Blog post by Ilana Williams, Montgomery County Climate 2023 Summer Intern and Xiang Xiang Fang, Montgomery County Climate 2023 Fellow
Switching from gasoline to electric vehicles is one of the most impactful actions that residents can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help Montgomery County reach its climate goals. EVs can reduce GHG emissions by 75% or more and save drivers thousands of dollars in fuel and maintenance costs; however, the current lack of reliable EV charging infrastructure, especially for residents that don’t have the option of charging at home, is a huge barrier to widespread EV adoption.
According to a survey released by the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), one of the most important things the County must do to meet its climate goals is to expand EV charging so all drivers have access to reliable charging infrastructure that meets their needs. Some of the most important locations include multi-family properties, retail locations, and sites that support charging on the daily commute, such as highways, major corridors, workplaces, and public parking facilities.
How much more charging infrastructure do we need? A lot more. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory released its 2030 National Charging Network study in June 2023 that evaluates the estimated number, type and location of the chargers needed nationwide to support electric vehicle (EV) adoption. Based on this analysis and current EV adoption trends, the number of public charging ports in the County may need to increase from around 600 ports to over 3,000 by 2027 when over 80,000 plug-in vehicles are expected to be registered in Montgomery County.
DEP is developing an EV charging plan to help guide County agencies, local governments, and private organizations on how to prioritize investments and develop supportive policies. To better understand public perspectives and preferences on this topic, DEP released a survey from February-June 2023 which consisted of 12 questions and covered topics including key principles to guide government officials, locations that are most important for EV charging and what features should be included at charging sites. This article summarizes the main findings.
The survey received 592 responses. Among survey participants, 71% of respondents live in Montgomery County, 20% work within the County, and the remaining 9% fall into other categories (i.e., own/manage rental housing in the County, public officials or policy makers, management of EV charging equipment, EV charger committee member). 52% of respondents currently drive a plug-in vehicle while approximately 39% are planning to get a plug-in vehicle in the next 12 months or are interested in getting one in the next few years.
To guide Montgomery County’s EV charging strategy, participants were asked to rate their support for five principles on a support scale. The principles included:
The proposed principles received high levels of strong support (73% or higher). The principle that received the highest level of strong support was Experience – public charging should have high standards for reliability and user experience.
DEP suggested ways to measure success and asked respondents to choose up to five that were most important. The top five metrics when measuring success were:
Over 70% of respondents would like more information on where to find existing community EV charging stations, planned locations of new EV charging stations, as well as incentives, grants, and other ways to save money. Both current and prospective EV drivers had similar levels of need for information in those areas.
Interestingly, prospective EV drivers expressed more need for information on different types of EV charging, EV charging safety and best practices, and the process to install EV charging at their property, prospective EV drivers were more likely to state they wanted more information than current EV drivers. This finding suggests that information on those topics may help residents overcome barriers to going electric.
EV charging can be located at many different locations that serve different purposes. Some of these include the locations in the figure below.
Respondents were asked what locations the County should prioritize in EV charging, and to choose one or two priority locations from a given list. The top priorities were 1) multi-unit communities, 2) retail locations, 3) commuting corridors, 4) highways, 5) workplaces.
DEP received 620 recommendations for specific EV charging locations in Montgomery County. The most popular responses were shopping centers, grocery stores, and malls, parks and recreation centers, libraries, and parking garages and metro stops. When comparing suggested locations to existing locations, it is clear that more charging is needed even in areas where charging stations already exists.
See all the specific locations that were recommended on DEP’s EV Infrastructure Planning Map
There are three types of EV chargers:
Level 1: Chargers use standard 120V outlets. Supplies about 5 miles of range for every hour of charging. Charging overnight provides 40 miles of range.
Level 2: Chargers use 240V outlets and supplies about 25 miles of range for every hour of charge.
Level 3/Direct Current (DC) Fast charging: use high-powered 480V circuits for rapid EV charging. These chargers are only found at public charging stations and can supply 40 miles of charge in 10 minutes.
The survey asked respondents which type of charger is more suitable at different locations. The top responses included DC fast charging for highways, retail, and food service; Level 2 charging at colleges and training facilities and workplaces; and Level 1 charging at K-12 schools, park-and-ride, and other multi-modal transit hubs.
Respondents strongly supported the principle that the County should ensure high standards for user experience and reliability at public charging stations. To understand more about what supports a good experience, DEP asked which features or amenities are most important.
The top responses were:
Other options include handicap accessibility, solar panels, Wi-Fi, seating area, battery storage and pull-through parking for trailers.
Survey participants provided a variety of feedback and recommendations about EV charging in Montgomery County. Some feedback included providing financial incentives and subsidies for EVs and EV charging, creating policies that would allow chargers at multi-unit housing, and installing chargers at gas stations and public areas.
“As much as I would love to move forward with an EV purchase, the lack of access to a charging station is an obstacle I cannot overcome right now,” a respondent said.
Additional feedback included free charging for the first one or two hours, enforcement for drivers who park in charging spaces when they don’t need to charge and spread-out chargers for long-distance drives.
“EV charging is too concentrated in the same areas,” another respondent said. “It needs to be spread out and more walkable to residential areas rather than just downtown areas.”
On the other hand, a handful of respondents expressed that other community concerns should be a higher priority over government-supported EV charging, such as improving education, expanding public transportation, and making neighborhoods safer.
Key concepts to guide the County’s EV charging strategy include high standards for reliability and user experience in public charging, expanding charging infrastructure and widespread availability of EV charging at County government locations and public spaces. Priority investment should include multi-family communities, retail locations and community corridors. Specific locations for EV chargers include shopping centers, grocery stores, malls, parks and recreation, and libraries.
In addition, the County needs to provide more information for infrastructure plans, incentives, and grants. It is important to adopt a targeted approach in delivering information to different groups based on their informational needs and levels of familiarity with EV charging-related topics.
As stated in our Climate Action Plan, if the County wants to address our climate emergency, the County needs to accelerate its adoption of zero-emission vehicles with all resources and tools made available to meet that need.