Sitting in an electric vehicle with only 25 miles of range left in the battery, far from home in the cellphone waiting lot at Denver International Airport, a half hour of time to kill and a Dunkin’ donut shop beckoning with sustenance … what better place for a fast charger station, right?
Not yet, as frustrated EV drivers have discovered and struggled to fathom.
But there could be soon, responds the Colorado Energy Office, the agency charged with overseeing buildout of the hundreds of thousands of public and private charging stations needed to fuel the state’s goal of nearly 1 million EVs on the road within eight years.
There are slower chargers in the DIA parking garages. Fast charging stations built by private companies around DIA’s edges, like the neon-green glowing Electrify America juicer at East 57th Avenue and Tower Road. And yes, airport and state energy office officials say, the popular cellphone lot, gas station and food court next to DIA is a logical spot for a gleaming bank of rapid-charge stations that probably should have happened already.
Electrify America, with a simple consumer interface and plugs that can put 50 miles of range into a car within a few minutes, is “the recipient of an award from CEO to build stations at the cellphone lot, I’m guessing within the calendar year,” said Christian Williss, who directs transportation fuels and technology for the energy office.
Analysts say that kind of government-assisted growth is helping Colorado keep pace with EV sales that rank among the top states in the nation. Publicly financed chargers in high-traffic locations have been a success, they say, with the state’s interstate-focused network regularly adding completed stations.
Now the challenge is to make the charging system equitable by getting more everyday home chargers installed at relatively stubborn locations like thousands of small apartment complexes, work sites where cars are parked all day, and in rural towns with long distances between chargers.
“We need to prioritize charging in multifamily housing, as well as workplace charging, given the importance of charging at these locations,” Williss said.
Drive Clean Colorado, a nonprofit promoting equitable clean energy transition, agrees that while most visible en route charging needs that address range anxiety are getting built, the true need is expansion of locations where everyday commuters will actually charge up: Overnight at home, and at the workplace.
“Keep in mind that most people drive less than 40 miles a day, and most cars are parked for hours at a time,” said Drive Clean Colorado Executive Director Bonnie Trowbridge. “So I’d love to see us focus more on EV charging wherever we see parked cars, whether that is in your own garage or driveway, the grocery store parking lot, or long-term parking at the airport.”
Colorado is doing well to keep up so far, and is even a bit ahead in the charging game, according to analyst Jesse Toprak with the EV subscription company Autonomy. (Autonomy’s subscription operates like a lease, but allows people to try EVs without a long-term commitment.)
EVs can be plugged in on 120-volt home circuit, or Level 1, charging at about 3 to 5 miles of range an hour. Level 2 chargers can be bought for the home and are the most common in public spaces, and can charge anywhere from 12 to 80 miles an hour. Level 3 or DC chargers are being added at important highway stops and as neighborhood filling stations, at up to 20 miles of range per minute.
With about 54,000 EVs currently on the road in Colorado, there are 4,150 fast charging ports at Level 2 or 3, Toprak said.
That’s about 90 combined Level 2 and DC fast charging ports for every 1,000 vehicles, better than the U.S. Department of Energy recommendation of about 43 ports for every 1,000 EVs, Toprak said.
“However, we expect an exponential increase in the number of EVs in Colorado, particularly in Denver, in the coming months and years,” Toprak said. “Therefore, there is clearly a need for the charging infrastructure to keep up with this jump in demand.”
Colorado has made $20 million in charging station grants in eight years of the state-run Charge Ahead Colorado program, Williss said. About 1,700 stations have been completed around the state, with applications for state help open to private companies, nonprofits, community groups or towns, and building owners.
For a Level 2 charging station, Colorado gathers federal, state and Volkswagen lawsuit settlement funds and can cover up to 80% of the cost, up to $9,000, Williss said. For the extra-fast DC chargers, the 80% grants can be $35,000 or $50,000, depending on speed.
The grants continue to be popular, with three or four applications for every grant slot. That’s why the addition of millions in federal stimulus funding for every state’s electrification efforts will be welcome, he said.
“We’re pleased with additional funding that is coming down the pike,” Williss said. “I think that will help to address some of that demand, although I suspect it will continue to be oversubscribed.”
State and federal officials are also counting on privately led efforts to further develop the charging network.
Electric truck and SUV maker Rivian, now delivering dozens of back-ordered vehicles to Colorado customers, is creating a Rivian Adventure Network of fast chargers. The first Colorado adventure station will open in Salida in June, with DC fast chargers proprietary to Rivian vehicles that can add up to 140 miles of range in 20 minutes, and open network Level 2 chargers for non-Rivian EVs.
Rivian is already opening up public charging stations with its brand name at every state park. Those stations charge all EVs, not just Rivian, and first opened at Cheyenne Mountain State Park in Colorado Springs. Rivian is absorbing all the cost of installing the state parks network.
Entrepreneurs at Eagle County Airport are using state charging station grants to fulfill goals of greening up the airfield, which services both private jets and public airline tourism flights. The Hertz rental business there now has more than 40 EVs in the fleet, Teslas and Polestars. Cooley Mesa Detailing, which cleans and turns around returned rentals, worked with the state to install Level 2 chargers for the EV fleet that can juice up at about 40 miles of range in an hour.
Eventually, Eagle County airport officials want to charge EVs from a solar array that will cover a parking lot.
State officials say they are trying to steer new rounds of charging station money toward the disproportionately impacted communities mentioned in both the federal infrastructure stimulus spending, and in the state transportation funding bill passed in 2021. Though the state energy office awaits final guidance on the federal money, at least “40% of the benefits” are meant for impacted communities, Williss said.
“We fully recognize that it’s vital that we make investments in locations where we provide access to all drivers, whether they’re in metro Denver, whether they’re in the rural parts of cities, whether they’re in disproportionately impacted communities,” Williss said. “We’re looking at how we can modify our programs to ensure that those that may not know about them currently, or may not necessarily have the same level of match, can still participate.”
Autonomy’s Toprak said that while Colorado’s pace of building chargers appears adequate, everyone involved in the grid across the nation needs to do more to standardize plug-in instructions, payment methods and the software that communicates with credit card companies and the vehicles themselves. Quirky or unreliable stations and payment methods are “a significant headache” for consumers, he said.
That may require faster communication between government agencies as well.
Denver airport officials, who have put Level 2 chargers in public parking garages, agreed with state officials that a grant for a fast charger at the cellphone lot was critical. But, airport officials said Tuesday, that plan is now on hold while the airport entertains proposals for redeveloping its entire western approach.
Work on fast chargers for the commercial vehicle holding lot, where taxis and Uber drivers wait, are still moving forward, airport spokeswoman Stephanie Figueroa said. “But the cellphone waiting area project is pending conversations.”