The monumental effort underway to build a public electric vehicle charging network across the United States involves intense planning and billions of dollars.
But one of the linchpins in the electric vehicle revolution is not on the highway. It's at home on the wall of the garage or apartment building.
The vast majority of electric vehicle (EV) charging takes place at home, after all. Home owners with garages are the easiest part of the charging puzzle, and there's a brisk business in upgrading residential chargers in Minnesota. It can be more complicated for multi-unit dwellers — particularly for renters, where the lack of charging access is a major barrier to driving electric, and a serious equity issue.
It's all a paradigm shift in the way we drive, said David Ranallo, whose title at Maple Grove-based Great River Energy includes "director of culture."
"People are so used to comparing the old model of driving — you see a Kwik Trip on every corner — and so people naturally expect that that is what is required of EV infrastructure to do the same sort of driving," Ranallo said. The gas-stations-everywhere model falls away when people mainly charge at their origin or destination, he said.
The public network of charging stations on the side of the highway remains essential. For one, Ranallo said, they're major confidence boosters. Just seeing them can jump-start consideration of going electric. And they'll be more visible with Minnesota's $68 million for public charging from the federal infrastructure bill. More money for the charging network would come from the pending Build Back Better Act.
But the workhorse outlet is at home.
"That's where utility companies are going to play a really really important role," said Jukka Kukkonen, at the Minnesota consulting firm Shift2Electric.
New vehicles come with a Level 1 charger that plugs into a standard 110-volt outlet, and that's adequate if your daily drive is less than 30 miles, Kukkonen said. Some homeowners are installing more powerful 240-volt outlets for faster Level 2 chargers that can recharge a flat battery overnight.
Many utilities, including many of Minnesota's rural electric cooperatives, have programs to help EV owners, such as providing cheaper rates for off-peak charging at night. Some offer one-stop shopping on their websites to order chargers, arrange for the design of hookups and schedule an electrician.
"We really target getting them installed in four weeks or less," said Nadia El Mallakh, Xcel's Area vice president for strategic partnerships and ventures. About 700 Xcel customers have upgraded at home so far, she said. More are queued up. Demand is "eclipsing" expectations, she said.
Xcel estimates it costs an average of $1,000 to $2,000 to buy and install a home charger. Costs vary by utility, the type of charger, the amount of wiring required and other factors. Xcel also rents chargers for about $16 per month. While Xcel does not offer a rebate, Great River Energy gives customers $800 toward charging installations.
A federal tax credit, likely to be extended, covers up to 30% of the cost of buying and installing a charger.
It's all good business for Adam Wortman, an electrician with Ray of Light Electric in St. Paul. He specializes in upgrading garages for charging, doing five to 15 jobs a week across the Twin Cities.
"It feels good to be kind of making a difference," Wortman said.
On a frigid December morning, he drilled a hole through a south Minneapolis garage wall to mount a new electric meter. He wired up a 240-volt outlet inside the garage to hook up the new charger homeowners Alex Shaver and Megan Mekoli bought for their 2017 Chevy Bolt.
Shaver, a software engineer, and Mekoli, senior regulatory affairs specialist at Medtronic, recently moved from Maryland. Shaver said he bought his first EV a few years ago in Maryland because the apartment building where he lived had a charger. No one was using it, he said.
"I had to leave paper signs in the garage asking people not to park in the charging space because people didn't realize," Shaver said.
Shaver said the dedicated power line, meter, charger and installation altogether cost $2,555. Because they both work from home, they could probably get by plugging the Bolt into the garage's 110-volt outlet, they said. But it takes more than a day to fully charge it with that "drip" outlet, Mekoli said with a laugh. A Level 2 will fully charge the car overnight, and with much cheaper off-peak electricity.
They are future-proofing, eyeing a second EV. As electric cars grow into SUVs and pickups with larger batteries, they'll draw more amps, Shaver noted.
'All over the map'
The Great Plains Institute, a Minneapolis-based think tank, is among those pushing charging at multifamily buildings. Developers need to at least put conduits in new construction for EV charging to avoid expensive retrofits, Great Plains Vice President Brendan Jordan said.
"We need a lot more effort to what that parking solution looks like," Jordan said. "It's kind of all over the map."
For years, clean-energy advocates such as St. Paul-based Fresh Energy have gone before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission pushing for multifamily EV charging to ensure it's not just the wealthy who can plug in at home. The fear is that less affluent communities could be left behind in the electric transition.
In one step to address that, Xcel has launched a pilot program for multifamily building charging, working with landlords and building owners to design, build and maintain charging equipment. And it's partnering with Hourcar, the St. Paul-based car-sharing nonprofit, to install 50 electric vehicles for ride sharing at 25 multifamily locations across the Twin Cities. About half of the sites are in low- or low-to-moderate-income areas.
Anjali Bains, senior clean transportation manager at Fresh Energy, gives Xcel high marks on the effort. The utility worked with stakeholders for at least year on it, she said, calling it "probably one of their most thoughtfully designed programs."
The road is long. EVs make up less than 1% of new car sales in Minnesota, although that will change with Minnesota's new Clean Cars rule requiring auto makers doing business in Minnesota to supply more EVs to sales lots.
As Wortman, the electrician, sees it, when the country's charging infrastructure matures to where apartment dwellers can easily charge at home, rapid change will follow.
"That will be a big breakover moment, in my opinion," Wortman said.