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The US Should Follow Germany’s Lead in Building Curbside EV Charging

Francesco Radicati
Oct 19, 2023

Charging station for electric vehicle

While on holiday in Munich in September, I noticed an interesting feature of the neighborhood where I was staying: curbside chargers for EVs along the street, with two or three cars plugged in at each charging station. The brands I see at home in California were plugged into them—Teslas, Volkswagens, and Polestars, among others. Their owners were able to plug in and pay for both parking and charging, which seems an ideal solution to boost EV uptake in urban areas, both in the US and in other parts of Europe.

These curbside chargers don’t exist in my town, and indeed are rare throughout the US, to the point of being almost nonexistent. EVs are especially popular where I live, but the options for charging them are either in your own private garage or at the chargers that have started to spring up in parking lots and outside stores or malls.

Not All Drivers Have Access to Private Charging Options

That’s all fine for an affluent suburb in Silicon Valley, where most homes are single-family dwellings with the ability to install high speed charging in a private garage. However, most people don’t live in that kind of housing: dense urban areas don’t tend to have much individual private parking, for example, while even suburban condominiums and apartment complexes often don’t accommodate charging for individual garages or parking spaces. Also, residential Level 2 chargers can reach over $1,800 in price, making them difficult to afford for many drivers.

The other factor to consider is used cars. While US consumers buy around 17 million new cars a year, used car sales are typically around 3 times higher. To fully electrify the US fleet, EVs have to become more attractive to this large pool of used car buyers, many of whom would have to rely on public charging, as it’s estimated that only around 37% of renters have access to a garage or carport. Curbside charging is a potential solution for these drivers, who could plug in their cars overnight without having to pay as much as they would for DC fast charging (Level 3).

Curbside Charging Could Become a Net Metering Proposition

Offerings aimed primarily at curbside charging are emerging. For example, the company itselectric launched a pilot program in Brooklyn, NY, in April 2023 to install six Level 2 curbside chargers at various points in the city. Itselectric, which has received funding from Hyundai’s investment arm, Cradle, allows property owners to apply for chargers on their property’s curb and takes care of permitting, installation, and maintenance.

The process is likely to be expensive, as it requires cutting through the sidewalk and linking to the property to connect a circuit, but itselectric says it can be profitable with as little as 20% utilization. The other inducement for property owners is that they could earn money back from other itselectric members using their charger, similarly to net metering from rooftop solar. The question of scale remains, however. A single property owner may not be able to install multiple chargers, so a block or neighborhood would have to share just one.

To solve these issues, state or local governments should work with companies like itselectric to determine where to place chargers, using hosting capacity analysis for distributed energy resources to determine density. They could also work with parking payment solutions providers like SKIDATA to integrate charging and payment functions into a single piece of hardware. Building codes could influence charger distribution as well—for example, by requiring them in many multifamily dwellings. Taking a holistic view and building infrastructure where it will be needed in the future should provide the incentive for more drivers to switch to EVs, safe in the knowledge that they’ll always be able to charge their cars.