Smart Cities Going Electric


Smart Cities Going Electric

The 2020s will be the decade of the electric vehicle. Consumer demand for electric vehicles (EVs) is growing. In 2020, despite the pandemic, global EV sales increased 43 percent to surpass 3 million in all, while overall car sales dropped 20 percent. The new Federal Administration recently pledged to halve U.S. carbon emissions by 2030, and EVs along with EV charging infrastructure are central to that plan. The proposed American Jobs Plan allocates $174 billion for electric vehicles and EV charging infrastructure, including incentives to support EV purchases and the buildout of 500,000 EV charging stations across the country by 2030. Some state legislatures have gone even further – 12 states have adopted Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) regulations that outline requirements for between 7 and 10 percent of new vehicles to be zero-emission vehicles by 2025. The state of California went as far to as to instate a gas-car sales ban that will take effect in 2035, and other states like Massachusetts and New Jersey have developed similar proposals. 

Policies that support more EV charging will need to work with multiple stakeholders, especially grid operators and utilities.

Major automakers have made bold commitments to ramping up EV production, with GM announcing it will invest $27 billion in EV production over the next five years and will only sell zero emission vehicles beginning in 2035. Ford has committed $29 billion in EV production investments by 2030.

What do these EV developments within federal and state governments and the private sector mean for cities? 

Smart city planners and city parking professionals can accelerate the shift to sustainable transportation and make substantial progress towards their decarbonization and resilience goals, by electrifying municipal vehicle fleets and deploying smart energy infrastructure, like grid-connected smart charging stations, solar arrays above parking garages and back-up energy storage to optimize energy needs and costs at a hyper-local level. 

The Transportation Opportunity

Many large cities have already taken action to drive EV adoption. For instance, New York City calls for 20 percent of cars to be electric by 2025. Now is the time for cities and municipalities of all sizes to act. 

Cities are crucial for EV adoption for two main reasons. First, cities bear some of the greatest responsibility in addressing climate change through carbon emission reduction. C40, a New York-based network of the world’s megacities, reports that cities consume over two-thirds of the world’s energy and account for more than 70 percent of global carbon emissions. Tailpipe carbon emissions from gridlocked cars, trucks, and buses have profound detrimental effects on residents of the world’s largest cities. According to the EPA, the transportation sector is responsible for 55 percent of U.S. emissions from nitrogen oxides (NOx), a toxic air pollutant. Transportation is also the number one contributor to the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The second reason that cities should play a major role in increasing EV adoption is that municipalities hold significant decision-making power when it comes to transportation planning. Cities can exert this authority in several ways – by enabling public parking, optimizing mobility for high-traffic regions (via congestion zones), regulating taxis and ridesharing, purchasing electric vehicles for large municipal fleets such as public transport fleets, airport vehicles, and
city government employee vehicles. 

Cities have played a leading role in setting climate targets and decarbonization goals. CDP recently announced a 2020 Cities A list which celebrates 88 cities around the world that have continued to demonstrate commitment to climate action in 2020, despite tackling the huge challenge of COVID-19 at the same time. 

Smart Charging is Key

Urban planners must keep in mind that if they want the growing EV market to flourish in their city, they must first ensure that zero-emission vehicles have a place to charge. The International Energy Administration (IEA) recommends one public charging station for every 10 EVs in a region. To maintain that ratio, cities will have to pick up the pace.

The California Energy Commission estimates that the Golden State will need a quarter-million EV chargers in public spaces and multi-unit dwellings by 2025. Those EV charging stations could add 1 GW of peak demand to the power grid. It’s not strictly a matter of spreading new technology and charging stations around a city in order to create a transport system that aligns with the smart city initiative. Comprehensive plans need to consider real-world charging patterns. Commercial charging stations with connectivity and robust analytics tools can show which locations are being utilized and better manage grid demand. Smart city planners want to avoid installing non-networked charging, and install WiFi enabled technology instead. Smart charging stations can be used to determine where to expand future charging locations and how energy resources (and roadways) are being used.

While much of the conversation has been around public and commercial charging, city planners cannot ignore the fact that nearly all EV charging (over 80 percent) takes place at home. With that in mind, city planners can increase EV adoption by making it easier for people to charge at home, updating residential and multifamily housing building codes to require EV-ready parking spaces. 

Vehicle Fleet Electrification

Private vehicles are parked (and not in use) for about 95 percent of the time. That’s why the World Economic Forum recommends that cities put a high priority on electrifying high-use vehicles, such as the city’s municipal fleet, taxis, rideshare services, and public transportation. This would not only help build smart infrastructure for the transit system but also help traffic conditions and smart parking as well. 

Policies that support more EV charging will need to work with multiple stakeholders, especially grid operators and utilities. San Diego Gas & Electric works with the Port of San Diego to install chargers for electric medium- and heavy-duty vehicles and forklifts. Virginia-based Dominion Energy and Duke Energy in North Carolina collaborate with school districts to utilize electric school buses.

“Electric buses are the biggest thing cities are doing, in addition to light-duty fleets,” Lang Reynolds, Duke Energy’s director of electrification strategy, told Utility Dive in a recent interview with the industry publication. Bill Boyce, supervisor of electrified transportation for Sacramento Municipal Utility District, added, “We’ve worked with city staff, even helped them get grants from the state to help the planning.”

A combination of federal and utility incentives, lower maintenance costs, and reduced costs of “fueling” make electric vehicles the most cost-effective option for most fleets today. The total savings of light-duty vehicles are typically between $6,000 to $10,000 per vehicle when you make the switch to a clean fleet. For heavy-duty vehicles like public transit or school buses, the savings can be up to $300,000 for each vehicle over its lifetime.

EVs + Renewables = a Resilient Sustainability Strategy

Vehicle electrification, when combined with smart charging software can help maximize the use of renewables and help support a resilient grid by charging EVs at off-peak times, to avoid drawing power during periods of grid-constraint. This can also save parking operators money. EV charging is part of a broader smart city framework that includes smart buildings, solar plus storage and microgrids. An integrated approach is the fastest way cities will achieve climate targets. Billions of dollars of incentives are available today for cities to capitalize on in their efforts to transition to electric transportation and renewable energy. 

Giovanni Bertolino, is Enel X North America’s Head of e-Mobility. He can be reached at

Article contributed by:
Giovanni Bertolino
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