Close-up of an electric car charging, with traffic lights in a blurry background.

Coming soon to Kansas City streetlights: curbside EV chargers

Public, private, and nonprofit entities alike are working to rapidly expand electric vehicle charging networks, as evidenced by work on the Michigan to Montana Alternative Fuel Corridor across the Midwest. The efforts especially target overlooked neighborhoods.

About 80% of EV charging currently occurs at home, but many people lack access to off-street charging. This is particularly true for residents who don’t live in single-family homes with garages. 

The nonprofit Metropolitan Energy Center in Kansas City, Missouri, is partnering with several groups — including utility Evergy, the Missouri University of Science and Technology, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory — on a pilot project to make EV charging more accessible by installing charging stations in the public right of way. They’re leveraging infrastructure that already exists: streetlights.

The project aims to show that charging technologies can be successfully integrated with the streetlight system to provide curbside, public access to EV charging. This would specifically benefit renters, residents of multifamily housing, taxi or ride-hailing drivers, and other traditionally underserved populations. Partners are applying an equity lens to the entire process.

“There is a real risk that electric vehicle adoption will be concentrated to limited geographic and demographic markets, minimizing the benefits to underserved populations that are already more susceptible to lower air quality and higher vehicle ownership burdens,” Erin Nobler, NREL project manager and one of the lead researchers on this project, said in a news release.

How it’s happening

The streetlight chargers will be located in residential areas to enable overnight charging. Anyone will be able to access them.

“Folks can park their car curbside as they normally would, go into their apartment, and in the morning their car will be charged,” said Miriam Bouallegue, sustainable transportation project manager with the Metropolitan Energy Center.

The research team began by identifying all streetlights on which this type of charging would be technically possible. Next, they prioritized which streetlights to include in the project, with a particular focus on areas where few or no home charging options exist. They also considered neighborhood factors including income, EV adoption rates, noise, and traffic-related pollution to determine areas where the new infrastructure could have the most impact. 

MEC received a grant for the project from the U.S. Department of Energy, and the partners are providing in-kind contributions. 

What’s next

The project is in the community engagement phase right now. The research team is sharing its analysis with community members and getting feedback. This month, the partners held two virtual meetings to gather input from Kansas City residents on where to locate the chargers.

Location finalization and equipment installations both are scheduled to happen this year. Through next year, the team will gather data to determine the infrastructure’s technical, social, economic, and environmental community benefits. Lessons learned will inform future public EV charging efforts and help to streamline the process.

Partners hope the analysis will show that the streetlight charging network maximizes access, leverages spare capacity from LED lighting upgrades, and minimizes the charging infrastructure’s footprint and construction activity that could disrupt residents. And of course, they hope that promoting vehicle electrification will improve air quality in the region, especially for environmentally overburdened communities.

“We’re really seeing folks get excited about electric vehicles and realize this can be a reality, even here in Kansas City,” Bouallegue said. “Electric vehicles aren’t just something that people out in California or people with a lot of money drive. Electric vehicles can be a reality for the community here in Kansas City.”

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