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Efforts underway to make cities more EV-friendly

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, HOST:

Answering questions about how EVs drive in winter addresses one concern of would-be buyers. Another big one the biggest one, in fact, according to surveys from J.D. Power, is access to charging. Most electric vehicle drivers charge at home most of the time. But what if you don't have a garage or a driveway or you're away from home? Then you're stuck with public chargers that too often are broken, or in some places, don't exist. Lots of people are working on solutions to that problem. I spoke with two of them yesterday - Maricela McKenzie of ChargerHelp, which helps keep public chargers running...

MARICELA MCKENZIE: Hi.

DOMONOSKE: ...And Tiya Gordon of itselectric, which works to help cities become more EV friendly by adding curbside charging.

TIYA GORDON: Hey. It's great to be here.

DOMONOSKE: I started by asking Tiya about the challenge posed by permitting, that is, getting permission to put a charger on a city street.

GORDON: It's a brave new world in EV charging, as you kind of set up in the beginning of this. There's sort of three big categories. There's home charging, which is how most people charge. There's fast charging on highways and rest stops. But then there's cities, and that's the space that's been largely ignored. And it's been ignored because it's somewhat the hardest nut to crack. So we need to find ways for companies to work with cities, with states and with the federal government to create these larger frameworks for how to do something that's pretty simple. It's like putting a bike rack on the curb. It's not a big deal when you're looking at smaller footprint hardware. You just need the permission to do so.

DOMONOSKE: Getting public charging that works is a major priority of the Biden administration. Maricela, what is the administration doing and is it working?

MCKENZIE: Yes. So what they've done is they've set aside money for the states to be able to make sure that chargers are working. So taking existing charging infrastructure and getting them from a maybe a non-operational or partially operational status and providing funding so that we can get them working and make them accessible, you know, to people everywhere.

DOMONOSKE: I wanted to ask about some of the benefits of switching to electric vehicles, which, you know, reduction in air pollutions help to slow the pace of climate change. These are things that are a collective good. But so far, EVs have mostly been luxury cars that are produced. So far, they're mostly sold to people who live in richer and whiter neighborhoods. The most charger access is in richer neighborhoods. Tiya, if your model for expanding curbside charging depends on finding a building that has the capacity that you can use for these EVs, that's not necessarily going to track with where it would be most helpful, maybe especially to a low-income community to get a charger, right? How can communities make sure these chargers go in places where they can help expand equitable access to these benefits?

GORDON: Oh, absolutely. And that's the other side of the coin to our model because itselectric powers its chargers from spare capacity in buildings. And we're typology agnostic. It's a single-family house. It's a house of worship. It's a school. It's a library. It's a commercial building. We then revenue share back to that building a percentage of the revenue that we earn from each of our chargers. So we want to move into low and middle-income communities to bring this amenity where, it's no longer a NIMBY, a not in my neighborhood, but it's a yes in my neighborhood. Because not only are we bringing infrastructure that was previously lacking, but we're also bringing, quote, "the green of the green economy" into the pockets of everyone that lives in these communities. It's a win-win on both sides.

MCKENZIE: And, Maricela, how do you think about distributing the benefits of EV chargers more broadly and what - the role that ChargerHelp can play?

MCKENZIE: We're playing a really fantastic role on the learning and development side of things. And so we know there's growth here. We know, you know, last year, 1.2 million EVs were sold. And the infrastructure is starting to go in, you know, urban areas and rural areas all over. And we're going to need people to make sure that these stations are up and running. And we're going to offer these opportunities to folks that maybe never pictured themselves working in tech. And so our learning and development is doing fantastic work partnering with, you know, with companies like itselectric and teaching folks, you know, going through a pretty rigorous course on how to become a certified EVSE technician.

And as a matter of fact, we worked with the Society of Automotive Engineers to develop the, you know, industry-wide-agreed-upon curriculum that supports taking a test that will get EV charger technicians certified. So really trying to standardize the work that can be done in this industry to increase reliability and also create a lot more jobs and prepare people for these jobs. So we're really excited. We've got partnerships with Ford's Michigan Central in Detroit, Pasadena City College in California, Goodwill Industries in Atlanta, and really kind of spreading this knowledge and this expertise into lots of different areas.

DOMONOSKE: Well, Maricela McKenzie of ChargerHelp, Tiya Gordon of itselectric, thank you both so much for joining us.

MCKENZIE: Thank you.

GORDON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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