by Preston Roper — This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of FMJ
Electric vehicles may be silent, but the buzz is growing louder for electric mobility as more drivers experience the benefits of driving an electric car. To date, there have been over 1.2 million plug-in electric vehicles sold in the United States. EV sales saw an 81 percent year-over-year growth from 2017 to 2018 with a 22 percent compound annual growth rate expected from 2019 through 2024. The Tesla Model 3 was the top-selling luxury vehicle in the United States last year and continues to dominate the US EV market, making up over 45 percent of 2019 total US EV sales as of the end of June. With more EVs hitting city streets, commercial properties such as workplaces, apartments, and shopping malls are looking to satisfy the growing charging needs of electric car drivers.
Driving an EV offers both environmental and lifestyle advantages over internal combustion engine vehicles. With 40 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions on average and zero tailpipe emissions, EVs help improve local air quality because there is no harmful particulate matter like black carbon emitted and other contaminants like volatile organic compounds. While these environmental benefits make the transition to electric mobility fundamental to building a sustainable future, many EV drivers find that the lifestyle advantages are the true prize of EV ownership. EVs offer smoother and quieter acceleration, better handling, and generate instant linear torque, allowing them to outperform traditional gasoline-powered vehicles. All this without the frequent and expensive visits to smelly and dirty gas stations. Then there are the savings accrued to EV drivers from avoided trips to the mechanic and service station, which typically add up to thousands of dollars over the course of several years. Many regions also offer EV drivers access to carpool lanes, reduced tolls, reserved parking, and free public charging. With these combined benefits, more than nine out of 10 EV drivers report they would never go back to a gas-powered vehicle.
The workplace is the second-most frequent parking location behind personal homes. For EV drivers who commute, this makes the workplace the second-most important place to charge. Consequently, the availability of workplace charging has an enormous impact on an employee’s choice to drive an EV. A DOE survey found that employees were six times more likely to drive an EV when workplace charging was made available. Employers who take this step are appreciated by their employees – according to the same study, 90 percent of employers receive positive feedback from staff on their workplace charging programs. Given that 74 percent of plug-in electric vehicle drivers express strong interest in workplace charging, stations can be offered as an amenity or perk such as free charging to attract and retain talent and increase employee satisfaction in the workplace.
While many EV drivers invest in a home charging station, workplace charging is especially important for employees that live in an apartment or condo and cannot necessarily install a charging station at home due to restrictions at the property or lack of a dedicated parking space. For these drivers, access to a workplace charger can serve as a primary charging location and relieve range anxiety with a convenient place to reliably charge. In urban areas where many people live in apartments or multifamily unit housing, workplace charging can mean the difference between whether it is realistic for a person to drive an EV or not.
Apart from satisfied employees, companies that invest in EV charging equipment see a wide range of additional benefits that make EV charging a worthwhile investment. With EV sales nearly doubling last year in the U.S., many businesses see an opportunity to differentiate their company from competitors, attract and retain talent, and add value to their properties by adding EV charging infrastructure.
Whether a property is designed for office use, retail or multifamily housing, offering EV charging can be a great way to increase the value of a property by offering a highly valuable amenity. Providing EV charging demonstrates a commitment to sustainability and can help earn LEED certification through credits provided for installing charging stations. Also, smart EV charging stations offer energy management optimization to keep electricity bills low, and payment collection mechanisms to generate new revenue from EV charging sessions.
Businesses that offer public EV charging to customers and visitors are quite literally putting their properties on the map. EV drivers use smartphone apps to find EV charging stations to “top up” their vehicle’s battery and will typically stay parked for an hour or more while they shop or run errands. By attracting new customers and increasing “dwell-time,” businesses can increase operating income – not to mention the additional revenue stream that can be generated by collecting payment for station usage. EV drivers tend to be loyal customers who return repeatedly, and once a business becomes known as a charging hub in the local community the word will spread to other EV drivers in a virtuous cycle that keeps customers coming back.
Businesses are also investing in EV charging stations because of the availability of incentive money. There are billions of dollars available to businesses across the United States to fund commercial EV charging equipment. The three main sources of funding are utility-provided incentive programs, state and local government incentive programs, and funds from the Volkswagen “Dieselgate” emissions scandal. Before investing capital in an EV charging project, it is always prudent to speak with a trusted expert in the space to learn whether a project may be eligible for funds that cover all or part of the costs of an EV charging installation.
