While electric vehicles are becoming more common, there are still multiple factors to consider before making the switch. Electric vehicles are still generally expensive, so price is a factor. But another barrier preventing the expansion of electric vehicle use is access to charging stations.
Many communities now offer public EV charging stations, but owners still benefit from having their own charging capabilities in their garage or driveway. What about those that don’t have those types of spaces where they live? An innovative solution is playing out in Melrose. The city has become one of the first in the nation to install EV charging stations mounted on utility poles along its streets.
These stations have multiple benefits. Most EV charging stations are expensive, ground-based systems, meaning they require significant space and extensive digging for installation. On the other hand, pole-mounted EV chargers are much cheaper. On average, they are 40% less expensive than traditional ground-mounted chargers, according to Melrose Sustainability Manager Martha Grover.
They are also much more accessible, due to the fact that they can be installed on most utility poles that already line city streets.
The chargers in Melrose use new technology that enables them to be positioned high up on polish and out of the way, but also accessible for users. In particular, the chargers are mounted ten feet up on polishing. When an EV owner wants to charge their vehicle, they simply connect to the station via smartphone app, or by scanning a QR code lower down on the pole. The charging cord then extends down to users automatically, Grover said. Once charging is complete, they retract on their own as well.
The cords are 25 feet long, allowing users to charge any size electric vehicle. EV chargers are broken down into three levels, which signify how fast they can charge a vehicle. The ones used in Melrose are level two, a moderate speed that can be found in residential and commercial uses.
The program to install these new chargers originated with the National Grid. The company approached Melrose with the concept in 2019, Grover said. They had identified the city as an ideal location for testing.
“We’re a small city, we’re pretty nimble. We can usually navigate through new projects and pilots pretty easily,” she said.
Finding the right locations took a lot of work, especially because the technology was so new that stakeholders had to be informed on how the chargers work and what types of problems they could create. Grover and other city staff worked to educate residents, and to dispel fears of having “filling stations” in front of houses, she said.
By April 2021, workers installed the first batch of pole-mounted chargers. The city became the first on the east coast to do so, Grover said. Four chargers were installed at first, but now nine poles across Melrose have these chargers. In total, they provide 15 additional EV charging ports, since some poles can accommodate two ports.
The only other place in the country that has these chargers is Los Angeles, Grover said. Seattle could be next, but Melrose is ahead of the game.
All that work was not in vain. The stations are providing to be popular. Grover said she knows this from hard data, but also anecdotally, especially from residents without driveways or garages.
“Those are the people I’ve heard from,” she said. “A woman called me up and said ‘I live on a second-floor apartment, I don’t have a driveway, and I’ve been wanting to get an electric vehicle when I saw this down the street.’ So she went out and bought an inexpensive, used Nissan Leaf that she can use to get herself to and from work for pennies on the dollar,” Grover said.
The city prioritized placing them near multi-family housing units and recreational areas.
“It’s very convenient. We’ve put them near a lot of recreation areas. I’ve seen a lot of people use them while their kids are at the playground, or playing sports,” Grover said.
On average, residents are using the chargers for about one and a half to two hours at a time. Most EV charging still takes place at home or work, so the pole-mounted chargers are mainly used for topping off a vehicle before a driver heads to their final destination.
National Grid is exploring options to expand pole-mounted EV charging throughout Massachusetts, Grover said. She can already envision how useful they would be to residents of larger cities.
“Since this has been proven to be less expensive and to work, especially for people in apartments, I could see these in densely populated areas like Cambridge or Boston in the future,” she said.
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