5 Things Airports Need to Consider Before Installing EV Charging Stations
Last year, Volkswagen demonstrated its autonomous Valet Charging System at Stuttgart Airport. An autonomous VW e-Golf dropped reporters off at an airport gate and then drove itself to a parking lot to charge. While this technology is likely still a few years away, in the meantime, airports all over the world have been working out strategies to deploy charging stations in ways that are both cost effective and useful to customers.
In 2013, the Transportation Research Board (TRB) conducted a survey of airports in United States that offer plug-in vehicle charging. Eighteen airports participated in the study, which focused a great deal on the challenges and unknowns associated with becoming plug-in friendly. Airports must evaluate their existing electrical infrastructure, determine costs, decide on revenue models, select the best sites and establish rules of use, among other considerations. All of this is, of course, brand new territory for most airport managers.
In this post, we look to identify five major questions airport parking and facilities managers must ask before moving forward with charge installations. Wherever possible, utilities, contractors and charge providers should be prepared to help answer them.
We also put together a quick cheatsheet of the 5 things that airports need to consider before installing electric vehicle charging stations. You can download that PDF here.
1. Why do airports need EV charging stations?
According to a 2009 TRB report, airports generate more revenue from parking than any other non-airline source. The hourly cost of airport parking is typically close to or higher than the most expensive downtown lots in a city. Airport customers also stay much longer than customers at other commercial parking locations. According to the report, 30 percent of airport parkers stay more than 24 hours, but at the same time, long-term parking accounts for roughly 70 percent of airport space usage at any given time.
Electric vehicle charging has the potential to boost revenue in several areas. First, whether dropping someone off or flying themselves, some plug-in drivers will be more likely to drive to the airport if they know that they can add range while they’re there. This increases parking lot occupancy and induces customers to pay premium hourly or long-term rates for the privilege of drawing relatively inexpensive quantities of electricity while there. Airports can charge hourly fees at stations if they choose, either instead of or in addition to standard parking rates.
Most major airport lots also offer some form of value-added parking products, including valet, reserved zones and guaranteed spaces. By offering services like valet charging, powerful DC quick charge access or reserved high-demand spaces for EVs, airports can encourage customers to upgrade their services to more expensive products (and plug-in drivers can usually afford them).
Many airports have installed charging access funded in part by state or local government programs designed to stimulate plug-in vehicle adoption. Others see it as a way to generate positive publicity and leave a more modern, environmentally-aware impression with visitors. As EV ownership expands though, there is an increasingly strong business case to be made for investing in airport charge stations.
Why an airport would install charging stations:
- Airports generate more revenue from parking than any other non-airline source.
- Installing charging stations could make it more likely for EV owners to drive to the airport and park.
- This increases lot occupancy, and offers the opportunity of providing a value-added parking product.
- As EV ownership expands, there will be an increasingly strong business case for investing in airport charging stations.
2. How much will adding charging stations cost?
The cost to install any kind of charging station varies based on a number of factors. At airport lots this is especially true.
Most parking facilities weren’t built with the idea of simultaneously charging dozens of electric vehicles in mind, so the amount of additional electrical load a facility can handle will determine how much (if any) additional infrastructure needs to be installed. This part of the process can be extremely costly, so it might be a good idea to anticipate future demand in adding additional capacity. Airports can often benefit from guidance from utilities and contractors in these situations, as costs can sometimes be difficult to estimate.
Beyond the cost of electrical infrastructure, installation and unit costs of the machines themselves are the other primary considerations. Aside from the specific model, airports will want to decide whether to buy networked or non-networked stations, with the latter being less expensive but incapable of collecting payment information or substantive charging data. Then there’s the issue of how to balance Level 1, Level 2 and DC quick charging based on cost and effectiveness.
In terms of approximate dollar values, CleanTechnica provides a good breakdown here.
Primary cost factors to consider when adding charging stations:
- Electrical infrastructure preparation
- Charger installation
- Charging station hardware
3. Which charging speeds are best?
Installing an abundance of Level 1 charging stations may save money and encourage long-term parking, but will it lead to the most overall usage by airport visitors?
To cater to the widest range of plug-in customers you’d ideally like to make all three charging speeds (Level 1, Level 2, and DC Quick Charging) available in strategically selected locations. How many of each kind and where you put them will depend on an assessment of the how drivers use the parking areas in the airport, levels of plug-in vehicle adoption in the area, budget considerations, and other factors.
