Assessing Chicago's Future For Electric Vehicles and Charging Stations

Five MEM students help the city of Chicago plan for the anticipated boom in the number of electric vehicles on its roads.

Electric vehicle

Just as a traditional vehicle without gas is nothing more than a really heavy paperweight, an electric vehicle (EV) without a charge does nothing to address its driver’s concerns over high fuel prices or climate change.

A group of students in Northwestern's Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program is helping ensure Chicago’s EV drivers won’t have that problem. 

The five students recently volunteered to assist on a project under the mentorship of the director of policy for the Chicago Department of Transportation. The students evaluated the city’s readiness to do its part to help Illinois with the goal of accommodating a million EVs on its roads by 2030. 

“This project excited us because it will directly impact the future of Chicago,” said Raj Shekhar Madhurakavi, who worked with the city along with fellow students Chaitanya Davani, Krupal Jawanjal, Yash Wardhan and Koti Reddy. 

“Our contribution will have a real impact on the world,” Wardhan said.

The students were tasked with evaluating the current number of EVs currently traveling in the city, as well as the charging stations available to keep them moving. They then worked on forecasting what infrastructure would be needed by 2030, based on the anticipated boom in the industry, and then delivered their final recommendations to the Department of Transportation. 

“The recommendations proposed were on how much EV public charging infrastructure should be available in the year 2030 and what revenue models should be considered,” Jawanjal said. “It also included what design guidelines the City of Chicago should consider while planning the EV framework for the goal undertaken by the state of Illinois.”

That goal is an important part of the United States’ effort to curb climate change. The students' research found that the transportation sector is the second-leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in Chicago and, according to their final report, “a major contributor to the poor air quality in the city.” 

To help push back the negatives, the city has a goal of transitioning all public transportation to electric vehicles by 2040. 

Yet, the students cautioned, this doesn’t mean the city should create charging stations without a smart plan. 

“It’s all about the design,” the report stated. “Bad charging stations might stifle rather than encourage EV adoption.” 

The students recommended visible, accessible, and comfortable charging stations that are attractive to sit in and that won’t easily be blocked by other vehicles. 

Recent experiences helped the students arrive at their conclusions. Shekhar, who served as team lead, came into the project with more than a decade of experience in the EV industry, but all four had something else going for them – their MEM education. 

“The data analysis was done using different tools and techniques we learned during MEM,” Jawanjal said. “The skills learned – such as planning, leadership, strategic management, and communications –  are all very important aspects while pursuing our jobs going forward.” 

With the EV project now in the students’ rearview mirror, they reflected on what it meant to them personally. 

“It was a great responsibility,” Shekhar said. “I feel happy to be a part of this project, contributing my part in a meaningful manner, impacting society positively.”

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