Sparking off electric vehicles: Illinois charging infrastructure plan underway

1/30/2023 McCall Macomber

President Joe Biden signed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law in November 2021 — $5 billion of which is slated for states to deploy charging infrastructure for electric vehicles through the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program.

Eleftheria Kontou, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign assistant professor, and Christopher Schmidt, Illinois Department of Transportation’s air quality manager, prepare Illinois for this emerging technology in the joint ICT-IDOT project, “R27-236: Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Plan in Illinois.”

Kontou and Schmidt seek to establish the number of charging stations needed as well as their optimum locations to support the State of Illinois’ 2030 goal of having 1 million electric vehicles on the road.

“We’re at the cusp of a real transportation revolution, in my opinion,” Schmidt said. “We’ve got to put our thinking caps on as a DOT and try and provide the best service to taxpayers with the dollars provided to us so that we can help people move to and from Illinois in a safe and equitable manner.”

To achieve this goal, Kontou developed optimization models to determine the number of charging stations needed to drive the adoption of electric vehicles in Illinois over different long-term periods.

“Our model helps with coming up with trajectories of rebate and charging infrastructure investments that need to be rolled out so that we can meet emission-reduction targets that are set by policymakers. It also tracks how consumers may make decisions to transition (to electric vehicles) over the next 30 years,” said Kontou, who recently a National Science Foundation CAREER award for her work with electric vehicle and infrastructure technologies management.

The models account for two of the largest barriers to adopting electric vehicles — high price tags and lack of charging stations.

Kontou aims to allay these barriers by helping policymakers optimize investments in charging infrastructure with monetary incentives for buying electric vehicles provided by the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act.

The electric vehicle demand is projected in clusters that are grouped by historical adoption rates rather than geography, population or wealth.

They show that Illinois should deploy more than 2,400 chargers in the first 10 to 15 years of a 30-year planning period to allow drivers of electric vehicles to accrue benefits.

Kontou also developed a map to show suitable locations in Illinois for charging stations based on economic, societal and environmental justice data and criteria.

The map identifies census tracts as well as major interstates and highways such as I-90, I-80, I-55, and I-57 that policymakers should prioritize for equitable deployment of charging infrastructure.

“We know roughly where in the state we need to build out infrastructure in order to support these 1 million vehicles,” Schmidt said. “We have these clusters of where demand is going to be and it’s up to us as a state agency to go out and talk to the public to get an idea of where they see the best location.”

All in all, Illinois is one step closer to hitting its emission-reduction goals thanks to the efforts of Kontou and Schmidt as well as grants from state and federal governments.

“IDOT is working closely with other state agencies, such as the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, to leverage all of our state and federal resources to meet the state goal of 1 million vehicles on the road in 2030,” Schmidt said.

“That’s a positive that came out of this (project): to know that the work that the legislature and the governor have done and then the implementation that is being done by state agencies is hopefully going to be enough for us to be able to reach that threshold,” he added.

Next steps include pinpointing exact locations such as intersections and cities to locate charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.

“This project is a building block,” Schmidt said. “I think it’s something that other state agencies and IDOT will start to use to better refine where charging infrastructure needs to be in the State of Illinois.”