Key strategies to help cities overcome the charging challenge quickly, easily, and at lower cost

Electric vehicle sales are soaring around the world and especially in Europe, where light-duty sales jumped from an average of 3% in 2019 to an impressive 11% in 2020. Sales in Europe also reached an all-time high of 23% in December of 2020. The future is bright for the air quality in cities, as this trend is highly likely to accelerate due to the ambitious electrification targets set by local and national governments. However, charging infrastructure deployment is a necessary condition to sustain this growth. During the second quarter of 2021, the European Union will revise the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure law, and in a common letter the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, Transport & Environment, and the European Consumer Organisation, asked the EU commissioners to require 1 million public charging points in 2024: an increase of about 450% from 2020. It leads us to wonder, how can cities keep up with the charging infrastructure quickly enough to make sure it is not an impediment for future EV growth?

Indeed, if charging infrastructure deployment does not keep up with electric vehicle growth, it could lead to congestion at charge points and inconvenience for drivers. The problem is that right now it takes months, if not years, in many cities between the time a charging station installation is initiated and the day the station is opened to the public. The process is also often intricate, expensive, and may feel overwhelming for cities and operators alike. Fortunately, there are many ways that cities can make the entire charging station planning, permitting, and installation process faster, cheaper, and more efficient. Successful strategies are summarized below and further detailed in this study.

Two complementary public charger deployment strategies

Demand-driven strategy

A demand-driven approach, exemplified by Amsterdam, mostly relies on electric vehicle drivers’ requests to determine future chargers’ locations. Once a location has been found and approved, the city assigns the charging station implementation to a pre-determined operator. This approach is particularly well suited for early phases of charging infrastructure roll-out, as it guarantees a minimum utilization which can reassure investors. Additionally, it works well for public residential and workplace chargers. However, finding an adequate site close to an EV driver’s requested location can be time consuming. To ease this step, upfront collaboration between city departments and utilities is key.

Planning-oriented strategy

The city of Stockholm has successfully implemented a planning-oriented approach to charging infrastructure. The installation of a charging station is first initiated by a charging station operator or a local authority applying for location, the suitability of which has been predetermined by the city. This approach requires close collaboration between many stakeholders to identify potential charging station locations and determine the estimated cost of connecting these to the grid. This method is well suited for both AC regular and DC fast chargers.

A combined approach

A major drawback of only relying on a demand-driven approach is that it does not ensure even coverage of the city. Similarly, a drawback of the planning-oriented approach is that minimum charger usage is not guaranteed, which could drive away investments. A winning strategy could thus be to adopt a city-wide, demand-driven model and implement a planning-oriented approach in areas with lower electric vehicle uptake and at points of interest to ensure equitable infrastructure access.

The figure below highlights the key steps for both approaches and provides an estimated timeline for the installation of a charger based on the experience of Amsterdam and Stockholm.


Starting off with a city-wide demand-driven approach to ensure minimum charger utilization in early markets, assess demand, and reassure early EV adopters while working with stakeholders to identify ideal charging station locations allows cities to take advantage of both approaches. The information gathered early on by the demand-driven approach can be used to inform planning-oriented decisions. At the same time, the additional planning-oriented strategy increases EV visibility and thus uptake, while ensuring equitable and sufficient infrastructure access and allowing for an efficient installation process. 

What about DC fast chargers?

In addition to the two previously mentioned, cities can undertake a third strategy: an off-street business-oriented approach. In this strategy, the development of charging infrastructure is primarily left to the market. This approach is especially well-suited for the installation of DC fast chargers since they offer a better business case due to more electricity sold and higher user turnover. These chargers also take up more space which makes the off-street location a better fit. The city’s role is to help operators and landowners navigate the installation process and streamline the permitting procedure. While cities have less leverage with this approach, they can incentivize the deployment of charging stations on privately-operated land such as car parks and fueling stations through different mechanisms. For example, Paris grants concession contracts to fueling stations on public land, and, in order to renew the contract, those fueling station operators are required to install either a DC fast charging station or a natural gas station.

Cooperation with stakeholders is key

Whatever approach is chosen, several best practices can be implemented to improve and accelerate the installation process; Partnering and collaborating with stakeholders is a key one. A non-exhaustive list of stakeholders includes grid operators, city agencies, private landowners and businesses, charging station operators, taxi, ride hailing and car sharing companies, and the public. This can seem like a lot of entities to involve, but don’t worry, guidance for working with key stakeholders is included in the related study.

Cities and grid operators could work together to identify areas with energy grid constraints and easy grid connection, as has been done in London, and determine areas where charging station deployment would be immediately approved, such has been done in Stockholm. Cities can also provide charging station operators with a step-by-step guide and associated costs to help them navigate the often intricate permitting and installation procedure. Working with charging station operators is also key for the city to have access to charging station location and utilization data. As an example, Stockholm offers free access rights agreements for parking places in exchange for access to data among other requirements. The city could additionally require interoperability of the charging stations and the ability to pay with any means of payment to address the concerns of EV drivers.

Interested in knowing more? Here is a link to the detailed study with European city examples and more insights on facilitating stakeholder engagement and detailed best practices.