Last week, Mayor de Blasio announced that, in partnership with Con Edison, New York City will install a high speed electric vehicle (EV) charging hub in each borough by the end of 2018. Each hub will include as many as 20 charging stations at a cost of $10 million total. This is an important step forward in encouraging consumer electric vehicle adoption.
For almost 100 years, we have relied on internal combustion engines as the primary means to move our vehicles. They have had a good run and they changed the world — though not always for the better — and the end is in sight for them. With rapid gains in battery technology, electric vehicle technology has come a long way. Lithium ion batteries have improved range significantly and cost for EVs is expected to reach parity with gasoline-fueled cars as soon as next year.
The environmental benefits of EVs are significant. Electric cars produce 50% less greenhouse gas emissions, and that number will get higher as New York’s energy mix relies increasingly on renewable energy. This will help with the City’s 80×50 goal as 30% of our emissions come from the transportation sector. Plugging cars into the grid also means we’re supporting energy producers here in New York State.
In addition, electric vehicles have huge benefits for air quality. More than 40% of smog is caused by gasoline and diesel powered vehicles. With asthma rates on the rise, reducing the amount of particulate matter in the air would be a boon for communities situated next to highways.
Despite the obvious benefits, adoption rates are still low, especially with the low cost of gasoline in recent years. At the same time, both New York State and New York City have ambitious targets for increasing these numbers. In 2013, New York joined California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont in what’s called the Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) Memorandum of Understanding, with the intention of getting 3.3 million EVs on the road by 2025. That includes 700,000 in New York State. New York City has its own goal of having 20% of the city’s vehicle registrations be electric by 2025.
New York City is doing its part by adding 2,000 electric vehicles to the City’s fleet by 2025. There is also now a state rebate that can save consumers as much as $2,000. The biggest challenge for improving consumer adoption rates is the charging network, particularly curbside fast chargers.
Fast chargers, such as the ones being installed as part of this announcement, can get an electric vehicle to 80% in just 30 minutes. With the previous technology, a full charge could take as long as 8 hours. The City hopes to install as many as 50 hubs around the city by 2020. This builds off of Local Law 160 of 2016, championed by Council Members Constantinides and Rodriguez. This law established an EV charging station pilot program, and requires installation of at least 25 multi-hour EV charging stations in publicly accessible locations by March 1, 2018, with at least two stations in every borough.
Though additional initiatives will be needed to bring this to scale, in addition to attention to emerging zero emissions vehicle technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells, we will be able to significantly reduce emissions in the transportation sector by reaching our ZEV goal. Of course public transit, walking or biking is always the best option for the environment but for people that need to drive, the hope is that ZEVs will soon become the standard.