As governments and utilities invest in charging stations, three common focus areas include residences, workplace, and parking lots. Though this approach is certainly pragmatic, given that these locations often provide “low-hanging fruit” for station deployment, focusing on these areas alone misses a valuable and important EV charging asset: curbside charging.
As EV penetration increases steadily across North America, two evolving issues make the search for great urban charging locations more important than ever: (1) the need to provide potential EV drivers in multi-dwelling units (MDUs) access to charging, and (2) Uber and Lyft’s intent to electrify their entire vehicle supply in North America by 2030.
MDUs comprise a significant amount of housing stock – and this is expected to grow significantly. In the U.S., approximately 41% of Americans in the top 100 metropolitan areas live in MDUs1; in California, it’s 31%2. The National Apartment Association commissioned a study which concluded that the U.S. needs to build an additional 4.6 million apartments by 20303. California’s Energy Commission projects a need for 87,000 to 316,000 chargers by 2030 to support drivers at MDUs alone4. Canada tells a similar story – it's MDUs represent 40 to 50% of housing stock in its metropolitan areas (40 percent in Toronto, 50 percent in Montreal, and 40% in Vancouver5).
But deploying this many stations at MDUs is no small feat! The list of barriers is long, some of which include: (1) crucial infrastructure upgrades being too costly (2) building owners not being properly incentivized to install charging, and (3) renters lacking access to dedicated parking, to name a few. FLO supports the need to retrofit MDUs to meet the growing demand for charging, but this won’t happen overnight. All the while EV adoption is steadily increasing in these areas, which means we need to start implementing solutions now to support these drivers.
This presents a significant equity challenge – how do utilities and charging companies provide these EV drivers with accessible charging solutions? Industry experts commonly understand MDUs to be a tough nut to crack for a variety of reasons.
Uber and Lyft’s electrification goals are hugely important because ride sharing vehicles have high utilization, approximately 40,000 miles a year6. Although in the U.S. these companies currently have over one million drivers in metropolitan areas7, California’s Air Board projects this vehicle segment will reach 750,000 by 2030 alone8. Approximately 56% of U.S. ride-hailing drivers do not have access to home charging9. RMI notes the number of ride-hailing drivers in MDUs is likely greater than non-ride-hailing drivers. There are also additional equity challenges – ride-hailing drivers10 typically have lower household incomes11 and there is significant demand for ride-hailing services in low-income areas, but insufficient charging infrastructure12. If we don’t support these drivers with affordable charging solutions, we risk increasing the burden of lower-income neighborhoods with a higher concentration of gas-powered ride-hailing vehicles13.
MDUs and ride-hailing vehicles co-exist in overlapping geographies: dense urban cores. These areas are characterized by a lack of space and high development costs for precious real estate. Even where parking lots and garages do exist, they are not always accessible to the public and may require additional parking costs for drivers using the space. There are also grid capacity considerations when siting chargers, which is critical for all utility to help provide insight on.
The good news? Curbside charging applications are one part of the solution to overcoming these challenges.
Curbside charging stations are located on-street in the public right-of-way, providing 24/7 charging access to drivers. Deployment is customizable, from mounting the stations on to a raised pedestal to attaching them to a streetlight or pole.
FLO, a leading North American EV charging provider, has extensive experience deploying curbside solutions. FLO’s parent company AddEnergie has deployed nearly 1,000 pole-mounted curbside charging stations, which are owned by the City of Montreal and are part of Hydro Quebec’s charging network, Electric Circuit. In the City of Los Angeles, FLO has deployed 200 streetlight chargers. FLO worked with city staff to leverage existing infrastructure, which reduced installation costs significantly by eliminating the need for additional pedestal or ground mounting equipment and trenching. This approach typically allows for shorter-than-average installation periods. In FLO’s first phase of deployment in LA, 75 chargers were installed within 90 days. The company also just launched a partnership with ConEdison and the New York City Department of Transportation to deploy 120 custom pedestal mounted curbside chargers throughout New York’s five boroughs.
