Recently, I wrote a post about Reno, Nevada, mostly capturing insights from The City podcasts that tell the tale of Reno long before and also after the Tesla Gigafactory came to town. Why and how did Reno win the Gigafactory?
Journalist Robin Amer of The City wrote that, although Elon Musk came to love the wild horses in the area, they are not what pulled Tesla in. “Something much more fundamental—something much more Old Reno—influenced his decision. Freedom. The same freedom that fueled Old Reno’s vice-based economy of quick divorces and legal gambling, well, it’s attractive to corporate America, too. No income taxes. Lightning-fast project approvals.”
The rapid ability to pierce through the red tape helps all kinds of businesses, brothels, Tesla, etc*.
In other areas, bureaucracy poses problems such as hidden costs and slower development for other parts of the EV ecosystem, as the Rocky Mountain Institute notes in a new report. The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) published a report and article, “Reducing EV Charging Infrastructure Costs,” that finds that there are significant “soft costs” that need to be reduced to achieve more good, affordable EV infrastructure in the US. There are the costs of permitting delays, utility interconnection requests, and “a balkanized framework of regulations.” We need an EV charging infrastructure everywhere in the US — not just Reno or wild west–like areas — to bypass the red tape.
Additionally, yes, this is more of a US issue than a global one. Despite the common framing, in comparison, Europe does much better on this topic. The RMI article authors believe that these soft costs are considerably higher in the US, a major reason why installation costs are a much larger share of the cost of installing EV chargers in the United States than they are in Europe.
Misinformation, incorrect information in the US drove costs higher again, as projects needed re-engineering.
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The Cost Conundrum
The RMI report’s suggestion is to conduct a comprehensive soft cost analysis. The authors’ point is that the combined and sustained efforts of the US Department of Energy, multiple US national laboratories, and nongovernmental organizations, including RMI, just as in the solar industry, are what is necessary for correct information. The combined efforts to come up with comprehensive findings on solar projects’ soft costs and how they could be reduced were a great help in lowering those costs. The authors believe that it will take a similar level of effort to understand the soft costs of EV charging infrastructure and how they can be reduced.
The report highlights that the mystery of what happened to this or that EV charging project is often found in the soft costs. “The experts we interviewed frequently cited soft costs as some of the largest and most unpredictable costs that developers of charging networks encounter, saying they are often the reason why a candidate site for a charging station is rejected or abandoned, even after significant costs have been incurred.”
One top solution is presented here: “EXPEDITE PERMITTING: One of the nearly universal complaints we heard from EVSPs was about a lack of clear guidance in meeting the requirements for obtaining a building permit and slow processes for getting approval. By deliberately trying to meet the needs of charging site builders, municipal building and planning departments can help reduce soft costs.”
You can download the full report easily here.
*The rapid development and growth came with challenges, too. One of the biggest problems in Reno with regard to the Tesla Gigafactory is area health care. The rapid change due to the easy permitting processes meant emergency health care capacity was lacking for the increase in population. The other issue was lack of housing and ruthless landlords taking over and taking advantage of people — because they could.
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