“Garage Orphans” & City Governments, A Problem That Can Be Solved

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An article last month in Slate tells the story of a family with no garage and no driveway, but who managed to get an EV charger installed at the curb. But it was a Pyrrhic victory. It took not only the usual parts and labor for Level 2 charging, but also required a year of negotiating and $15,000 in fees. The couple shared their story because they wanted other people to know that it’s possible to get a charging station put in, but if anything, this story shows us that something needs to change to enable mass adoption of EVs.

The Problem Is A Big One, & We Can’t Ignore It

If only 1 in 10 households faced this challenge, it would be a big speedbump to mass adoption of EVs, but it’s even worse than that. 36% of US households rent their housing and don’t own it. Many others who own their house, and can thus legally make the decision to install EV charging, don’t park their car in a driveway or garage. Some people live in a typical suburban home, but their property doesn’t include parking. Many others live in a condo or own an apartment in a large city, and thus have to park their cars in a rented space somewhere.

It’s hard to find good, current figures for this, but more than a third of US households, along with numbers that are likely much higher globally, can’t just put a charging station in at home.

While we’re pushing for more public charging infrastructure, more tax credits and rebates, and other things to increase production and usability, this factor alone will likely stop the EV revolution dead in its tracks, and probably only about half way through the adoption process. So, if we want to get nearly all cars to be electric, we had better look at ways we can either address this or bypass it.

One Important Question We Must Ask First: Are EVs The Solution In All Cities?

I’m not going to argue for the continued use of gas-powered cars, but it would be irresponsible to not ask whether this is an opportunity to do even better than EVs in some cities.

As we know, cars are still an issue, even if you make them electric. Congestion is a big one, and even if you automate vehicles, you’ll still spend time sitting in traffic that you could spend doing something else. Space for parking takes up a huge chunk of many cities, even their most urbanized cores. Traffic deaths are also still a problem, and one that’s fed by poor street design in many places.

In some places where a large portion of the driving public just can’t put in a charger, the answer may be to work toward alternative forms of transportation instead of electrifying the problem. Obviously, in many places this just isn’t going to happen, but in the places where it can, it probably should.

Cities Need To Enable EV Charging Instead of Impeding It

Everywhere else, cities should be aggressively working to make sure they not only stop being part of the problem, but become a big part of the solution.

To stop being part of the problem, they need to streamline and lower the cost of adding charging to street parking in front of one’s home. There should be blanket permission, but standard practices for people looking to install a charging station on the curb. The blanket permission would make it a lot less expensive and discouraging, but standard practices can keep the new charging pedestals from being a problem. In other words, the policy should be, “If you follow these rules, you don’t need to ask for permission.”

There are many people who won’t be able to install their own street charging, and cities need to do better at providing for those needs. Apartment complexes should be required to supply a certain percentage of parking spaces with charging, either with a commercial charging solution that bills the driver, or assigned spaces with a metered NEMA 14-50 plug and a lockable box. Streetpole charging stations and other public charging stations in neighborhoods that don’t have driveways would be another great way to provide charging. Finally, parking garages should be subject to similar rules as apartments.

Finally, we can’t discount the role of workplace charging. Not only is this a great opportunity for people without home charging to get some juice, but it can also be directly solar-powered to maximize efficiency and minimize conversion losses.

Nobody wants to give people free fuel, so these stations should all have some method of billing the driver for their electricity use, plus a small amount extra to fund maintenance and repay the cost of installation. Even if a city or business thinks it’s a great idea to provide free charging, it’s a good idea to have the ability to change your mind later.

Micromobility Needs To Be Included

While commercial rental micromobility vehicles should find their own power sources, charging for people who own their own e-bikes, scooters, and other devices is also important. Along with better infrastructure (usually protected lanes or dedicated paths), there needs to be charging and secure storage available at transit stations. This alone could make it a lot easier for someone to want to risk leaving a $2000-5000 bike somewhere.

It should also be easy for people using scooters, e-bikes, and other things to charge, even at apartment complexes. Cities can create mandates in this area as well.

States & The Federal Government Need To Do This, Too

Cities are obviously going to be the epicenter of this kind of policy, but states and the federal government should be contributing, too. Funding is, of course, going to be a big part of making this happen, but states can also pass preemption laws that require cities to cooperate with EV drivers. A state can have great policies in place to encourage EV adoption, but if cities are being butts about the installation of charging, it’s the state’s responsibility to step in and make them do the right thing on this. Under the heavily-stretched commerce clause, the federal government does have some authority to set standards, too.

None of this at any level is going to happen if we don’t do something to fight for it, though.

Solar Vehicles Are Part of The Solution

Image provided by Aptera.

One final thing to mention is that we also need to be working to make EVs that are less dependent on electric grids. Companies like Aptera and Sono, which are offering on-vehicle solar charging that can add a useful amount of range, are leading the way here. This requires efficiency, and will improve as solar cells become more efficient, but it’s starting to be a viable solution.

In Aptera’s case, the need for charging could be extremely rare if you use less power than the solar panels add to the battery pack during the day. This means that every day, you’re saving up a little bit of power for the days when the sun isn’t so great. With up to 1,000 miles of range, you can accumulate “rollover miles” that can cover you for a good number of rainy days. So yes, being mostly grid-independent really is possible.

If we can not only improve access to charging, but generate less need for it, we could tackle this problem.

Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1953 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba