Here’s something that might surprise you: in 2020, more electric vehicles were registered in Lancaster County than anywhere in Pennsylvania, outside the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh metro areas. And 2021 data shows the trend continuing to climb. Because electric vehicle (EV) charging largely happens at home, out of sight, this may be higher than expected for a community like Lancaster.
Meanwhile, countless intersections are lit by the signs of gas station franchises proclaiming that fossil fuels are the only game in town. Even public charging stations often go unnoticed, though according to the EV mapping tool Plugshare, Lancaster County has 239. Surprised?
As for home charging stations, though extension cords stretched to curbside parking points to some set-ups, many of us never see the power boxes installed neatly inside garages. And since installing a home charger comes with lots of considerations (and also because EV adoption, perhaps, could spread among neighbors as solar panels have been shown to do: by being conspicuous), it would be unfortunate if ‘out of sight’ also meant ‘out of mind.’
Access to convenient charging is often a concern of would-be EV buyers. Below, we’ll explore more about existing public charging stations in Lancaster, and factors that could affect those yet to be built. We’ll also look at other adoption considerations, including the different types of chargers available, associated costs, and tax incentives. Let’s dive in.
Public Charging Stations in Lancaster County
Currently, the county’s northern half has the lion’s share of public charging stations. Since Lancaster City, the Route 30 corridor, and the former “Coolest Small Town in America,” Lititz, are frequent destinations, it makes sense to provide EV charging capacity nearby. But by searching station maps, you’ll learn that East Petersburg has more charging capacity than Lititz. You’ll also find that car dealerships in Lancaster have more Level 3 chargers—capable of charging a battery to 80% in 15-45 minutes—than are found along the County’s main arteries. Slower, Level 2 chargers are most common at public charging stations.
The cost to charge at some public charging stations isn’t obvious, either. Fees range from zero—like at F & M and Ephrata Borough (for now)—and rise to several times more than PPL’s current residential rate for the use of some fast chargers.
Public Charging Station Expansion in Lancaster County
Adding public charging stations is a tricky topic. There are so many variables, including funding for the installation of new public charging stations.
Pennsylvania will receive $171.5 million over five years to expand Level 3 charging along so-called Alternative Fuel Corridors, which includes Route 30. What we don’t yet know is how much of that pot will reach Lancaster County. Federal grants of $2.5 billion will be available to local governments, businesses, and other entities that build alternative fueling stations in urban and rural communities. But financial incentives don’t seem to work when it comes to ramping up access to EV charging stations.
For years, Pennsylvania has offered rebates of up to $4,500 for each Level 2 charger installed in the state, paid for with funds obtained from the settlement with Volkswagen after it cheated emissions tests. But in Lancaster County, only Sam’s Auto in Akron has taken advantage, receiving just shy of $10,000 from a (nearly empty) pot of $30 million, for installing two of them. We must find a way to provide better EV charging access.
Electric Vehicle Charging at Home
It’s estimated that 80% of EV charging happens at home. Residential charging can be divided into two levels: Level 1 and Level 2. Since public charging—Level 2 or Level 3—is typically used when taking longer trips, Level 1 charging is often misunderstood. Level 1 charging comes through a standard 120-volt outlet, like the one on your kitchen wall. If you want to charge yoru EV at home, that’s it! Plug your EV into a regular outlet, and you can get 3 to 4 miles of range per hour.
To install a Level 2 charger at home—which at 240V provides double the output of standard outlets, enough to fully charge an EV overnight—you’ll need an electrician. Expect to pay about $1,000 to $3,000, but costs can increase if, for example, new wiring or an upgraded electrical panel is needed. A tax credit is available to cover about 30% of this expense, up to $1,000.
Regardless of how you recharge your EV (though on the supply side, think solar and other renewables), charging remains cheaper than filling up with fossil fuels.
Challenges to Charging your EV at Home
If you are concerned about charging an EV in the event of a power outage, there are a few helpful tips. Manufacturers recommend keeping an EV charged between 20% and 80%, which should be enough to get you through a few days. Also, some solar powered systems can charge EVs while disconnected from the grid, to protect utility workers.
Actually, you may be glad to have an EV when the power’s out: its battery could power appliances, even your whole house! That’s thanks to bidirectional charging. To use this feature, you’ll need to either purchase an external current inverter, or own a Nissan Leaf or Ford F-150 Lightning–the only EV models with an internal current inverter. As this capability expands into more EV models, networks of EVs could back-up a grid under strain one day.
EV adoption is growing in Lancaster County, but we need to exponential growth to help draw down our community’s collective emissions. RegenAll’s Carbon Footprint Calculator is a great way to see how much transportation contributes to your total emissions. Convenient and affordable infrastructure will play an important part in this growth.
If you’re ready to be a charging station advocate, there’s a lot of room for growth in Lancaster County. You might want to encourage your workplace, retirement community or place of worship to install chargers. And check out Solar United Neighbors. They can inform you about charging your EV at home with solar panels purchased through their co-op.
Ryan McCoy is a contributing writer with a background in creative writing and journalism who hopes to bring attention to local climate action. He enjoys reading and being outdoors, and resides in Manheim Township with his wife Adrian and their cat Littles, who has a little face.