California’s Energy Commission also awarded FLO and its partners nearly $1 million to test how to best leverage existing utility infrastructure to provide charging solutions in low-income and disadvantaged communities, especially residents living in MDUs. All of the chargers are curbside, but the majority will be streetlight or pole mounted stations.
Curbside charging can provide impressive benefits to cities. In fact, depending on existing infrastructure capabilities, curbside charging can be a more cost-effective and rapid deployment solution. Utilities have a unique ability to help realize these benefits – their expertise with site selection, permitting, and using their existing infrastructure can all help simplify and expedite the deployment process.
More importantly, curbside charging provides important equity benefits by supporting MDU and ride-hailing-driver access to charging, especially in locations that may have considerable cost barriers or real estate access challenges. Improving access to charging is a concrete way to accelerate EV adoption and give MDU residents and ride-hailing drivers the opportunity to be part of the transition to cleaner transportation.
Given that the technology and deployment strategies for curbside charging are now readily available, increased coordination between cities, utilities, and station providers will be key towards making curbside charging a reality.
¹John Schroeder, Edward J. Klock-McCook, Shenshen Li, Ross McLane, and Dave Mullaney, EV Charging for All: How Electrifying Ride-hailing Can Spur Investment in a More Equitable EV Charging Network, RMI, 2021, http://www.rmi.org/insight/EV-charging-for-all. Page 14.
² California Department of Housing & Community Development. California’s Housing Future: Challenges & Opportunities. Feb. 2018. Page 15.
³National Apartment Association. U.S. Needs 4.6 Million Apartments by 2030 or It Will Face a Serious Shortage. Accessed July 2021 <United States Needs 4.6 Million New Apartments By 2030 or It Will Face A Serious Shortage | National Apartment Association (naahq.org)>
4 California Energy Commission. Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Assessment. January 2021. Page 31.
5 Census in Brief: Dwellings in Canada. May 2017. Accessed July 2021. <Census in Brief: Dwellings in Canada, Census year 2016 (statcan.gc.ca)>
6 John Schroeder, Edward J. Klock-McCook, Shenshen Li, Ross McLane, and Dave Mullaney, EV Charging for All: How Electrifying Ride-hailing Can Spur Investment in a More Equitable EV Charging Network, RMI, 2021, http://www.rmi.org/insight/EV-charging-for-all. Page 13.
7 Nicholas, M., Slowik, P., and Lutsey, N. Charging Infrastructure to Support Electric Ride-hailing in U.S. Cities. March 2020. Page 2.
8 California Air Resources Board. Proposed Clean Miles Standard Regulation Initial Statement of Reasons. March 2021. Page 13.
9 Nicholas, M., Slowik, P., and Lutsey, N. Charging Infrastructure to Support Electric Ride-hailing in U.S. Cities. ICCT. March 2020. Page 6.
10 John Schroeder, Edward J. Klock-McCook, Shenshen Li, Ross McLane, and Dave Mullaney, EV Charging for All: How Electrifying Ride-hailing Can Spur Investment in a More Equitable EV Charging Network, RMI, 2021, http://www.rmi.org/insight/EV-charging-for-all. Page 14.
11 John Schroeder, Edward J. Klock-McCook, Shenshen Li, Ross McLane, and Dave Mullaney, EV Charging for All: How Electrifying Ride-hailing Can Spur Investment in a More Equitable EV Charging Network, RMI, 2021, http://www.rmi.org/insight/EV-charging-for-all. Page 17.
12 Hunt, J. & McKearnen, S. Accelerating Ride-Hailing Electrification: Challenges, Opportunities, and Options for State Action. December 2020. Page 3.
13 John Schroeder, Edward J. Klock-McCook, Shenshen Li, Ross McLane, and Dave Mullaney, EV Charging for All: How Electrifying Ride-hailing Can Spur Investment in a More Equitable EV Charging Network, RMI, 2021, http://www.rmi.org/insight/EV-charging-for-all. Page 35.