Will Parking Problems Slow the Rise of Electric Vehicles?

Battery-powered vehicles may now face a different kind of stumbling block on the path to widespread acceptance.

Charles Murray

January 14, 2014

3 Min Read
Will Parking Problems Slow the Rise of Electric Vehicles?

Battery-powered vehicles may now face a different kind of stumbling block on the path to widespread acceptance. A new study from Carnegie Mellon University suggests that over the next 30 years, penetration of EVs into the national fleet will be curtailed if society doesn't first find a way to solve its parking problem.

Titled "US Residential Charging Potential for Electric Vehicles," the study contends that only 56% of vehicles now have a dedicated off-street parking space and just 47% have access at an owned residence. Those numbers are important, the study says, because consumers will be less inclined to buy EVs if they don't know where they'll charge them.

"Many consumers will be wary of making the extra investment if they can't plug in and charge at home," Jeremy Michalek, professor of mechanical engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, told Design News.

At least two studies have forecast EV adoption rates of 80%. A study by the Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology (blue line) predicts 80% by 2030. The Electric Power Research Institute (brown line) forecasts 80% by 2050. Carnegie Mellon’s study, however, argues that changes will be needed to reach such numbers. Exceeding 22%, it said, calls for more residential infrastructure investment to increase access to home outlets. Exceeding 47% calls for chargers to be available to renters. To pass 56%, major changes will be needed in residential parking.
(Source: Carnegie Mellon University)

In the long run, the problem could have a profound effect on the overall penetration of electric vehicle technology, which is projected by some studies to rise as high as 80% sometime between 2030 and 2050. Carnegie Mellon's study argues that just to reach beyond the 22% level, however, "would require residential infrastructure investment to increase access to outlets." Hitting 47% would necessitate additional accommodations, such as the availability of residential charging for renters.

In some cases, the accommodations could pose costly engineering challenges, Michalek told us. Bringing charging stations to public parking spaces could require laying of new electrical lines and possible addition of transmission equipment to handle the load. High-voltage fast chargers, which can recharge an EV battery in 20 minutes, might require costly special connections to the electrical grid, he said.

Michalek, who is a plug-in car owner, told Design News that he regularly deals with the charging conundrum. When he's able to secure a space near his home, he runs an extension cord out to his car. "Even then, it's not a great idea because the extension cord has to cross the sidewalk, creating a trip-hazard," he said.

Michalek contends that the parking challenge could affect sales of both battery-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, largely because both need to find a charging outlet. "Some adoption is happening now and that's great," he told us. "But this tells us that for electric vehicles to be a really big part of the solution, we're going to need some major changes."

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About the Author(s)

Charles Murray

Charles Murray is a former Design News editor and author of the book, Long Hard Road: The Lithium-Ion Battery and the Electric Car, published by Purdue University Press. He previously served as a DN editor from 1987 to 2000, then returned to the magazine as a senior editor in 2005. A former editor with Semiconductor International and later with EE Times, he has followed the auto industry’s adoption of electric vehicle technology since 1988 and has written extensively about embedded processing and medical electronics. He was a winner of the Jesse H. Neal Award for his story, “The Making of a Medical Miracle,” about implantable defibrillators. He is also the author of the book, The Supermen: The Story of Seymour Cray and the Technical Wizards Behind the Supercomputer, published by John Wiley & Sons in 1997. Murray’s electronics coverage has frequently appeared in the Chicago Tribune and in Popular Science. He holds a BS in engineering from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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