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Study: Chicago Could See 80,000 Electric Cars by 2030

(uveX / Pixabay)(uveX / Pixabay)

Chicago could see more than 80,000 electric cars on the road by the end of next decade, but drivers will need the city to install thousands of new charging stations in order to power their vehicles.

The number of electric vehicles in Chicago and other U.S. cities will increase significantly by 2030, according to a new study by left-leaning nonprofits Illinois PIRG Education Fund and the Frontier Group. The study also outlines policy and infrastructure changes required to accommodate the growing “EV” market.

The demand for electric vehicles is already on the rise, with sales increasing by more than 30 percent in each of the last two years, according to data from the nonprofit Veloz. A 2017 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that the U.S. will have 15 million electric vehicles on the road by 2050.

By 2030, when Chicago could have as many as 81,000 electric vehicles on its roadways, the city will need about 2,700 publicly available charging stations, according to the study. Currently, there are fewer than 300 stations in the city.

It is unclear how many electric vehicles are currently on the road in Chicago, the authors of the new study said, citing a lack of data on existing vehicles.

“We need to plan for it and we need to do it right,” said Abe Scarr, director of the Illinois PIRG Education Fund. “The city of Chicago is already doing some good work in this area, but generally speaking, there is much more that cities, and states for that matter, can do to prepare for that transition.”

Chicago has had mixed results with past efforts to support electric vehicle charging stations.

In 2010, the city became known as an early advocate for electric cars when it signed a contract with the company 350Green to install several hundred charging stations with $1.9 million in grants from the Department of Energy.

But by 2013, only some of the stations had been installed, and others did not work. Two of 350Green’s former owners were later charged with fraud for falsely obtaining nearly $3 million in federal grants distributed by the city of Chicago and agencies in Pennsylvania and California.

Last year, Chicago’s Department of Transportation administered federal grant funding to cover 30 percent of equipment and installation costs for new direct current, or DC, fast-charging stations. Compared to residential-use stations that fully charge vehicles overnight, DC fast chargers supply a full charge in 20 to 30 minutes.

Costs for fast-charging stations range from $80,000 to $100,000, according to the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center.

As of February 2017, CDOT said there were 34 fast-charging stations in northeastern Illinois.

The new study, “Plugging in: Readying America’s Cities for the Arrival of Electric Vehicles,” calls on cities to map out charging locations for the coming wave of electric cars, particularly in areas without off-street parking.

The study’s authors also instruct cities to adopt policies that support electric vehicles, which reduce emissions of pollutants that can harm human health and contribute to climate change.

“American cities risk being unprepared for the impending arrival of thousands of electric vehicles on their streets,” said Alana Miller, policy analyst at Frontier Group and coauthor of the study, in a statement. “Without forward-thinking policies that give EV owners places to park and charge their vehicles, cities could lost out on the health and air quality benefits that electric vehicles can deliver.”

Contact Alex Ruppenthal: @arupp aruppenthal@wttw.com | (773) 509-5623


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