A new pilot project to install electric vehicle chargers on light poles in Kansas City, Missouri, could reduce one of the most commonly cited barriers to greater electric vehicle adoption: The lack of accessible charging infrastructure. The barriers are especially acute for the millions of Americans who don’t have garages.

Most personal EV charging — about 80% — occurs at home, usually overnight in a garage or in a carport. But according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Housing Survey, more than one-third of U.S. homeowners — and nearly two-thirds of renters — do not have a garage or carport, which creates a significant barrier to at-home EV charging. The lack of access to garages and public EV charging is especially apparent in low-income communities and communities of color.

Kansas City’s pilot project launched this summer and aims to reduce those barriers by bringing an emerging charging solution to residents in an equitable way. The Metropolitan Energy Center (MEC), a nonprofit dedicated to energy efficiency and environmental health in the region, spearheaded the project to install EV chargers on existing streetlights in residential neighborhoods that anyone can pay a fee to use.

“There’s a big gap with EV charging for renters and people who don’t own their home,” said Miriam Bouallegue, project manager for sustainable transportation at MEC. “They don’t have the ability to install an outlet and may not have a designated parking spot if they live in a complex. With curbside charging, people can just park their cars like they normally would and plug in.”

Public and private partners for the pilot include the city of Kansas City; the Missouri University of Science and Technology; the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL); utility Evergy; utility and construction consultant Black & McDonald; e-mobility consultant EVNoire; and charging infrastructure company LilyPad EV. The U.S. Department of Energy provided funding, and project partners are providing in-kind contributions. The charging station owners, not the city, will handle ongoing operating and maintenance costs.

Explaining that DOE is flexible with the funding criteria for this project to allow for trailblazing and changing course as necessary, Erin Nobler, NREL project manager, said, “This is a fairly new area for transportation planners… It takes time and is frustrating — but that’s a good thing… We’re all so used to funding efforts where we have to hit milestones and deliverables. But it is OK and encouraged to pivot… We’re looking for the best solution, not the easiest.”

Read more: Kansas City streetlight-mounted EV charger pilot aims for equity, accessibility


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