Lead the Charge with Electric Vehicle Stations

04/11/2011 | By Janelle Penny

With car charging opportunities, your facility can become a green destination for electric vehicles

Slowly but surely, electric vehicle charging stations are cropping up everywhere from the Kissimmee, FL, branch of Buffalo Wild Wings to a planned charging station and solar power generator in Oak Ridge, TN.

The increasing popularity of electric vehicles is leading more and more facilities to eye the technology as a way to gain a competitive edge. Offering a station where drivers can recharge their cars can lend you an amenity for employees, a way to earn LEED points, a tangible way to illustrate your facility’s environmental efforts, or a way to supplement revenue.

Will They Fit Your Facility?
Most commercial buildings with vehicle chargers didn’t install them to accommodate the cars employees and guests already have, says Brady Blain, vice president of business development for charging station manufacturer PEP Stations. So why install a charger without knowing if anyone will use it?

"A lot of early adopters are progressive companies looking to promote that they’re a green facility or a green corporation," Blain says. "There are people who achieve tax credits for installing them in new developments."

Market-conscious FMs are also keen to get in the electric vehicle game before the stations are as common as Starbucks, says Caitlin Cieslik-Miskimen, senior account executive at the Antenna Group, which handles public affairs for station manufacturer ECOtality.

"People know there’s a huge demand for electric vehicles, and they’re starting to really hit the road and be available for customers, so they really do want to get ahead of the cars and offer charging as an amenity," she adds.

However, the ever-present elephant in the room – cost – also comes into play. Buying and commissioning a single station that can charge 2 cars simultaneously comes in at just under $5,500, not including the cost to have an electrician install it, Blain says. The power flowing to the cars can also get costly, so while you may want to offer free charging to draw people in, your CFO may feel differently. In many cases, your business’s specific function will dictate whether you farm out any of your power costs to guests.

"If it’s a tenant, they’re paying for the electricity already through the lease," Blain says. "In an office environment, it will probably be set up for access cards and/or credit cards. In a retail environment, to attract people to the stores and keep people in the store longer while they charge their vehicles, they may want to offer free access initially. At the end of the day, they’ll at least want to be reimbursed for the power consumed in their parking lot."

Charger Checklist
Options for charging stations are constantly growing, so you’ll need to anticipate your future needs as you compare vendors. Narrow down the search with these criteria:

Payment: Will you offer electricity as a free amenity? If not, will you accept credit cards from anyone, or issue access cards to customers and clients? Do you prefer a pay-per-use model like a traditional fuel pump or will you cater to customers who have signed up for a subscription service?

Charge: Most commercial settings use a Level 2 charge station, which offers 240 volts and charges a car in half the time the driver would need with a standard 110V home charge. With this type, a driver can completely charge the smaller battery of a Chevy Volt hybrid vehicle in 2-3 hours, vs. 6-8 hours for the all-electric Nissan Leaf, or top off a partially-depleted battery with a shorter time investment. You can also choose a fast-charging Level 3 station, which fills batteries at twice the speed of a Level 2 station with a 480V DC charge, but is larger and more expensive.

Number: Because electric vehicles are still getting their footing in the marketplace, many buyers start small with enough stations to charge 2-4 vehicles, says Kristin Helsel, vice president of EV Solutions for manufacturer AeroVironment. "When you see those 2 spots being claimed on a frequent basis, you’ll be able to add more," she adds. "People are putting them in 2-4 at a time, putting out a press release, and saying ‘We’re EV-ready. Come see us.’"

Janelle Penny (janelle.penny@buildings.com) is associate editor of BUILDINGS.

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