Expert Interview: the benefits of on-site electric vehicle charging stations
Glumac's Scott Clemons breaks down the environmental and financial benefits of owning on-site electric vehicle charging stations and why they offer unique opportunities for those who purchase them.
There are a few different types of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. Can you describe them?
Level 1 chargers are your typical 120V in-home chargers. They take anywhere from 8 to 12 hours (or more) to fully charge a depleted EV battery. They are mostly recommended for at-home charging overnight since power is cheaper after 7 p.m. or 8 p.m., so the 8-hour charging requirement isn’t typically an issue. These are almost always wall-mounted or plugged in to a dedicated outlet in the owner’s garage.
Level 2 chargers are more powerful, requiring 208V or higher. They take anywhere from 4 to 8 hours to fully charge a depleted battery. This level of charger is best suited for commercial applications and high-rise residential buildings where tenants might be in and out of the facility within several hours. These can be wall-mounted or pedestal-mounted for almost any application.
Level 3 chargers are the top of the line and fastest chargers on the market. They utilize 480V 3 Phase input power and are commonly referred to as DC Fast Chargers. They can provide a full charge in under an hour, typically in just 20 to 30 minutes. This level of charger is best suited for very short-term charging such as a shopping plaza, mall, or “gas” station where drivers will only spend a limited amount of time. This type of charger is only available in a pedestal mount and requires more infrastructure upgrades than other options.
What is the typical cost for each?
Level 1 chargers are typically in the $500 to $2,000 range and don’t require a lot of additional infrastructure or installation.
Level 2 chargers range from $2,500 to $15,000 depending on brand and charge rate. These can require additional infrastructure, but always require electrical engineering to ensure proper functionality and safety. Depending on the desired function, such as a commercial application, these can require multi-discipline construction plans.
Level 3 chargers are the most expensive. They can range from $40,000 to more than $100,000 depending on charging solution and additional functionality, such as smart fleet charging. Level 3 chargers require significant infrastructure upgrades and have a larger footprint. These require multi-discipline engineering plans for construction.
Are there rebates or other government programs that can help offset that cost?
Many local utilities and jurisdictions periodically have programs that offer significant discounts or rebates for EV charging and Bus or Fleet electrification. Some of these programs offer up to 99% off the total cost of the project. San Diego’ SDG&E PYD Program, for example, covers the cost of installation for some low-income communities.
I see neighbors charging their EVs just by plugging them into the wall. Why can’t we just add outlets instead of full-fledged charging stations?
While adding outlets is a viable charging solution, it may not be the most practical, efficient, or suitable for each person’s needs. Plugs only allow up to Level 1 charging, which can take up to 12 hours to charge a vehicle. The most cost-effective solution for the majority of owners would be a level 2 or level 3 charging station.
Let’s talk about benefits: Beyond the branding factor of appearing to be a sustainable building, what tangible benefits can owners anticipate from installing EV charging stations?
Electric Vehicle charging offers several unique opportunities for owners. 1) They can offer an amenity that is still somewhat scarce across the nation, attracting employees or residents that possess or will possess EV’s. 2) Electrifying a fleet or bus network saves an immense amount on maintenance and gasoline every year. The cost savings far outweigh the initial infrastructure costs after only a few years.
Additionally, some of the costs would be negligible if the owner participants in a program that pays for the infrastructure such as the SDG&E PYD version mentioned earlier. 3) They can generate revenue for every kWh used. While the local utility will charge the owner a certain amount per kWH, the owner may sell the power from the charger at a higher rate, thus creating a profit. It is quite common for owners to specify an additional fee on top of what it costs them for drivers to use their charging stations, just like how gas stations sell gasoline. 4) The owners can also specify the charging as free for their drivers, especially in a workplace or hospitality environment as a major perk to working or staying there. 5) Owners, especially of large-scale fleets, can opt for Vehicle-To-Grid charging stations. These allow the sizable batteries of the vehicles to sell their internal power back to the utility during peak times or use their power as a non-emergency backup option through these “reversible” charging stations. While not the most efficient option for the equipment or generating considerable profit, they do allow idle or standby vehicles extra utilization while not in use.
From: US Department of Energy “Assessment of Light-Duty Plug-In Electric Vehicles in the United States, 2010–2018”
If we’re talking about the owner eventually selling the electricity themselves, are there potential value-adds for coupling EV stations with on-site energy generation?
Coupling on-site generation with EV charging is a common way to help reduce the extra power requirements of the EV charging while still providing a premium amenity to drivers. Even if there are no current drivers using the chargers, the on-site generation can generate power to sell back to the utility for a profit.
This is done on a site by site basis since on-site generation is not suitable for all locations.
What type of building is this best applicable to?
Any residence or workplace that has a parking lot would be suitable for this type of application. Since most everyone needs to drive to work or back home after their workday, any parking lot is a possible location. Ideally, a viable electrical source will be nearby to ensure the system operates at maximum efficiency and to keep initial costs down. Whether the site has an existing parking lot or a brand new building and parking lot, electric vehicle charging stations can be installed and properly utilized. The most cost-efficient applications would be new construction projects since the infrastructure such as conduits can be installed within the concrete or walls without the need for trenching or surface mounted equipment.
Does the owner need a charging station for every expected electric vehicle?
Not at all. Many EV drivers embrace the “move cords not cars” philosophy. Basically, if an adjacent EV is finished charging but the owner has not returned to unplug the car, it is commonplace to move the cord to your car, scan or input your charging station requirements (credit card or account FOB), and begin charging your vehicle. Many workplaces even have notification programs to help drivers identify when their car is finished charging to encourage this type of behavior. Since most EV charging stations can reach two to four depending on the brand and the layout of the parking lot, many owners will install charging stations equal to half of their expected need, thus saving infrastructure costs while still providing the same amount of charging.
How much maintenance do the charging stations require?
Very minimal annual maintenance is required. Unless a charger malfunctions and the manufacturer is required to service the station under their warranty, the typical maintenance involves cleaning the outside of the station and software updates.