Building an Infrastructure for Tomorrow's Driver | Episode 26

  May 26, 2021

Diversifying one's portfolio is Financial Planning 101. After pushing through on of its worst winters on record, the state of Texas will be the first to tell you that diversifying your transportation assets is just as important. Listen-in as we spend time with Lori Pampell Clark, Program Manager at the North Central Texas Council of Governments and Dallas-Fort Worth Clean Cities Coordinator. She discusses the importance of taking a coordinated approach to transportation infrastructure deployment, the role equity and environmental justice plays and lessons learned after surviving Winter Storm Uri.

Transcript

John Eichberger:
Hey, everybody. Welcome to carpool chats. I'm John Eichberger with the Fuels Institute, and today we're going to talk about Lori Clark with the North Central Texas Council of Governments and the Clean Cities program for the Dallas Fort worth area. Did I get all that right Lori?

Lori Clark:
Bingo. You nailed it. Yes.

John Eichberger:
I had to practice that one a few times. Thank you so much for joining us today. Really happy to have you onboard the program today. A lot has been going on down in Texas. Why don't you kind of give us a quick rundown of the thing’s you guys are working on and you're most excited.

Lori Clark:
Thank you so much for having me. I'm happy to be here with y'all so yeah, there's a lot happening in a very short amount of time and we'll start back in February with winter storm, right? Anybody who wasn't familiar with Texas' kind of unique elements of our energy system, definitely learned a little bit about us back at that point that we learned a lot, not only about the electrical grid, but also some of the things that became a challenge in the transportation world and in the fuel side and just access to fuel. And access to, even if you could get fuel, could you transport the fuel from one point or another, we had issues with some critical infrastructure like nursing homes and facilities like that, asking our cities, we need fuel and so within our cities, we're having to work that out.

Lori Clark:
So I think that there's been a lot of chatter about resiliency in the transportation sector. And everybody's familiar with the idea of diversifying your portfolio is one of the first rules of financial investing, right? But when we look at investing in transportation assets, I think that same principle should apply. Diversifying the portfolio of vehicle types that you have and fuel types that you have, because you can have 20 diesel backup generators, but if there's no diesel to be had that doesn't do any good. And so looking at other types of this, and so of course legislative session is in full swing right now, or coming up to the last few weeks, so there's not a lot that's been introduced and then there's a lot that's not moving forward. And so we'll see where the dust settles here at the end of the day, in terms of what has been put in place to work on some of those things. But we're seeing a lot of activity and interest in electrification. And just like I said, resiliency in general.

John Eichberger:
The experience in February was amazing. Everybody looks at Texas as one of the energy suppliers that is hugely important to the entire energy world of North America and globally to have it suffer such an immobilizing event was really shocking. Right?

Lori Clark:
Right. I think everybody was caught off guard and there's been a lot of stories about why and why not. There's been a lot of misinformation about what did, did not happen. So just to clarify for anybody who's seen or heard some of that misinformation, this was really an across the board type of issue. It wasn't just wind turbines. It wasn't solar, it wasn't just natural gas. It was really all of the above. In Texas, we don't require our natural gas power plants to have storage on site of natural gas. It's all just kind of real-time delivery through the pipeline. So there's been a lot.

Lori Clark:
And so some of the things that are, that have been talked about, or have to deal with ensuring that there's backup generation at specific sites, critical infrastructure sites. So I we'll see what form that takes and then how that will transition into the transportation world as transportation electrifies and becomes more integrated with the energy system. We've been talking with a lot of our local governments fleets about electric vehicles that are paired with battery storage and paired with solar or something like that, that gives you a more robust and more hardened system that has a little bit more ability to bounce back.

John Eichberger:
You've mentioned people are getting a lot of misinformation. I'm shocked that the media hasn't gotten everything just exactly right. And since so many people are going to social media for their news feed, I mean the level of knowledge of what's really going on in any situation has just gotten so out of hand, I mean, people use anything like this as a lever against what they don't like and that shatter and taking Texas as an example, look at what happened in Texas, no way we can go to electrification for vehicles, because that's an example. I think more critically, as an example of, there are challenges and we have to prepare for them. We can't go into a new transportation paradigm blind.

John Eichberger:
We have to understand what's at stake and what we need to do to shore up our resources, because access to reliable transportation is critical for everybody. And you mentioned electrification a few times when you were walking through some of the things we're thinking about. What is the path forward? We hear about the electric vehicles are gaining market share. We know that's going to accelerate over the next 10 years. How are we going to bring the grid along with it so that it is reliable and it is efficient and people are never going to feel like they're stranded. How are we going to make sure that doesn't happen?

