Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific Standard, GOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
Palo Alto thinks so.
The city council in Palo Alto, California, unanimously voted Monday night to make a small change to the city's building code that signals a big shift in the future of private transportation. Now, every new home constructed in town will have to come pre-wired with the ability to charge electric vehicles, a move designed to ensure the city that's home to cutting-edge car-maker Tesla will also be home to the EV industry's early-adopting consumers.
Charging infrastructure currently poses one of the biggest obstacles to broad EV use (besides, you know, designing the cars themselves). If you're the first tech-savvy guy in town with Google Glass, then you get to glimpse the future before all your friends, and they're probably jealous. If you're the first guy in town with an electric car – well, you likely can't drive it that far.
Electric vehicles as a concept require at least a limited critical mass. Without enough drivers, there isn't demand for charging infrastructure to serve the cars. And without the infrastructure, who would buy one of these things?
Many cities are already at work installing charging stations in public places. But Palo Alto's idea addresses the location where EV drivers are likely to spend the most time juicing up: in their own driveways and garages. The technical requirement isn't actually that onerous. As Wired explains, the kind of voltage you'd need to fully charge a car in eight hours (a 220-volt line) already comes standard in many homes that power a washer and dryer.
But while it costs about $200 to build this capacity into new construction, retrofitting a property to accommodate an EV can run four times as much. And that's separate from the cost of the EV charging station itself (as much as $2,000).
"Not that it really matters to Palo Alto residents," Wired points out, "the average home cost is $1.5 million."
The plan was uncontroversial in the heart of Silicon Valley, but it's easy to imagine another community debating at greater length the merits of pre-wiring homes for what are, at least for now, some pretty expensive cars.