Gov. Phil Murphy and the state Legislature should be applauded for their efforts in facilitating the mass adoption of electric vehicles.
According to NJ Clean Energy, non-electric automobiles, mass transit and utility vehicles account for 46% of the State’s net greenhouse gas emissions. If New Jersey can reach its goal of 330,000 registered electric vehicles by 2025, then the state could make significant gains in accomplishing the Governor’s goal of 100% clean energy by 2050. As of now, however, there are roughly 34,000 electric vehicles registered in New Jersey, so there is a long way to go.
The goals are inspiring, but from the perspective of a firm that specializes in architecture, engineering and planning services, we think more about the tangible path toward meeting the goal. We have a concern about the pace not being proportional to the large-scale infrastructure changes that need to be addressed for this to be possible.
Incentivizing people to purchase electric vehicles is an incredible surface-level initiative, but the batteries in those cars need to be charged to work. Establishing charging stations requires space and a connection to a power source, and that requires complex planning, design, construction and, possibly, municipal zoning changes, tasks New Jersey’s local municipalities and their master plans need to address.
According to New Jersey’s Air Quality, Energy & Sustainability initiative Drive Green, there are approximately 300 public charging stations around the state. That is sufficient for the number of electric cars currently in New Jersey, but the number is woefully short of what we would need should the number of personal electric vehicles on the road increase tenfold. And while most electric vehicle owners will charge their vehicles at home, this situation still requires a new way of thinking when it comes to infrastructure planning; municipalities need to start seeing the path forward to make this goal a reality.
For example, many municipal zoning code parking requirements simply do not address the provisions for the inclusion of EV charging stations. Much of the parking developed in New Jersey is a result of private land development, and municipalities need to think forward and provide opportunities for private land development to include these types of sustainable features.
In January of 2020 Murphy signed a law that recommends each municipality, when going through a Master Plan Reexamination or Land Use Plan Amendment of Update pursuant to the Municipal Land Use Law, recognize existing and plan for new EV charging infrastructure in the appropriate locations such as in close proximity to public transit or in commercial districts. The law also requires a municipal master
plan with a circulation plan element to identify existing and proposed locations for public electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
The law further required redevelopment plans guided by Local Redevelopment and Housing Law to facilitate the development of public EV charging infrastructure.
It will take a Herculean governmental, planning, and architectural effort to rezone individual locations, and 2025 is not that far off. Are commuters going to continue celebrating the electric vehicle initiative when there are not enough spaces at the train station? Are businesses going to celebrate when they cannot meet deliveries because of long charging station lines?
Individual towns have amended their master plans, but that can only account for so much. At H2M architects + engineers, we work with property owners and municipalities to navigate the municipal bylaws and design accordingly, but again, this is on an individual project basis.
The governor’s plan also addresses municipal fleets—such as garbage trucks, mass transit, and zero-emission bus purchases by 2032. Again, these are phenomenal State-centric aspirations but there are real-world implications that individual local municipalities need to consider. What happens when the grid goes down during a snowstorm, but the plows all need fully charged batteries to operate?
Municipalities also need to consider workflow logistics regarding their fleet maintenance, as it will take a long time for each truck battery to fully charge. From our experience, it requires one hour for a residential car to charge enough to travel ten miles. Depending on the heavy-duty vehicle’s size, it is going to require much more time, so the reality of truck operation is going to have to be drastically reevaluated.
Aside from land use and logistics, another piece of the infrastructure puzzle is effectively connecting these charging stations to a power source. Now, the Board of Public Utilities will be working with New Jersey’s electric utilities to make publicly accessible, light-duty electric vehicle charging stations, but will the grid be able to handle the increased load?
There are parts of New Jersey where the electrical infrastructure is already near or at capacity. For reference, the average electric vehicle requires 30 kilowatt-hours to travel 100 miles, which is the same amount of electricity an average American home uses every day—not accounting for peak travel times such as holidays and summer beach season.
The governor’s plan does not address how infrastructure will be handled from the municipal level. Jersey Central Power and Light, for example, offers the distribution of power, but they cannot initiate infrastructure upgrades in Monmouth County, for example. So, how does this get done?
Also, we cannot escape the fact that the trillions of dollars that are going to have to be spent on infrastructure upgrades and generating capacity would be passed onto the ratepayer—something that the public utilities will have to determine via short-term cost-benefit ratios, which proved to be catastrophic in the recent Texas power outages.
Despite the lack of municipal planning and acknowledgement of needed large-scale infrastructure changes, an eventual shift to electric vehicles could be a great thing for New Jersey. Increasing the number of electric vehicles on the road will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help make our state one of the greenest and cleanest in the nation.
Engineers are essential to review and manage the details of this initiative, so everything meets regulatory requirements and specified goals can be satisfied.
Over the next decade, we anticipate the number of charging stations will grow exponentially. They will be located at office buildings, schools, parking lots, apartment complexes, retail stores and so on—in New Jersey and nationwide.
There still remains a lot of planning that needs to be done as we work towards the implementation of this vision. Regardless, we at H2M are excited to be on the journey with our municipalities and New Jersey residents to get from point A to point B and look forward to leading in this ambitious and worthwhile endeavor.
By Alan P. Hilla Jr. is central jersey office director and deputy market director, New Jersey for H2M architects + engineers. Ryan Conklin is senior project planner at H2M.