Lori Clark:
That is a gigantic question. And I don't have the answers to all of it myself. I know it's going to take involvement from everybody. And I think that's the big key here. And on the fleet side, the tools and companies that own fleet vehicles aren't necessarily well acclimated to talking to their utility about how they get their fuel. And so that's one of the very first things that has to happen, is everybody needs to understand where do I get my electricity from? And who is on the other end of those lines? And do I need to go and have a conversation with them? And for the average person who lives in a house, that's not necessarily such a big deal, but for a family who lives in a multi-family complex having a conversation with that property owner who owns that facility, that property needs to understand.

Lori Clark:
You might need to have a different type of conversation with your utility than you're used to having. And then the idea of managed charging that can spread the load out. So you don't necessarily want truck terminal with 50 electric trucks, all plugging in at the exact same moment, if you haven't planned for that. And what does that load look like? And integrating the intelligence into the charging systems to be able to manage those resources. There's a lot of discussion that electrifying vehicles can help manage more efficiently by adding load where it's currently very low and being a source of demand when there's excess capacity, which, you know, you think about it, you think about power lines, the way you think about lanes on a freeway, we pour all this concrete, we don't necessarily want it to be sitting there empty all the time, right?

Lori Clark:
That means it wasn't a good use of transportation investment. Same thing happens with power lines. You build all these power lines. You want electricity flowing through it to some point of demand. Otherwise, it was a lot of investment for no reason. So adding additional electricity load can be helpful in making that investment have a better return, but it has to be at the right time at the right place. And there's a lot of research being done on that. One of the things that we're working on is a core plan along I45 and we're really looking mostly on the freight side, because that is where more work needs to be done. And post COVID, who knows what commute patterns are going to look like. Am I still going to be working at home another year from now where I have been for the past year? But we do know that freight truck deliveries are going to continue. We know those short trips are going to happen. So how can we help prepare everybody for that type of transition and building out an infrastructure to support electrification in the commercial space?

John Eichberger:
I think, you know, you touched on so many things that I've been talking about and it's the coordinated approach to infrastructure deployment, the strategic deployment. We don't need to build everything now. We need to prepare to start building charting infrastructure, but if we put it all on the ground, now, first of all, it's not going to get used. And by the time it's in demand, it's going to be outdated and need to be replaced. So making sure that we understand exactly where we need to foster collaboration, where we need to place infrastructure, when we need to place it. And more importantly also is what type of equipment needs to be where. We don't need 350 kilowatt charters everywhere, but we need them certain key places.

John Eichberger:
And if we can right size our deployment strategies and be smart about this intelligent about this, I think the entire market's going to benefit and your guys had a focus on the freight movement. You're absolutely right. We're going to continue buying stuff, even if we're not going someplace in our personal cars. And that commercial travel is so important. And how do we fix that? How do we prepare for that? And how do we make sure that it has the support it needs? Is it be a top priority for everybody.

Lori Clark:
Absolutely. And we've heard a lot of emphasis on the ideas of equity and environmental justice and some of those concerns from the federal level. And from our perspective, one thing we would propose, is a lot of communities that have traditionally been very vulnerable are communities that are close to freight facilities, they're places where a lot of diesel truck traffic has been concentrated. And so electrifying those break facilities can be a really effective and really impactful way of reducing exposure to high levels of pollution for those most vulnerable communities. And that's where we see an equity element. Even if it's not that homeowner who's buying an electric vehicle, they're still benefiting from that electrification and the cleaner air.

John Eichberger:
And, you know, it ties into being the whole right size approach. We need to take a look and see, where can we have the greatest impact on emissions at the lowest price. And if that is electrifying certain areas and letting other areas kind of come along on normal market transition pace, then let's do that. But I think too often, I think we get locked into this idea and I'm hearing it so often across the board. There's one solution, one approach, and we got to do it now. No, there's a lot of solutions, a lot of approaches. And if we time it right, and we leverage the options we have available to us in the markets where it makes the most sense, the benefits to society as a whole will be so much stronger than if we try to rush out with a one size fits all strategy, that really is not going to benefit anybody other than the advocates for pushing that strategy.