Where the “carrot” of generous financial incentives does not prompt the desired investment, states and local governments are also using regulations to mandate the development of EV charging stations. Across the United States in places such as California, Seattle, and Miami, minimum requirements are being put in place for the inclusion of EV charging stations in new real estate development. California’s CALGreen building code, for example, includes a provision requiring 6 percent of parking spaces in commercial buildings and 3 percent in multi-unit dwellings be EV ready. This is a trend that is gaining traction across the country, largely because it is cost-effective to install EV charging stations when a property is being developed.
So how can a business take advantage of the buzz around EVs and reap the benefits of investing in EV charging equipment? Here are some best practices to maximize an investment in EV charging station equipment.
Take advantage of incentive funds while they are available
Today, there are generous EV charging station incentives available to businesses across the United States, but these funds are capped and may not be renewed after the EV market matures. In some areas it is possible to stack as many as four or five incentive programs to get EV charging at low or zero cost.
Make use of “smart charging” capabilities to minimize OPEX
One of the most important considerations when selecting EV charging stations is the ability of the IoT software to intelligently manage electricity use and reduce the operational costs of the charging station. Select a station that comes with smart charging software to help manage the cost of providing this amenity with features like scheduled charging, load balancing and demand charge management.
Group stations close to existing infrastructure
EV charging stations need access to electrical infrastructure, so cluster the EV chargers together, preferably close to the electrical distribution panels for the most economical EV parking locations. Tearing up pavement and laying conduit is expensive and not always necessary, so it pays to save by grouping stations.
Understand power requirements and don’t oversize
It is common for businesses to believe that the best EV charging solution for their property will be the station that provides the most power, but this is often not the case. Survey employees and visitors to understand how drivers will use the charging stations. Unless visitors are driving long distances to arrive at a property, they likely only need to “top up” their vehicle rather than fill it completely from empty. Think about how long visitors tend to be parked – is it an hour or more? If so, a level 2 smart charging station will likely be sufficient to top up their vehicle and make it home. Figure 1 shows the approximate number of miles added by the amount of time parked at different types of charging stations.
Structure the contract to maximize available program funds
Review the terms of any incentive program being used and include all relevant costs that are eligible to be covered by the incentive program. Often these programs will cover not only the cost of the chargers, but also additional services required such as installation and software fees. Where possible, install extra electrical capacity during the EV infrastructure “make ready” phase while funding is available to allow for future expansion. Bundle multi-year software or network charges in the contract to maximize the use of program funds left over after purchase and installation.
Consult with an expert
An EV charging installation is a multi-faceted project that can span a range of knowledge domains. It is always best to team up with an EV charging expert while scoping and implementing a project to ensure all details have been considered and best practices are followed.
Facilities are taking advantage of available EV charging infrastructure incentives and saving thousands of dollars in the process. For example, a retail mall in Los Angeles, California, USA took advantage of an incentive, which offered $5,000 per charging station, and saved $200,000 with 100 percent project costs covered by the rebate. The mall wanted a low-cost solution without high recurring yearly network fees, so the property installed 40 JuiceBox Pro 40C14 smart charging stations.
Electric vehicles are taking off and investing in charging stations is one of the best ways that any company can capitalize on this trend. Convenient and accessible charging options are needed by EV drivers, and companies that install charging infrastructure for their customers or employees are truly helping to advance the spread of clean, electric mobility. Providing EV charging in the workplace empowers employees to make the switch to an EV and offering public charging to customers and other visitors can help mitigate range anxiety while also establishing a business as a local hub for EV drivers.
Between the explosive growth of EVs and the billions of dollars available through incentive programs, there has never been a better time to invest in EV charging equipment. Electric vehicles will soon take over the roads. Now is the time to prepare for the charge.
About the author
Preston Roper, General Manager, North America, Enel X e-Mobility, brings more than two decades of experience forming and growing innovative marketing, sales, and operations teams at high-growth technology companies, including Honeywell, NetDynamics (acquired by Sun Microsystems/Oracle) and Synopsys (IPO). In addition to renewable energy, he brings expertise in SaaS, business intelligence, and enterprise software. Roper holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, a Master of Science in Hardware-Software Co-Design from Stanford University, and a master’s in business administration from Stanford University.