Level 1 charging is often the good place to start for airports that are unsure of how much demand there might be or facing a costly investment in the electrical infrastructure needed to support higher rates of charge.
Factors to consider when determining which charging speed is best:
- What is the demand for EV charging?
- How are drivers using the specific lot? (ie. if they are parking long-term, then a Level 1 charger may be more than enough. If they are only parking for an hour or two, a quick charger may be necessary).
- What does your electrical infrastructure support?
- Do you have any budget considerations?
4. How should customers pay for charging?
Providing customers with charging options is good business for many parking providers because it adds value to their product, allowing them to charge more for it. The same is true for airports, which depend on parking fees for a significant chunk of their revenue.
Unlike most businesses though, nearly every airport in the U.S. is publicly owned and operated, meaning that on some level, its mandate is to serve the public interest. So while recouping investment or earning profits may be a priority for some airports, encouraging plug-in vehicle adoption or greening a city’s image for visitors may be equally important to others.
For those looking to use chargers to boost the bottom line, a central consideration is how to best monetize them. Most public charge stations run on payment networks like ChargePoint, Blink or EVGO, allowing their owners to track usage and collect fees.
JFK airport offers five Level 2 ChargePoint stations inside of an hourly parking lot and doesn’t directly charge fees for their use (but as anyone who’s paid for hourly parking at JFK can attest, that effectively makes JFK’s stations among the most expensive stations in the world). Logan Airport in Boston, Reagan National in D.C., and Denver International follow the same “pay to park, free to charge” model.
Chicago’s Midway and O’Hare airports charge customers for both parking and charging ($4 for each 90 minutes of charge). Dallas Fort-Worth and George Bush Intercontinental in Houston both offer charging at their valet lots, giving plug-in drivers an expensive but convenient premium service option.
Some airports have experimented with not only forgoing charge costs but waving parking fees altogether for plug-ins. Los Angeles International airport abandoned this policy relatively quickly, citing excess demand as the plug-in market grew. Honolulu International Airport has yet to revoke its free parking privileges, even after reported abuses by drivers who have left their cars in the lot for weeks at a time.
Potential airport EV charging monetization models:
- JFK, Logan Airport, Reagan National, and Denver International do not charge an additional fee for charger use
- Midway and O’Hare charge for both parking and charging ($4 for each 90 minutes of charge)
- Dallas Fort-Worth and George Bush Intercontinental both offer charging at their valet lots
- Honolulu International Airport waves all parking fees altogether. Los Angeles International airport abandoned this policy due to excess demand.
5. Where should airports install the charging stations?
Nearly all airport charging is located within paid parking facilities. Hourly or daily lots offer conveniently located parking access and tend to be fairly expensive. According to the TRB, the typical short-term parking customer parks for 1-3 hours and tends to seek proximity and convenience. For these spaces, Level 2 or Level 3 chargers make the most sense, as a three-hour charge with Level 1 is a nice top off but not enough to add significant miles to an EV.
Long-term lots appeal to customers planning to leave their cars anywhere from a day to several weeks. With the time available to charge, installing anything above Level 1 chargers in these lots generally doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Employee parking is located separately from consumer lots. While giving employees the option to charge at work is admirable—and an advantage in recruiting more qualified job applicants—there is limited financial, political or public relations benefit to such infrastructure. Provided that Level 1 access for employees is relatively inexpensive to install, it’s often a worthwhile investment simply from a recruiting and employee relations standpoint.
Valet lots provide an intriguing opportunity to maximize the benefits of DC quick chargers in airports. With parking attendants available to plug-in and then re-park vehicles after they’ve completed charging, valet lots have the potential to keep DCQCs in near constant use depending on an airport’s size and the rate of plug-in adoption in the area.
Potential locations for install charging stations:
- Hourly & daily lots (Level 2 or Quick Chargers)
- Long-term lots (Level 1 chargers)
- Employee lots (Level 1, Level 2, or Quick Chargers)
- Valet lots (Quick Chargers)
For airports, installing electric vehicle charging stations stand to provide a number of benefits (if done right). Since parking serves as the largest non-airline revenue source, attracting EV owners offers the opportunity of increasing lot occupancy and providing a value-added parking product. By assessing how each lot is used, airports can determine which level of charging station would be best utilized, and can establish a monetization model that best serves its organizational interests.
As EV adoption continues to expand, the case only grows even stronger.
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Main article image via Steve Jurvetson.