Lori Clark:
Absolutely. And one of the things that we've been hearing a lot of interest in lately is we've had stakeholders, local governments, and local utilities, and others start asking us for a detailed regional across Dallas Fort Worth electric vehicle infrastructure plan. And so that's something we're really excited to hear and interesting to us. And we look forward to responding to that request. We are a grant funded agency. So we will be looking for financial resources to help us get that work done. But one of the things that we've looked at is through the National Clean Cities program, there are several evaluation tools and one of them is called EVI-Pro Lite, but it was created by one of the national labs. And so we did a little bit of assessment. And what we see is that for the amount of electric vehicles we have registered right now in Dallas Fort Worth, we have plenty of level two publicly accessible charging stations.

Lori Clark:
We're a little bit short on DC fast charge stations, and certainly to travel from DFW to the neighboring metros, we need more DC fast charging infrastructure. So that's one of the things that we're trying to dig into and try to tease out a little bit is exactly what goes, where just as you said, we don't need all the same thing. What does that phased approach look like, as we look at the trajectory of how fast electric vehicles have been adopted in DFW, we have our registration data and it goes back about 10 years, so we've got some good trends that we've been able to customize for our area.

Lori Clark:
And then how is that changing, with the availability of new makes and models? One of the things We are looking at, because department of energy information indicates a 80% of electric vehicle charging happens at home, but that only works for people who have a garage at home, right? 20% of the population in DFW lives in multi-family housing. So getting more charging stations at multi-family housing. So that the vehicles garage quote, unquote, which might be in a shared parking facility, has that charging capabilities. So that we've got that access for all different types of housing properties.

John Eichberger:
Yeah. And I think that's important. We've got to be thinking about building an infrastructure, not for today's customers. The demographic profile today as an electric vehicle driver is going to be very different from what is in the future. They're the first movers. They're usually higher income. They usually live in a house with a garage. They can charge at home almost exclusively, but give it 4 or 5 years, and that demographic is going to normalize with the rest of the car buying population. Younger drivers, lower-income drivers, those living in multiunit dwellings, if they don't have access to charge at home, we need to make sure they have access to charge in the market. I think that's where the dynamic of building out the infrastructure and a publicly available charting is going to be so important.

John Eichberger:
And that's when the coordination that you guys help foster between the utilities and the potential site hosts, That's really what it's going to come into a benefit for the consumer, because we're still debating internally at the Fuels Institute, some of us about, are the chargers going to create demand for EV or is the presence of EV is going to create demand for charging? What has to come first? And quite frankly, I think we're going to need the infrastructure ahead of the cars.

John Eichberger:
It may not be the determining factor for a consumer to buy an EV, but without the charging infrastructure, the visible charging infrastructure, they're going to be questioning whether or not it makes sense to go to the electrified vehicle. And so that's going to be important. I think one of the things I like about what you guys are doing down there is you need to get the chargers visible. They exist. There's places to charge, a lot of places, but they're not front and center. People don't see them every day. And for the consumer to feel comfortable, we're going to have to overbuild capacity, overbuild the infrastructure so that they know, I will never have to worry about finding an outlet. And it's something that is going to take a lot of coordination a lot of time.

Lori Clark:
Right. Absolutely. One thing that people may not be aware of is, there's this gigantic document that's created by the Federal Highway Administration called The Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices. It's a horribly boring name, but it's basically, it's the thing that sets out all the design guidelines for. This is what a stop sign looks like, which is why all stop signs look the same. There's, there's very standardized geometry and sizing and things like that. So one of the things was in a revision that was just posted in December, I believe it was released, and the comment deadline just came and went last week, is a lot of guidance on how to assign electric vehicle charging stations. So I think there's some good news coming that parking spaces with electric vehicles, you'll start seeing more standardized signage because that guidance has now been put into the federal manual and then along the corridors.

Lori Clark:
So just to elaborate a little bit on that corridor effort, it's another initiative of the Federal Highway Administration. And what they're looking to do is, identify highways where enough alternative fuel infrastructure to say is, this is a propane four-door. So people know this is, a highway where I can drive that type of vehicle. And I have enough infrastructure available to me. That they're designating that for natural gas, propane electric vehicles and for hydrogen. So one of the things that's in the new manual or proposed in the new manual is guidance on where and how to place signs along the highway saying that there's an electric vehicle charging station at this next exit. And then once you take that exit, how do you navigate to that, to that station? And most people who drive electric cars know that the car can tell you where a station is.

