opportunities to coordinate on EV infrastructure build-out.
In a similar fashion, cities should think beyond their own borders and consider charging infrastructure in the surrounding areas. Nashville, for instance, is an active participant in the Drive Electric Tennessee program, which brings together state agencies, utilities, universities, cities, EV manufacturers, private businesses and advocacy groups to promote EV adoption across the whole state.
Achieving an EV charging network in the US
Accelerating transportation electrification in the United States requires that all drivers have access to reliable and convenient charging. In particular, there is an opportunity under the Justice40 initiative to direct investments to communities overburdened with transportation pollution and underserved by the current transportation system. With the funding provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, states and cities can mobilize new federal investments to build upon their existing transportation electrification programs and create a connected, equitable network of EV charging stations.
Note: This article is informed by the Climate Federalism Dialogue, which brings together states and cities to explore the best approaches to implementing climate-smart policy across various levels of government. The dialogue, which is facilitated by WRI and the Georgetown Climate Center, is exploring best practices for states and cities to advance zero-emission transportation through federal infrastructure investment.