Colorado does well – but isn’t perfect – on EV chargers

Sitting in an electric vehicle with only 25 miles of range left in the battery, far from home in the waiting lot of cell phones at Denver International Airport, half an hour of time to kill and a store of Dunkin’ donuts calling for food… what better place for a fast-charging station, right?

Not yet, as frustrated EV drivers have discovered and struggled to comprehend.

But there could be some soon, says the Colorado Energy Office, the agency overseeing construction of the hundreds of thousands of public and private charging stations needed to power the state’s goal of nearly 1 million. electric vehicles on the road within eight years.

There are slower chargers in DIA parking lots. Fast-charging stations built by private companies around DIA, like the neon green juicer Electrify America at East 57th Avenue and Tower Road. And yes, airport and state energy office officials say, the popular cellphone lot, gas station and food court next to DIA is a logical place for a bank. sparkle of fast-charging stations that probably should have happened by now.

Electrify America, with a simple user interface and plugs that can put 50 miles of range in a car in minutes, is “the recipient of a CEO award to build cellphone field stations I’m guessing in the past.” ‘calendar year,’ said Christian Williss, who leads fuels and transportation technology for the Office of Energy.

Analysts say this kind of government-backed growth is helping Colorado keep pace with electric vehicle sales that rank among the top states in the nation. State-funded chargers in high-traffic locations have been a success, they say, with the state’s interstate network regularly adding completed stations.

Now the challenge is to make the charging system fair by installing more daily home chargers in relatively stubborn places like thousands of small apartment complexes, yards where cars are parked all day, and in rural towns with long distances between chargers.

Members of the Colorado Springs Electric Vehicle Club drove en masse for burgers and a quick recharge at George’s Drive-Inn in Walsenburg, Nov. 13, 2021. (Colorado Springs EV Club)

“We need to prioritize charging in multi-family dwellings, as well as charging in the workplace, given the importance of charging in these places,” Williss said.

Drive Clean Colorado, a nonprofit promoting a just transition to clean energy, agrees that while the most visible en-route charging needs that address range anxiety are growing, the real need is the expansion of places where daily commuters will actually recharge: at night at home and at the workplace.

“Keep in mind that most people drive less than 40 miles a day and most cars are parked for hours at a time,” said Bonnie Trowbridge, general manager of Drive Clean Colorado. “So I would like us to focus more on EV charging wherever we see parked cars, whether it’s in your own garage or driveway, the parking lot at the grocery store, or the long-term parking lot at the airport.”

Colorado is doing well to keep pace so far, and is even a bit ahead in the charging game, according to analyst Jesse Toprak of subscription company EV Autonomy. (Autonomy’s subscription works like a lease, but lets people try electric vehicles without a long-term commitment.)

EVs can be plugged into a 120-volt household circuit, or Level 1, charging at around 3 to 5 miles of range per hour. Level 2 chargers can be purchased for the home and are most common in public areas, and can charge between 12 and 80 miles per hour. Level 3 or DC chargers are added at major highway stops and neighborhood gas stations, up to 20 miles of range per minute.

With about 54,000 EVs currently on the road in Colorado, there are 4,150 Level 2 or Level 3 fast-charging ports, Toprak said.

That’s about 90 combined Level 2 and DC fast-charging ports per 1,000 vehicles, better than the U.S. Department of Energy’s recommendation of about 43 ports per 1,000 EVs, Toprak said.

An electric vehicle charging station is available to the public at a municipal building in downtown Salida, Colorado. (Michael Booth, The Colorado Sun, April 2, 2021)

“However, we expect an exponential increase in the number of electric vehicles in Colorado, particularly in Denver, in the months and years to come,” Toprak said. “Therefore, there is a clear need for charging infrastructure to keep up with this increase in demand.”

Colorado has provided $20 million in charging station subsidies over eight years through the state-run Charge Ahead Colorado program, Williss said. About 1,700 stations have been completed statewide, with applications for state assistance open to private businesses, nonprofits, community groups or cities and building owners.

For a Level 2 charging station, Colorado is pooling federal, state and Volkswagen lawsuit settlement funds and may cover up to 80% of the cost, up to $9,000, Williss said. For super-fast DC chargers, the 80% subsidies can be $35,000 or $50,000, depending on speed.

The grants continue to be popular, with three or four applications for each grant slot. That’s why adding millions in federal stimulus money for each state’s electrification efforts will be welcome, he said.

“We are pleased with the additional funding that is coming in,” Williss said. “I think it will help meet some of that demand, although I suspect it will continue to be oversubscribed.”

State and federal authorities are also counting on private efforts to further develop the charging network.

Electric truck and SUV maker Rivian, which now delivers dozens of out-of-stock vehicles to customers in Colorado, is creating a Rivian Adventure Network of fast chargers. Colorado’s first adventure station will open in Salida in June, with Rivian vehicle-exclusive DC fast chargers that can add up to 140 miles of range in 20 minutes, and Level 2 open-grid chargers for vehicles non-Rivian electrics.

Rivian is already opening public charging stations with its brand in every state park. These stations charge all electric vehicles, not just Rivian, and have opened at Cheyenne Mountain State Park in Colorado Springs. Rivian absorbs all facility costs for the state park system.

Eagle County Airport contractors are using state grants for charging stations to meet their goals of greening the airfield, which serves both private jets and public airline sightseeing flights . The Hertz rental business there now has more than 40 electric vehicles in the fleet, Teslas and Polestars. Cooley Mesa Detailing, which cleans and processes returned rentals, has worked with the state to install Level 2 chargers for the electric vehicle fleet that can achieve about 40 miles of range in an hour.

Eventually, Eagle County airport officials want to charge electric vehicles from a solar panel that will cover a parking lot.

State officials say they are trying to direct new rounds of funds for charging stations to disproportionately impacted communities mentioned in both federal infrastructure stimulus spending and the bill on state transportation funding passed in 2021. Although the state’s energy office is awaiting final guidelines on the federal money, at least “40% of the proceeds” are going to impacted communities, Williss said.

“We fully recognize that it’s critical that we make investments in places where we provide access for all drivers, whether they’re in metro Denver, whether they’re in rural areas of cities, whether they’re they are in disproportionately affected communities,” Willis says. “We are looking at how we can modify our programs to ensure that those who do not currently experience them, or who do not necessarily have the same level of play, can still participate.

Autonomy’s Toprak said that while the pace of Charger builds in Colorado seems adequate, everyone involved in the network across the country needs to do more to standardize the plug-in instructions, payment methods and software that communicates with credit card companies and the vehicles themselves. Quirky or unreliable stations and payment methods are “a major headache” for consumers, he said.

It may also require faster communication between government agencies.

Denver Airport officials, who have installed Level 2 chargers in public parking lots, agreed with state officials that a grant for a fast charger in the cellphone parking lot was essential. But, airport officials said Tuesday, that plan is now on hold while the airport considers proposals to redevelop its entire Western approach.

Work on fast chargers for the commercial vehicle parking lot, where taxis and Uber drivers wait, is still progressing, airport spokeswoman Stephanie Figueroa said. “But the mobile phone waiting area project is waiting for conversations.”

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