Electric cars pose new challenges for renters

Renters often do not have access to private garages to charge their electric vehicles, forcing them to find other ways to charge their car.

PORTLAND, Ore — Stephanie Terrell bought a used Nissan Leaf this fall and was thrilled to join the wave of drivers embracing electric vehicles to save on gas and reduce her carbon footprint.

But Terrell soon encountered an obstacle in the road on her journey to clean driving: as a renter, she doesn’t have a private garage where she can charge overnight, and nearby public charging stations are often used, with a long wait. time. Recently, the 23-year-old nearly ran out of power on the highway because a public charging station she was relying on was busy.

“It was really scary and I was really scared that I wouldn’t make it, but luckily I made it here. Now I have to wait a few hours to even use it because I can’t go any further,” she said as she waited at another station where half a dozen EV drivers circled the parking lot waiting for their turn. “I feel better than buying gas, but there’s has some issues that I didn’t really anticipate.”

The great transition to electric vehicles is underway for owners of single-family homes who can charge their cars at home, but for millions of renters like Terrell, access to charging remains a significant barrier. People who rent are also more likely to buy used electric vehicles that have less range than the latest models, making reliable public charging even more essential for them.

Today, cities from Portland to Los Angeles to New York are trying to come up with innovative public charging solutions as drivers roll up power cords on sidewalks, install their own private charging stations on rights-of-way town and line up at public facilities. .

Last month, the Biden administration approved plans by all 50 states to roll out a network of high-speed chargers along interstate highways from coast to coast using $5 billion in federal funding over the course of of the next five years. But states must wait to apply for an additional $2.5 billion in local grants to fill pricing gaps, including in low- and middle-income areas of cities and in neighborhoods with limited private parking.

“We have a very big challenge right now to make it easier for people who live in apartments to charge,” said Jeff Allen, executive director of Forth, a nonprofit that advocates for equity in vehicle ownership. electricity and access to charging.

“There is a change in mentality that cities need to make to understand that promoting electric cars is also part of their sustainable transport strategy. Once they’ve made that mental shift, there’s a whole bunch of very tangible things they can – and should – do.”

The fastest place to charge is a fast charger, also called DC Fast. These charge a car in 20 to 45 minutes. But slower chargers that take several hours, known as Level 2, still outnumber fast DC chargers by almost four to one, although their numbers are growing. Charging an electric vehicle on a standard residential outlet, or a Level 1 charger, is impractical unless you drive little or can leave the car plugged in overnight, as many owners can.

Across the country, there are approximately 120,000 public charging ports offering Level 2 or better charging, and nearly 1.5 million registered electric vehicles in the United States – a ratio of just over one charger. for 12 cars nationwide, according to the latest data from the US Department of Transportation for December. 2021. But those chargers aren’t evenly distributed: in Arizona, for example, the ratio of electric vehicles to charging ports is 18 to one, and in California, which has about 39% of the nation’s electric vehicles, there are has 16 zero-emission vehicles. for each charging port.

A briefing prepared for the US Department of Energy last year by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory projects a total of just under 19 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030, with a projected need for 9, 6 million additional charging stations to meet this demand.

In Los Angeles, for example, almost a quarter of all new vehicles registered in July were plug-in electric vehicles. The city estimates that over the next 20 years it will need to expand its distribution capacity by 25% to 50%, with about two-thirds of new energy demand coming from electric vehicles, said Yamen Nanne, director of the Los Angeles department. Water and Power Transportation Electrification Program.

Amid the boom, dense urban neighborhoods are quickly becoming pressure points in the uneven transition to electrification.

In Los Angeles, the city has installed more than 500 electric vehicle chargers – 450 on streetlights and about 50 on utility poles – to meet demand and aims to add 200 utility pole chargers per year, said Nan. The chargers are strategically placed in areas where there are apartment complexes or near amenities, he said.

The city currently has 18,000 commercial chargers — those not in private homes — but only about 3,000 are publicly available and only 400 of them are DC Fast chargers, Nanne said. The demand is so high that “when we put a publicly available charger on the market, we don’t even have to advertise. People see it and start using it,” he said.

