EV Charging Station Refresh at LR-Asheville: A Small-part of the Infrastructure Build-out for the Next Transportation Evolution
Musings from the Reese Institute for Conservation of Natural Resources at Lenoir-Rhyne University - Asheville
by Ryan Barry
November 29th, 2021
At Lenoir-Rhyne Asheville, there’s a new arrival — a set of Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations. By 2025, the majority of new cars hitting the road will be Electric Vehicles (EVs). The catch being, vast charging infrastructure must be built-out leading up to the EV transition to functionally power the emerging mix of EVs on the road. The new additions play a part not only in the rapid infrastructure build-out necessary to support the next evolution of transportation but also in transition from a fossil fuel dependent greenhouse gas (GHG)-emitting today to a renewable energy GHG net-zero tomorrow.
We are on the heels of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26. The two week event in Glasgow, Scotland brings together leadership from around the globe with hopes of coming to consensus as one world on a path forward, taking on climate change. The 2015 event, COP21, produced the Paris Agreement. In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol, a predecessor of the Paris Accords, was created to reduce GHG emissions which create climate change. Though such agreements are top-down occurring on the global stage, bottom-up efforts by individuals and organizations at the local-level are just as important in both moving to stave off climate change and in creating a more sustainable world for all people. Seemingly small individual and local-level contributions to reduce GHGs can add up to create pertinent and impactful reductions in aggregate. Change oftentimes begins at the local level. Neighborhoods, communities, universities, cities, and states can serve as living laboratories for solutions that may well become mainstream best practices with time and refinement.
Rewind to a time described as pre-industrial and agrarian. In 1908, the Ford Model-T, said to be the first affordable automobile, was introduced to a world that relied much on horse and carriage. Launched more than 110 years, 11 decades ago, Henry Ford’s Model-T was powered by fossil fuel. In spite of the benefits of the automobile, it too has associated drawbacks in the form of pollution — noise pollution, water pollution, air pollution. The burning of fossil fuels that the ubiquitous “filling station” provides creates Carbon Dioxide (CO2), a potent GHG. In 2017, the Transportation sector accounted for approximately 32.5% (nearly 1/3) of Gross NC GHG Emissions according to a NC GHG Inventory produced by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NC DEQ).
You may be thinking, how can we get to that glorious cleaner more sustainable transportation future? It’s important to note, the EV and charging station are only pieces of a system of systems — a complex, interconnected, and evolving energy, infrastructure, and mobility jigsaw puzzle. The jigsaw puzzle has come to current state through vast (though often-times disconnected) efforts of planning, investment, human-power and ingenuity. Transformation to a future-state will take time, clear-eyed imaginative visioning, substantial investment, and disciplined commitment. As author John Ehrenfeld in Sustainability by Design (2008) puts it, “We know that more fuel-efficient vehicles and fossil-fuel energy efficiency are not the long-term solution to unsustainability. We should be investing in radical new forms of transportation and energy generation, but instead we keep pouring our funds in the conventional direction.” Fast forward to 2022, and many of the thoughts Ehrenfeld posed 14 years ago remained applicable to the past decade and a half. With that said, there are indeed glimpses of change, hope, and one may say radical new forms of transportation and energy generation on the horizon.
Efforts are underway. Ford, yes the same Henry Ford Model-T Ford, in late September 2021 announced it would, in partnership with SK Innovation, be part of an $11.4B investment in two “mega-sites” that will build electric trucks and batteries. Many other household vehicle names are making EV commitments: GM: 30 new EV models by 2025; end gas/diesel vehicle production by 2035. Toyota: EVs 70% of sales by 2030. Honda: EVs and fuel-cell vehicles to make up 40% of new vehicles by 2030; 80% by 2035; 100% by 2040. Subaru: sell only EVs worldwide by first half of 2030s. Further, there are novel brands hitting the market from new EV-focused automobile companies such as Rivian, Lucid, Fisker, Lordstown Motors, Polestar, Nikola, BYD, XPeng, VinFast, and Canoo. As GM says, welcome to Generation E.
The White House Clean Energy Infrastructure Plan includes installing 500,000 EV Charging Stations across the country, investing in battery storage R&D, and electrifying the nation’s school bus fleets. The recently passed Infrastructure Bill provides $7.5B in grants to double the network of charging stations in the US and $5B for new school buses. Further, a President Biden Executive Order set a national goal for EVs to be 50% of new car sales by 2030. A drastic change in tone and values from the previous administration that actually rolled back Clean Car Standards and withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement. NC is working to play its part though the Infrastructure Bill should allow us to go bigger, further, and faster. In October 2018, Executive Order (EO) 80 was passed by NC Governor Roy Cooper. Through EO 80, NC committed to increase the number of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) to 80,000 by 2025. A ZEV is described as an electric vehicle that runs completely CO2-free with a charging network completely powered by renewable energy.