Lori Clark:
And there's plenty of apps that tell you where a station is, but to increase that awareness and make it more visible to the general public people who have not yet adopted an electric vehicle, just like you said, to raise the visibility and build consumer confidence that these charging stations exist. You know, if you're not in the business of trying to actively find one, you're probably not looking at the app to see that across [inaudible 00:16:28] there's over 300 charging stations right now, but you're right. A lot of times they're tucked around a corner or they're throwing a top back corner of the parking garage on level 8, you know, and who's going to go up there?

Lori Clark:
So the consumer confidence is an area where we need to grow resources. And I think you're right that the infrastructure needs to lead. Anecdotally, I've heard that there are some people who have moved from California down to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. And there's so little electric vehicle infrastructure, and it's Southern side of Texas that some of them have had to get rid of their electric vehicle and go back to something conventional because they can't get out of the valley if they're having to travel for work or something like that, which is really unfortunate. So I think you're right. The infrastructure needs to lead.

John Eichberger:
Yeah. And I think, you know, I liked the fact that we're starting to get some standardization. It's an early developing market. So there's a lot of different initiatives going on, people doing different things, but having that standard set of parking locations, signage connectors. When we get to the point where we're going to start charging people for the benefit of using a fast charger, how are we going to communicate the rates? How are we going to communicate the price? Are people are going to start shopping around for the lowest price DC fast charger? Like they do for gas lane these days, I don't know. One of the challenges is we have a lot of infrastructure out there that's free. And I think we're reinforcing this misplaced idea that electricity is free. You know, we get a monthly charge at home. You're not pulling out dollars out of your wallet every time you plug in your car at home.

John Eichberger:
And then you're using publicly available charging at this cost. At some point, the infrastructure is going to have to generate a return on investment for their site hosts. And I think we're really kind of creating a scenario where that's going to be challenging to do, but the fact that we're starting to get some standardization in place, starting to get some consistency across jurisdictions ,is going to be very helpful. Because one of the things that a lot of industries have done is they, they build a model and then they replicate it and they plug it in different locations. It's very difficult to do that with an EVSC installation. And so how do we streamline that? And how do we get that? It comes through consistency, standardization, cooperation, across jurisdictions, all the things that you guys are working on. And I think the industry as a whole is working on. It may not be as transparent, a lot of stakeholders, but it's happening. And the more momentum that it gets, and the more exposure it gets, I think the easier it's going to be to build out the infrastructure.

Lori Clark:
I think you're right, I completely agree. And I think the standardization, and the word, the question that I dislike the most is, well, how much does a DC fast charger car cost me to install? I don't know. What's your existing capacity? What corner of the parking lot do you think you're going to put it in? Where's the building, where's the closest service? How much trenching are you going to have to do? You know, but nobody wants to hear the response. Well, it depends, you know.

John Eichberger:
Right. (affirmative).

Lori Clark: we want to have some sort of expectation. How can I go? Its just like, when you go to the grocery store, you don't go to the checkout line with a jug of milk and then find out when it gets stabbed and how much it costs. You know, you have an expectation when you pull it off the shelf. So how can we build that as people pull an EV charging station off the shelf, of what that cost is going to be?

Lori Clark:
So we're getting some good information through the Clean Cities Network. All clean cities coalitions are collecting information every year on what are the costs of charging stations that have been installed in our area over the past 6 or the past 12 months, so that we can come up with some better national averages of real-world observed costs, detailing out, here's the equipment, here's the labor here, the construction, here's the install, so that we can have a pool of data to pull from and be able to inform people better. And one of the things that we're also working on is trying to compile a list of all the government purchasing contracts that you can purchase an electric vehicle charging station office, even if you're not able to purchase through that contract, because you're not a government entity, at least you can go and see the price so that, you know, that could be helpful. So we're working on trying to pull together some of that information posted in a website, no place that is not too hard to find.

John Eichberger:
That's fantastic because transparency is so important. Transparency, consistency, predictability, all those things tie into it because building a business case for EVSC is challenging. But once we get a business case built, then we can start seeing probably a pretty fast acceleration deployment, which is going to be critical. Lori, thank you so much for joining us on Carpool Chats. We really enjoyed catching up. If people want to learn more about what you guys are doing, where should they go?

Lori Clark:
Go to WWW.DFWcleancities.Org , that will get you to our website.

John Eichberger:
Thank you very much.

Lori Clark:
Thank you so much for having me.

John Eichberger:
Thank you very much and everybody out there, thanks for tuning in, and we'll see you in the next time on Carpool Chats.