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Thursday, May 23, 2024

New Hanover lags behind on electric cars, infrastructure as popularity surges in NC

A charging electric vehicle. (File photo)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — The number of electric vehicles registered in the state increased by about 57% in the past year, but the Wilmington area is being outpaced.

North Carolina Department of Transportation’s latest dataset from October 2022 shows New Hanover County had the largest concentration in the tri-county with 864 registrations. That is an increase of 46% from the same time last year.

READ MORE: $109M to increase electric charging stations across state

Other Cape Fear counties have made more percentage gains despite being home to fewer electric cars overall.

Brunswick County had 373 registrations as of October, compared to 241 a year prior, a 55% increase. The exception to the slightly lackluster increases was Pender County. Though the total number of EVs, 131, is low, it is 96% more than 2021.

Counties with the largest number and fastest adoption rate of EVs have something in common: Proximity to one of the state’s two Tesla dealerships. The Austin-based company had about 65% market share in 2022, according to the S&P Global Index.

Mecklenburg County’s EV registrations climbed from 3,886 to 6,201, or 59%. Wake County, which has the most electric cars in the state, despite a slightly lower population than Mecklenburg, saw a jump from 6,222 to 9,547, or about 53%.

Union County, southeast of Charlotte, saw the sharpest increase in a county with more than 500 registered vehicles, from 777 to 1,296.

Many of the biggest changers were in smaller counties outside of major metropolitan areas, like Pender. Rutherford County, for example, saw a nearly 100% increase from 36 to 69 registrations. Nash County jumped from 56 to 92.

There are some barriers to more electric vehicles coming to the tri-county area. Lack of proximity to a Tesla dealership is complemented by less charging availability.

While hundreds of dedicated charging locations are in both Mecklenburg and Wake Counties, only 30 locations are in the tri-county region, according to the federal charging location database.

Cox Enterprises, publisher of Kelly Blue Book, points to price as the top barrier to adopting the vehicles. Tesla increased the prices of all of its models by thousands in March and June last year. The median household income in Wake County is $88,471, compared to $62,362 in New Hanover.

Still, there is movement to put more electric cars on the road in the Cape Fear. The City of Wilmington has plans to make its entire fleet electric by 2050, starting by fielding an electric garbage truck; it also has been adding more chargers. 

Wrightsville Beach’s latest parking project will include some chargers and a federal program is slated to pump $109 million into installing public stations every 50 miles at least.

Duke Energy is actively pushing to make EVs more accessible throughout the state the state as well. The utility company will cover up to $1,117 of the cost for customers to install chargers in their homes. Duke is paying both contractors to include the setups in new home builds and businesses to install chargers on site.

Duke spokesperson Logan Kureczka noted the $109 million in federal funding comes from a larger $5 billion federal pot of money for installing 500,000 EV chargers across the entire country. Utility companies like Duke will be responsible for building the stations in their service areas. The federal program is still determining where and how many chargers will be placed in North Carolina.

“That includes multi-family dwellings because a lot of times that’s where it’s tough because you can’t put a charger in your own garage,” Kureczka said.

Duke is also targeting rural and underserved areas. The entirety of Pender County, for example, has three public charging stations.

“We know, obviously, that EV adoption is going to increase demand, but there are ways we can manage it to our advantage,” Kureczka said.

Duke is just beginning, but one system it expects to implement is discounts on charging during low-demand hours and higher rates during peak times.

Kureczka said overnight charging is the ideal time because while people sleep is a low point for demand. Early morning and mid-afternoon are peak times.

Duke is also considering using EVs to its advantage with “vehicle-to-grid” technology, which would entail using EV batteries hooked up to chargers to provide power back to the grid during peak use. Utility companies would buy the power from the vehicle owner in that case.

The technology is nascent, but Duke has a pilot program with Ford, specifically the company’s new model, the Lightning electric truck.

“We are just beginning pilots on that,” Kureczka said. “But that V2G technology will be an important part for us some day.”

The company is not yet concerned about people driving more EVs. There were 5,000 registered EVs in North Carolina in 2018, though that has increased significantly to 36,069. Overall, it remains a tiny fraction of the 8.5 million vehicles registered statewide.

Despite the large percentage gains year-over-year, electric cars could be years away from dominating the road, with Reuter’s estimating they won’t account for more than half of vehicles until 2050.

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