Efforts at multi-national companies, the federal-level, and state-level, all combine to make a difference. Though too, much change can happen at the local level. Neighborhoods, communities, cities, counties, and individual people making change and voting every day with their feet (or cars), the way they live, the decisions they make, and how they spend their dollars. Transition is going to take efforts at all levels of society.
Per market research firm J.D. Power; currently, “used EVs account for only 0.3% of all U.S. franchise dealer used sales” while an April 2021 Alliance for Automotive Innovation Letter to NC Governor Roy Cooper reads “new EVs comprise just 2%, or roughly 300,000 of the nation’s 14.5m new vehicle sales”. Tesla has created an evolving business model around the concept of the EV. The catch of transitioning to EVs from the current combustion engine is we’ve built many (not all) of our cities and communities around the combustion engine. Think of all the gas stations used to fuel up. EVs use a similar concept but, perhaps it’s more like plugging in your phone with a larger plug and more electricity running through the system — an EV Charging Station.
The Lenoir-Rhyne Asheville Center for Graduate Studies, located in a mixed-use facility with the Asheville Chamber of Commerce and Asheville Visitor Center, hosts 2 EV Charging Stations. Also housed within the Center for Graduate Studies is a graduate program in Sustainability Studies. The program empowers students with real-world experience and competencies to contribute to the ever-evolving field of sustainability. In October 2021, two once-upon-a-time state-of-the-art 15-year old charging stations were replaced with more efficient systems. Funding for the EV Charging Refresh came via a NC DEQ Grant. The grant was an allocation of funds from North Carolina’s share of the U.S. DOJ Volkswagen Settlement for Clean Air Act violations. Though 2 charging stations are a drop in the bucket of a grand ocean of infrastructure needs — each small contribution creates a trickle. A trickle, eventually creates Asheville’s mighty French Broad River that makes its way to the vast Atlantic Ocean. However small, the newly deployed charging stations are a small step towards an expansive EV charging station network needed to power the ensuing abundance of EVs that will take to the roads. A stepping stone on a path to a more sustainable transportation future.
When we plug-into the wall — it’s hard to imagine the processes behind how the electricity becomes available to power an electricity enabled device or appliance upon plug-in. We’ve come to simply take electricity for granted; we plug-into the socket and expect electricity to be there not even thinking about what electricity is or where it comes from. What’s behind that plug is evolving and adapting to be part of a new power-generation economy. There are many forms of electrical generation that are part of the electricity mix: nuclear, coal, oil, natural gas, solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass. In recent years, there’s been much movement to convert coal burning power plants to co-generation platforms that utilize natural gas. Further, many plants have been 100% converted to natural gas. In NC, approximately 7% of the electricity mix is solar, while 15% is coal. Walkability proponent and author Jeff Speck, in his book Walkable City Rules — 101 Steps to Making Better Places proposes that on the surface we are “lead to believe that electric vehicles present a happy solution, but that data so far are not encouraging, for several reasons in much of the United States and the world, an electric car is basically a coal powered car.” So, to get to that happy solution, there’s much work to be done behind-the-plug. The infrastructure that will power the decarbonized energy future will take much investment. The transformation also produces opportunity to create a wave of jobs. The newly deployed charging stations at LR-Asheville currently supply electricity from natural gas powered sources. Though, initial plans are underway for Asheville and the grander Buncombe County to transition to 100% renewable energy (RE). With time, the combination of charging stations and EVs will enable RE-powered transportation.
We’ll need visioning…take three deep breaths, close your eyes and envision a future where…you’re walking the streets of your favorite city and there’s no exhaust from cars, commercial vehicles, nor buses. Imagine hearing the chirping of birds, clanking of silverware on plates at outdoor dining, rustling of colorful wind-blown leaves of the urban canopy, and laughing-chatting as friends and families enjoy cool fall evenings without noise pollution from fossil fuel guzzling combustion engines. Imagine a future, where like your cell-phone, at night you can plug-in (or simply park on a charging pad) your vehicle and have a fully recharged vehicle the next day. Perhaps you could also recharge while having a meal at a restaurant, taking a walk at a park, at a concert listening to your favorite music group, or at an athletic stadium rooting on a sports team. We can take small, incremental steps (or bounds) into an adjacent sustainable and regenerative future for all people, living organisms, and the environments which they inhabit.
Wake-up from the visioning…back to the real world of today but don’t lose those visions - sites of our better collective tomorrow! Be on the lookout for the increasingly common EV Charging Station! Maybe even your next car will be an EV. Taking a long-term view, an EV may be a sound investment. With a Total Cost to Operate (TCO)-oriented mindset, the EV may be a sound financial choice — particularly, if prices-at-the-pump continue to rise. Consumer incentives may be increasingly available to spur us along the path of EV transition as well. With elapsed time, more demand, and a growing used-EV car market we will see more affordable EV prices. As EVs become mainstream, more affordable models will also come into production, to market, and hit the road. So, maybe that first EV will be in your foreseeable future after all. You too, can “Drive Change, Drive Electric”.