Preparing for an EV Boom, Arup Strategizes Charging Locations for Air Quality and Equity
Before the turn of the 20th century, a writer for The Atlantic gazed at Pittsburgh and said it was "like looking over into hell with the lid taken off." The image of black soot hanging heavily in the air, though, represents the city's distant history, which is fading into the rearview mirror. Pittsburgh's leaders have been implementing an aggressive climate action plan that includes powering all city facilities with clean energy by 2030 and accelerating clean mobility.
Of Pittsburgh's greenhouse gas emissions, 18 percent can be traced to the cars, buses, and trucks on the city's roadways. If more of those gas-powered vehicles were electric, it just might reduce emissions. However, those electric vehicles would need a sufficient number of accessible locations to charge.
That's where Arup, a global sustainable development consultancy, offered its assistance, helping investigate electric vehicle (EV) charger placement throughout the city.
Developing an Equitable EV Charging Site Suitability Platform
Before working with Pittsburgh, Arup had collaborated with Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) and three leading energy utility companies to assess the curbside EV charging infrastructure landscape in Southern California. Scaling up EV infrastructure is critical to California's strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging more people to drive the zero-emission vehicles. To accommodate an influx in sales of electric-powered cars, the California Energy Commission has estimated that the state will need about 1.2 million EV charging stations by 2030. As of early 2022, with just eight years to go, 79,000 had been installed.
As a result of its assessment work, Arup developed Charge4All, a geospatial EV site suitability assessment platform featuring color-coded maps that display data to help determine a charger's suitability for certain locations. It accounts for equity concerns in areas of multiunit dwellings, broadening access to charging infrastructure as electric vehicles become more popular.
To keep up with recent EV production, the infrastructure to support the vehicles needs to be expanded quickly and cost-effectively, with attention paid to where curbside public charging stations will be built. That includes prioritizing locations where there is dense multifamily housing, which doesn't typically offer the option for private in-garage chargers. To do so calls for quality data that can be easily accessed by those planning for this EV transition. This approach ensures that site selection methods go beyond a case-by-case process and reduces reliance on time-consuming in-field inspections that would potentially slow deployment.
"We wanted to make sure that equity was addressed and that it was at the forefront of the development of this platform," says Arup Senior Geospatial Analyst Samantha Lustado, who helped develop Charge4All. Lustado, with the Arup digital team, researched and incorporated over 20 datasets—including population density and proximity to places of interest—to determine site suitability for EV chargers.
Applying Data, Digital Tools to Speed EV Charging Infrastructure Roll-Out in Pittsburgh
After launching Charge4All in Southern California, Arup partnered with officials in Pittsburgh and other cities across the United States to help them explore ways to expand EV charging infrastructure within their communities.
Deciding where to place charging stations isn't arbitrary. Arup worked with the Pittsburgh Department of City Planning's sustainability and resilience team to advance the city's vision of EV infrastructure deployment. Once the consultancy understood the city's goals, Arup pulled data from public and privately sourced platforms and used Charge4All to make several geospatial analyses, helping identify potential installation sites that would satisfy utilization and equity needs. Both citywide and detailed curbside analyses were run, allowing users to have as much information as possible.
By incorporating layers of contextual data on a smart map of Pittsburgh, city planners could site the best locations for the installation of EV chargers.
A high-level regional analysis, useful for early-stage planning for large-scale EV charging station deployments, highlights the paths of existing utility infrastructure, identifies EV growth uptake gaps and demands, forecasts potential EV utilization, locates patterns in public parking and public transit, focuses on areas with environmental risk, and pinpoints available charging stations within a 10-minute driving radius. Charge4All also allows users to zoom down to the curb level to get a more comprehensive idea of a site's suitability, and each curbline is assigned a suitability score based on its proximity to existing utility infrastructure (e.g., streetlight poles), fire hydrants, street intersections, and points and areas of interest as well as different road types. Those are all hallmark tasks of using GIS to better understand and visualize complex issues.
Everyone involved—government staff, utilities, the community—can see the big picture on a smart map layered with demographic and infrastructure details. Sites can be ruled out or chosen for further investigation from a mobile device or computer based on what the map shows the user, including key criteria and street-level views.
Fueling the Transition to Renewables
In addition to its work in Pittsburgh and Southern California, Arup has used the Charge4All platform in the San Francisco Bay Area to strategize a curbside EV charger program. The California Energy Commission has also funded a pilot program utilizing Arup's technology to install equitable curbside public charging infrastructure.
Eventually, any number of cities or regions could adopt the EV charger analysis to help fuel the transition to clean-energy transportation. Users will be able to weigh criteria and customize the analysis to their region.
When done with a strategic eye on location, accessibility to public EV chargers can potentially—and simultaneously—address poor air quality, health and equity issues, and climate change across the United States and around the world.
“We would love to see other cities, globally, take a similar interactive, equity-based approach to help their transition to cleaner urban environments,” says Lustado.