In October 2018, the United States saw electric vehicle sales pass the 1 million mark. While it may have taken 8 years to hit this elusive milestone, the projected momentum is finally here and heating up fast.
Indeed, the numbers suggest the future of EV is bright. Inside EV reported that over 360,000 electric vehicles were sold in the United States in 2018, a dramatic increase from just below 200,000 in 2017. By 2022, Bloomberg estimates that 289 EV models will be on the market, up from 155 in 2017. A report from the Institute for Electric Innovation and Edison Electric Institute projects that in a mere three years, we will see an additional million EVs on the road.
As technology improves, prices decrease, and automakers devote more and more of their fleets to EV, those numbers will only continue to rise. By the year 2030, the Institute for Electric Innovation and Edison Electric Institute report estimates we will need 9.6 million charging ports to support over 18 million EVs. However, what that means for parking and mobility infrastructure is less easy to predict.
With over half of the country’s EV sales and over 30 percent of public charging infrastructure, California is leading the electric vehicle charge. Across the state, over 7.1 percent of new car sales are electric. In Palo Alto, home of Tesla, that number is a whopping 30 percent. California’s plan to accommodate this influx of electric vehicles and support it with infrastructure has been a learning process that can serve as a valuable case study for the rest of the country.
Across the state, code requires that residential developments must provide 3 percent and nonresidential must provide 6 percent of parking spaces built to accommodate EVs. In some cities, that requirement is considerably higher. San Francisco requires parking for new residential development be 100 percent EV compatible.
While setting ambitious requirements have helped pave the way for the infrastructure needed to support EVs, the road has not been without a few speedbumps. In some cases, stricter requirements have made it a challenge to remain flexible with new and emerging charging technologies. More efficient solutions for less conventional parking methods like valet, mechanical, and automated parking are also in demand. Other states may be able to learn from California’s experiences to create a smoother implementation process.
One barrier to increasing EV infrastructure is cost. Charging stations and electrical capacity add significantly to the cost of a project. This can create a disincentive for owners, especially in areas where EV adoption has been slower to catch on. Design requirements such as those found in California have been a driving force for change.
In the heart of Silicon Valley, where tech companies have proven to be willing adopters, providing EV charging for employees brings up another challenge: how to use charging stations efficiently. When EVs are parked in the same spot for extended periods, cars that are charged but not moved result in a charger that isn’t being utilized. One solution is to implement duel chargers, which can charge two cars at the same time. Other systems can share a charger among multiple cars by charging one and then moving the charger cable to another. Another solution is to create greater efficiency by utilizing Level 3 charging stations, known as DC fast chargers, as opposed to the more common Level 2.
Level 2 charging stations operate on a 240V AC plug and require 4 to 6 hours to fully charge an electric battery. A DC fast charger, however, operates on a 480v direct current plug and can provide an 80 percent charge in as little as 30 minutes. This increased charging capability combined with a valet program that moves cars to new parking spaces once they have finished charging ensures that a greater number of cars can be charged at each station throughout the day.
While the DC fast chargers incur greater upfront costs, when operated properly they can be more cost efficient than Level 2 charging. The downside is more limited compatibility. While Level 2 chargers are compatible with all electric and plug-in hybrids, an industry standard has not yet been established for DC fast chargers. Electrical capacity is another issue. Especially at a workplace or residential development, EV chargers experience peak loads that at certain times of days create imbalanced and inefficient electricity needs. Load management options that provide more electrical power to cars with a lower charge and trickle charge those that are closer to full can use power more efficiently and thereby reduce costs.
Dense, urban city centers that are turning to mechanical and automated solutions to create efficient parking solutions are now challenged with how to make these systems compatible with EV charging. In cases where a car is parked on a pallet or lift — and remains on the same pallet regardless of where it is stored — an EV charging station can be added to the pallet. Fully automated garages that move cars without a pallet pose a bigger challenge, as the space is often for storage only. There is no human occupancy other than for repairs and maintenance. Therefore, a human is not present to connect a charging cable. A lack of a universal standard both for EV charging ports and their location on a given vehicle adds another layer of complication. For EV charging to be compatible with a mechanical or automated parking system, it must be inherently flexible and adaptable.
Driverless cars will pose another charging challenge. Without human handlers, an alternative means will be needed to charge an autonomous vehicle. Hyundai recently unveiled a charging concept that uses an automated valet parking system to charge driverless vehicles. While solutions for these challenges are in development, we still have a long way to go.
Wireless charging could open the door to a whole new method of charging EVs by eliminating the need for charging stations all together. For example, in 2017, Qualcom demonstrated a wireless dynamic electric vehicle charging system that allows vehicles to charge while driving. The ability to charge without stopping at a charging station would pose a tremendous advantage for autonomous ridesharing and taxi fleets. It could also potentially shift or eliminate the need to integrate EV into parking design. As the technology itself is still a long way off from being commercially viable, such a transformation isn’t likely anytime soon. If and when it does become available, the cost, efficiency and speed benefits of wired cables probably will not be rendered obsolete much in the same way that most cell phone users still rely on wired charging technology despite the availability of wireless.
However, it’s an important reminder that without a crystal ball, the only thing we know for sure about the future of electric vehicles is that change is coming. As the EV industry continues to take shape, parking professionals and their companies need to be prepared to adapt to whatever that future brings.