By Tim Miller and Diane Newton, Contributing Authors
The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) generated historic investment in transportation infrastructure. The law included a focus on emerging technology and solutions to make our transportation system safer and cleaner.
The National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) program exemplifies this investment. It provides $7.5 billion for electric vehicles (EV) and other alternative fuel infrastructure across the nation.
NEVI prioritizes Direct Current Fast Charging (DCFC) stations along states’ alternative fuel corridors (AFCs). These stations are positioned every 50 miles in an AFC and within one mile of the corridor. They provide a minimum of four charging ports and can provide 150 kilowatts (kW) to all ports simultaneously.
States nominate their own AFC corridors and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) officially designates the corridors.
NEVI also includes requirements to comply with multiple federal procurement laws. States not only must address these federal regulations but also must implement EV projects in accordance with program rules and their state laws.
In 2022, all 50 states were required to submit and receive approval for NEVI implementation plans. All plans were approved last September, and the states are now leading a five-year effort to implement their planned programs.
Aside from its complexities and the related overarching regulations, the NEVI program allows states to contract with private entities to design, construct, operate, and maintain the charging infrastructure. This network is expanding rapidly as new companies enter the industry and get ‘plugged into’ grant-funded efforts at both the state and local levels.
Many of these private contractors have not previously done business with departments of transportation (DOT). To support procurement, state DOTs that administer NEVI grant funding must provide education about the processes these companies must follow.
NEVI also requires a five-year commitment to operate and maintain the infrastructure. DOTs face the uncertainty that newer, unproven private entities will be able to successfully support NEVI projects long term.
State DOTs and outside consultants have been partnering to create EV strategic plans and conduct EV-related outreach and engagement with private contractors. This allows agencies the opportunity to leverage connections across the EV charging industry, including with electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) companies, electrical contractors, and utility providers.
National Infrastructure Buildout Challenges
Research by Argonne National Laboratories, Purdue University, and others indicate that EV adoption is accelerating beyond even the most optimistic predictions from several years ago.
From 2018 to 2022, projections for United States EV sales in 2030 more than doubled, according to data from Boston Consulting Group. Likewise, aggressive goals are being set at the federal and state levels. For example, President Biden’s goal of having 50% of all new vehicle sales be electric by 2030 and California’s requirement that all new cars sold in 2035 and beyond are zero-emission.
As EV adoption increases, so do consumer expectations of a robust charging system. To date, stations are not predictably located, and power levels and availability are not reliable.
One of the NEVI program’s major aims is to build a national network of 500 thousand DCFC – not just the stations themselves, but a fully reliable and sustainable infrastructure.
To be interoperable, NEVI needs a common charging standard (CCS) connector that provides a consistent consumer experience. In addition, aligned with NEVI’s goal to create a charging station network that facilitates long trips, DCFC that provides 150 kW of power at multiple ports simultaneously is required.
States will need to develop site standards, as well as EVSE design criteria and requirements to ensure the infrastructure is designed and installed to the highest industry standards. Emerging best practices will provide guidance on local jurisdiction policies—including zoning, permitting, and code—to help DOTs streamline development and implementation processes.
Charging stations have not achieved a consistent level of reliability. A station advertised as fast charging may receive less than 150 kW of power from the utility provider, increasing the time for a vehicle to receive a full charge.
The NEVI program works to solve reliability issues through robust requirements. Per the final NEVI program rules, all stations and charging ports must maintain at least a 97% uptime. NEVI includes networking and reporting requirements to monitor each station’s operations and availability, and the program enables states to fund five years of operations and maintenance to ensure consistency throughout the program.
As a Justice40 program, NEVI requires that 40% of all program benefits be directed at disadvantaged communities. In siting stations, states will need to regard socio-demographic factors and be intentionally inclusive of transportation-disadvantaged stakeholders, as well as considering technical aspects, site assessments, and availability of the necessary utility power supply.
A focus on workforce and economic development will help DOTs maximize their NEVI programs’ economic benefits. The use of interactive equity, engagement dashboards, and maps can help project teams identify disparities or inequities in the implementation process and make necessary adjustments to ensure equitable outcomes for all communities.
To ensure the long-term success of EVSE infrastructure, states must analyze capital investments and ongoing operations and maintenance lifecycle expenses. This will give states a comprehensive understanding of their total infrastructure ownership costs.
The adoption of EVs also will necessitate analysis of and ongoing decisions around road tax revenue, road usage charge (RUC) models, and utility regulatory policy options. Consultants with expertise in EV policy can help state DOTs navigate these complex regulatory environments and identify sustainable funding models.
Existing supply chain delays for EVSE has been amplified because each state is undertaking NEVI projects at the same time. The result: 12-to-24-month lead times for required charging station components.
States will be challenged to balance expectations for when EV corridors will be built, while also factoring these supply chain delays into project schedules.
Stranded assets is another risk. This could result from EV adoption dipping below expectations without grant dollars being able to support the built infrastructure or from technology evolution making charging stations obsolete.
DOTs’ interests will be served by partnering with industry experts who constantly monitor EV technology advancements, communicate leading-edge innovations, and can assist with incorporating future-proofing requirements into procurement documents.
As state DOTs pursue NEVI funding and implement projects, a focus on key components of EV charging infrastructure will be critical to success.
These areas include:
- Collaborative relationships: This list could comprise of grant administrators and local stakeholder agencies that participate in delivering projects, as well as EVSE vendors, original equipment manufacturers, utilities, and electrical contractors who will support implementation and operations. A framework could include offering vendor registries, hosting vendor days, and providing communications and educational opportunities for doing business with the state. By establishing these relationships, DOTs will gain insights on costs, procurement, scoring, scheduling, and operations and maintenance.
- Data management: Successful design of the data management framework necessary to gather, clean, integrate, and model the information needed to report required reliability and engagement metrics. Data gathered and integrated from multiple sources will help DOTs stand up reliable monitoring and reporting on established metrics.
- Equity and public engagement: The federal government has not said how it defines NEVI’s required Justice40 benefits, so states must decide how they will define, measure, and deliver on those requirements.
- EV design and delivery: This accounts for the development of guidelines and design criteria, full site engineering, and construction project management. Some of these considerations are simple, like thinking through the length of the charging cord and its configuration and making sure it doesn’t create a tripping hazard. Others, like ensuring that the right level of power will be consistently available at the site, are more complex. Reviewing local deployments across the country may provide state DOTs with insights on the variables that impact design and delivery.
- Program administration: Compliance is key, but NEVI’s final rules sometimes differ from existing state processes. NEVI indicates that states should use their standard construction services procurement processes. However, because most charging stations will not be located on public rights-of-way, states may have to modify their traditional procurement methods in ways that balance the federal and state requirements.
Next Steps for States
Transportation is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. But, with the availability of funding through programs like NEVI, the focus on clean transportation will only increase in the coming years.
NEVI is not a siloed program. Funding is available through the IIJA to solve the EV infrastructure development challenge. The bill provides approximately 78 funding opportunities related to EV or alternative fuels.
Some 28 variables across these 78 programs – like workforce development, safety, and broadband – can be leveraged to fund various aspects of EV and charging station deployments. This can create opportunities and solutions for the challenges facing many state and local governments.
States have an opportunity to capitalize on these variables, along with creating new alternative delivery or public-private partnership models and legislation that allows more innovative contracting methodologies, to implement a successful and sustainable EV ecosystem. R&B
Tim Miller is a senior project manager with HNTB in Indiana. Diane Newton is a national practice consultant with HNTB in Indiana.