“We’re doing really well in terms of chargers that go into workplaces, but the publicly accessible ones are where there’s a lot of room to catch up. Every city is struggling with this.

Similar initiatives to install pole-mounted chargers are in place or being considered in cities ranging from New York to Charlotte, North Carolina, to Kansas City, Missouri. Utility Seattle City Light is also in the early stages of a pilot project to install chargers in neighborhoods where people cannot charge at home.

Mark Long, who lives in a houseboat in Seattle’s Portage Bay, has rented or owned an electric vehicle since 2015 and charges at public stations — and sometimes charges at an outside outlet at a nearby office and reimburses the cost.

“We have a small charging area, but we all park on the street,” said Long, who hopes to have one of the utility’s chargers installed for his floating community. “I’ve definitely been in a few situations where I’m down at 15, 14, 12 miles and…no matter what I had planned, I’m suddenly focused on getting a charge.

Other cities, like Portland, are working to change building codes for new construction to require electrified parking spaces for new apartment complexes and mixed-use developments. A proposal in the works would require 50% of parking spaces in most new multi-family homes to have electrical conduit that could support future charging stations. In complexes with six spaces or less, all parking spaces should be pre-wired for electric vehicle charging.

Policies that provide equal access to charging are essential because with tax incentives and the emergence of a robust market for used electric vehicles, zero-emission cars are finally within the financial reach of low-income drivers, said Portland Transportation Manager Ingrid Fish. decarbonization program.

“We hope that if we do our job well, these vehicles will become more and more accessible and affordable for people, especially those who have been driven out of the city center” by rising rents and do not have easy access. to public transportation, Fish said.

The initiatives mimic those that have already been rolled out in other countries that are much further along in the adoption of electric vehicles.

Globally, by 2030, more than 6 million public charging stations will be needed to support the adoption of electric vehicles at a rate that keeps international emissions targets within reach, according to a recent study by the International Council on Clean Transportation. As of this year, the Netherlands and Norway have already installed enough public charging stations to satisfy 45% and 38% of this demand respectively, while the United States currently has less than 10%, according to the study. , which examined electrification in 17 countries and government entities that account for more than half of global car sales.

Some European cities are far ahead of even the most power-savvy American cities. London, for example, has 4,000 public chargers on streetlights. It’s much cheaper – only a third of the cost of wiring a curbside charging station, said Vishant Kothari, e-mobility team leader at the World Resources Institute.

But London and Los Angeles have an advantage over many US cities: their streetlights run on 240 volts, better for EV charging. Most streetlights in U.S. cities run on 120 volts, which takes hours to charge a vehicle, said Kothari, co-author of a study on the potential for pole-top charging in U.S. cities.

This means that cities considering pole-top charging must also come up with other solutions, from zoning changes to making charging available in apartment complex parking lots to policies that encourage fast on-site charging. work.

There also needs to “be a will from the city, from public services – policies need to be in place for curbside accessibility,” he said. “So there are quite a few complications.”

The changes can’t come fast enough for renters who already own electric vehicles and struggle to charge them.

Rebecca DeWhitt rents a house but is not allowed to use the garage. For several years, she and her partner strung a standard 12-meter (40-foot) extension cord from an outlet near the front door of the house, on their lawn, on a grassy knoll, and on a public sidewalk. to reach their Nissan Leaf on the street.

They upgraded to a thicker extension cord and began to pull into the driveway – also a violation of their rental agreement – ​​when their first cord charred under the electric vehicle’s load. They always use their home socket and it takes up to two days to fully charge their new Hyundai Kona. Right now, their best alternative for a full charge is a nearby grocery store, which can mean a long wait for one of the two fast-charging stations to open.

“It’s embarrassing,” she said. “And if we weren’t enjoying having an electric vehicle so much, we wouldn’t be in the pain.”

Camille Fassett, Associated Press climate data reporter in Denver, AP video reporters Eugene Garcia in Los Angeles and Haven Daley in San Francisco, and AP business writer Courtney Bonnell in London contributed to this report.