Urban flooding presents challenges for electric vehicle charging stations

The Federal Highway Administration is thinking about where to put charging stations for electric cars as more people buy them.

The Federal Highway Administration is thinking about where to put charging stations for electric cars as more people buy them. They are thinking about this because of the concerns about sea level rise and intense rains.

The United States will need more charging stations as the market for electric vehicles grows.

The Federal Highway Administration would require that charging networks funded under the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program consider the risks of locating chargers in areas that could be affected by flooding. The regulation was published in the Federal Register on June 22.

The proposed rule also states that access to EV chargers should be considered during emergencies, such as evacuations from natural disasters. The public may comment on the proposed regulations until Aug. 22. These regulations also cover the installation, operation, maintenance, interoperability and network connectivity of EV charging infrastructure.

Jason Masters, a U.S. energy planning lead for Buro Happold, a global engineering consulting firm, said that cities can take lessons from the U.S. Navy when it comes to protecting energy grids from coastal flooding. The Navy takes into account predictions of rising sea levels when deciding where to place its energy infrastructure. This can include waterproof connectors and elevated battery boxes that allow the grid to "breathe."

"The reality is that most of the population lives near the coast, which is where stations have to be hardened against the marine environment. This is even more difficult, but it can be done since we do it in the military all the time," Masters said. However, this comes at a price, raising costs by 50% to 60%, he added.

The Argonne National Laboratory, a research center of the U.S. Department of Energy, issued a report this spring on how to use mapping tools to prioritize EV charger benefits in underserved communities. The report says that analyzing sea level rise data, as well as flood and fire risk data, can help determine "where to deploy EV infrastructure, where to allocate resources, and which populations are most at risk and therefore in need of targeted investment that includes climate mitigation efforts along with transportation electrification deployment."

The Energy Zones Mapping Tool from Argonne can overlay different variables to help determine the safest locations for charging stations. The Federal Emergency Management Agency also offers a resilience analysis and planning tool that can map the most likely flood zones and inundation history. One of Argonne’s peer reviewers suggested that more research is needed on which areas are at greatest risk of climate change-induced sea level rise, the report stated.

Sasha Pejcic, managing partner for North America at Evenergi, an international energy and transportation consultant, said that finding a safe location for an electric vehicle charging station is not as easy as just putting a charger on top of a hill. He warned that people who can afford electric vehicles are not the only ones who will be using them in the future. Costs for electric vehicles are dropping, so more people will be able to buy them.

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