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StreetLight Data, Siemens Create New EV Planning Dashboard

The two companies have developed a data-enabled tool to help planning officials better decide where new public electric vehicle charging ports should be located. A case study in Santa Clara, Calif., showed positive results.

As electric cars become a more regular presence on city streets, planners wondering where to deploy charging infrastructure can look to big data for answers.

StreetLight Data, known for its use of travel metrics gleaned from mobile and other devices, has partnered with Siemens, a multinational technology company, to form a deep understanding of where EV infrastructure should be deployed.

The initiative allowed the partners to develop a custom dashboard in Santa Clara, Calif., that takes in data related to where trips in any given part of town originated, where they concluded, whether or not the drivers live in the local area and other information as criteria to consider when making decisions about where charging infrastructure should be deployed.

“They didn’t set out to put EV charging stations, like where people who already have EVs parked. They set out to put EV charging stations where people park, who they want to have EVs. So it was more forward-looking. They were trying to find the future, not just meet a demand,” explained Laura Schewel, CEO of StreetLight Data.

“I think that’s a cool way for public sector entities to think about EV charging planning. They’re trying to push this change in a certain direction, a direction that’s more accessible to lower-income people,” she added.

Officials in Santa Clara, a community in Silicon Valley, used the EV charging dashboard to help the city achieve some of its own equity goals related to encouraging the adoption of electric cars by drivers who may not consider an EV due to lack of access to charging — residents in multi-family housing and apartments.

The case study in Santa Clara looked to prioritize locations for out-of-home charging, with the thinking being that if a driver could depend on having access to a charger at work, drivers who live in apartment buildings, where charging is not always available, might more strongly consider purchasing an EV.

“Knowing you have a charger at work, that is always there, everyday, is what you might need to get you over the line to get investing in an EV,” said Schewel.

An analysis of traffic in Santa Clara showed most commercial trips were shorter than 10 miles and completed in less than 10 minutes, making business vehicles good candidates for switching to EVs. It was also learned that some parts of the city already had a number of privately held EV charging stations in use, suggesting the possible need for more public charging stations.

Products like this one have a number of possible clients, other than just city planning departments. Utilities also understand the role they will play in cities of the future as transportation becomes more electrified and they are called upon to better manage these electric demands.

“We know that urbanization is the big trend,” Arlen Orchard, CEO of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which serves about 1 million customers in northern California, said during the recent Meeting of the Minds symposium in Sacramento.

“Cities are growing, and they have to grow in the right way. We’re not a planning agency. We’re an electric utility. So when we think about the role we play, it really is decarbonization, from a clean energy standpoint. But the other side of that is transportation,” he added.

“So, as the fuel provider of the future, as the gas station of the future, we need to be involved in planning and helping manage the transportation evolution,” said Orchard.

The move to electrify the transportation sector is being driven by a number of variables, ranging from financial incentives to outside influences like the surge in investment in charging nationwide, as a result of the Volkswagen settlement decree following the revelation that Volkswagen diesel engines were fraudulently bypassing pollution controls. The settlement made some $2 billion available nationwide, to be used largely to build out charging infrastructure.

“We’re seeing interest, direct from utilities. We’re seeing interest from EV charging companies … And also, we’re seeing interest from cities themselves,” said Schewel, remarking on the level of interest she’s seeing related to products like the EV planning tool.

“While the ‘carrot’ of generous financial incentives has often proven effective, California is also using regulations to mandate the development of EV charging stations,” said Preston Roper, head of e-Mobility in North America at Enel X, which sells home and commercial JuiceBox chargers, battery storage devices, and offers electric energy consulting. In a number of communities, regulations have been put in place to mandate the installation of EV charging.

CALGreen, California’s green building standards, requires that 250,000 public charging stations be available by 2025. There are only about 22,000 today, said Roper.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.