June 3, 2019

Colorado Energy Office: EV Fast Charging Corridors Grant Program

The Colorado Energy Office (CEO) officially kicked off its ALT Fuels Colorado Plug-in Electric Vehicle (PEV) Direct Current Fast Charging (DCFC) corridors grant program with the release of a request for applications (RFA) in April 2018. This project aimed to tackle one of the major barriers to PEV adoption in the state, the lack of publicly available fast charging along highways, by building on commitments from former Governor John Hickenlooper’s Colorado Electric Vehicle Plan and the multi-state Regional Electric Vehicle West memorandum of understanding. It also received support from the Colorado Department of Transportation (DOT) in Federal Highway Administration-designated PEV charging corridors.

"A lot of planning and research went into the program," said Zach Owens, program manager at the CEO. "We had been funding mostly Level 2 infrastructure—including multi-unit dwellings and workplace charging—through the Charge Ahead Colorado program since 2013, but we knew that a lack of DC fast charging on highways was a barrier. We realized that we would need to develop a separate program to address this challenge."

Tapping Partners and Setting Project Terms in the Development Phase

Funded through a mix of Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program and (VW) Settlement dollars, the RFA allocated $10.33 million for the installation of 33 DC fast charging stations at designated locations along main travel corridors in Colorado.

In developing the RFA, the CEO consulted state agencies outside of Colorado, as well as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the City and County of Denver, the Regional Air Quality Council, local universities, and many other stakeholders. These partners assisted in scoping the project, conducting analysis to determine the sites, and developing a realistic program structure.

Based on this outreach, Owens and his team made informed decisions about the program structure. For example, the team decided that—while the grant would pay for the installation of chargers—the applicants would be required to own and operate the resulting charging infrastructure for a minimum of five years. As a result, business savvy applicants would be focused on the potential payback and profitability of their investment.

"We also structured the reimbursement so that applicants must open all of the stations along the corridor before they can receive 95% of the payment," Owens said. "We will retain 5% for each site to be paid out for data reporting and ensuring minimum uptime requirements are maintained over the five-year term."

The CEO was sensitive to the requirements of the funding sources. For example, the CMAQ Program caps eligible project costs at 82.79% and the VW Mitigation Trust caps eligible costs at 80%. By using both funding sources, the agency was able to incentivize the Tier 2 locations at 90%.

Making Procurement Decisions

As part of the RFA development process, the CEO made several decisions about the charging equipment, as well as ongoing operation and maintenance, including:

  • Infrastructure Type. While the CEO had identified DC fast chargers as the priority, Owens and his team wanted drivers to have the most flexibility possible. The RFA required that each location follow a dual-cord protocol, with both CHAdeMO and SAE Type 1 combined charging system (CCS) connectors. Infrastructure owners will also be able to switch out the plugs without replacing the rest of the equipment, should the technology evolve in the future.

  • Networking. Based on their experience with Charge Ahead Colorado, the agency required that all chargers be networked. Each charger must be able to connect to a network via wireless internet or a cellular connection using multiple carriers. Networking allowed for the following:

    • Utilization Data. The RFA required quarterly data reporting to the CEO on times of connection and disconnection, charging event start and end times, peak and average power (in kilowatt, kW), number of charging events, total energy use (in kilowatt-hour, kWh) per charging event, percent of station downtime, and several other data points. Applicants were required to report this data for five years. The agency will use this information to understand driver behavior, identify the need for additional infrastructure, and answer policy questions like rate structures for fast charging. Networks and site hosts will be able to tap utilization data to make pricing and other decisions.

    • Payment. The CEO wanted drivers to have payment flexibility at the point of sale. Initially, the agency planned to require seamless credit or debit card payment at each charger with flexible pricing options, including per minute or hour, by kWh, or time of day. As the project has evolved, the agency has moved away from the credit card reader requirement in favor of a suite of options, including mobile applications, tap-to-charge fobs, and credit card payment over the phone.

    • Customer Service and Maintenance. Networking capabilities also allow for remote management of the charging stations for customer service and maintenance purposes. The RFA required applicants to offer a warranty of five years and ensure at least 97% uptime at each station. Networked capabilities, such as remote diagnostics, will allow the networks to meet this requirement.

    While not a requirement of the grant, drivers will also be able to see whether the charger is available in real-time using the network app.

  • Open Access. The agency required that all chargers comply with the industry’s Open Charge Point Protocol, which sets a common communication method between networks, provides site hosts with the flexibility to switch networks in the future, and prevents stranded assets.

  • Signage. The RFA specifies that applicants work with the Colorado DOT, local jurisdictions, and site hosts to provide adequate and consistent signage along highways and in closer proximity to the stations, including wayfinding, regulatory, and on-site signs.

  • Future Proofing. To keep up with the ever-evolving PEV charging industry, the CEO required applicants to build in flexibility for changes in the future. Each station must allow for new payment methods, upgrades to charging power (up to 350 kW), doubling the number of chargers initially installed, and installation of new utility equipment.

Former Governor Hickenlooper announced in November 2018 that ChargePoint had been awarded the grant to install DC fast chargers along Colorado’s corridors. As the construction phase gets underway, Owens said the CEO is looking forward to seeing how the project evolves and sharing lessons learned along the way.

"It’s an iterative process," he said. "We released specific solicitation language, but we will need to adapt as we learn from the process."

Owens welcomes the opportunity to connect with others working on EV infrastructure and can be reached at zachary.owens@state.co.us.

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