The Great Overlooked Opportunity for EV Adoption: Workplace Charging
May 27, 2020
May 27, 2020
Discussions about the need for electric-vehicle charging infrastructure usually focus on two areas. The first is home charging, where the vast majority of electric-vehicle charging takes place. And then the discussion quickly jumps to highway quick-charging to enable EV road trips. But what is commonly overlooked is the vast opportunity for drivers, employers, and utilities to plug in an EV at a workplace.
Employers offering EV charging at their worksites get an immediate boost in green cred. It’s a tangible, cost-effective, and highly visible way for a company to show it’s working toward sustainability goals. Even a few charging points located in the parking lot reveals that a company is in the vanguard of the shift to cleaner transportation. Moreover, EV-driving workers love the perk, which in turn allows employers to recruit and retain smart, high-tech, eco-friendly employees.
The charging solution for apartment-dwellers and utilities
Beyond an enlightened self-interest for employers, workplace charging addresses one of the biggest obstacles facing EV adoption. That’s the ability for people who live in multi-family dwellings to own an electric vehicle.
About 40 percent of Americans reside in apartments and condos without a dedicated private parking spot. Commuters who would otherwise immediately go electric, but don’t know for sure that they can conveniently plug in every night, will make the switch to a zero-emission battery-powered car if workplace charging was abundant. This perk, especially if offered for free, would seriously amp-up retention for those employees.
Utilities also benefit from workplace charging. The reason is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. Masses of new EV drivers are expected in the next few years. The Edison Electric Institute forecasts that there will be nearly 19 million EVs on US roads by 2030, up from about 1 million today. Workplace charging is a potent tool to spread energy demand from all those EVs throughout the day.
Utilities for many years have offered the incentive of special time-of-use rates, or other rewards programs for EV owners. By providing a lower rate per kilowatt-hour in the wee hours of the night, electric-car drivers are encouraged to schedule charging when demand is low. Every EV has this capability via the dashboard or an app.
There’s often excess power on the grid during those middle-of-the-night hours – sometimes supplied by strong winds in the night or nuclear generation. And it can be soaked up by EV batteries. A utility’s primary goal is to avoid every EV driver coming home in the late afternoon and all plugging in at the same time. That can trigger the use of polluting peaker plants or prompt the need for building more power supply just for those peaks.
Utilities pave the way for workplace charging
Another valley in demand happens smack in the middle of the day. In response, utilities are incentivizing the installation of workplace charging infrastructure – thereby getting electric-vehicle drivers to shift charging-related demand to 9-to-5 hours.
Texas-based Austin Energy has one of the nation’s most effective workplace-charging programs. The utility provides a rebate of up to $4,000 (or 50 percent) of the cost to install approved Level 2, 240-volt charging station, or Level 1, 120-volt outlet.
Austin Energy also provides rebates up to $10,000 to hosts who want to install a DC Fast Charger. But an expensive quick-charger is not necessarily the best choice for several key reasons. First, employees commonly leave their car parked for most of the workday. A 240-volt charger, which adds about 25 miles of range per hour, is plenty fast.
Canada’s Ontario-based Alectra Utilities is also making it easy for employers to add EV charging. The Alectra Drive for the Workplace program provides companies with a reliable and cost-effective car-charging software solution. The system manages the power demand of a building, onsite solar and storage, and the EVs charging in the parking lot. EV-driving employees save money because the system monitors the price of electricity by initiating a charge when the cost-per-kilowatt-hour is low while ensuring the EV gets a full charge on time.
Two hours of being plugged in are more than enough to replenish the range of a typical commute. Rules and incentives can also be set up to allow multiple EV-driving employees to plug in throughout the day. Employers can establish reasonable plans to start with just a few Level 2 chargers while putting in make-ready infrastructure to expand the number of stations as more of the workforce buys an EV.
Level 2, 240-volt charging is well-suited to everyday use. It’s gentler on batteries, because there’s mounting evidence that daily DC fast charging can be detrimental to the long-term health of an EV battery.
Future capabilities using vehicle-to-grid technology
The importance of the workplace for EVs is already catching on. Wood Mackenzie, the research firm, forecasts that there will be a half-million workplace charging stations in North American and Europe by 2022. That number will leap to 1.25 million chargers by 2025.
Forward-thinking utilities and companies are anticipating an approaching future when workplace parking lots are filled with plugged-in EVs. That vision becomes transformative when you consider the potential of so-called vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology.
A utility commonly needs upgraded power lines, transformers, and other equipment to handle infrequent peaks in demand. But a V2G smart system reverses the flow of electrons going to the cars. Communications and hardware – now in development but only deployed in Japan – instead pulls energy from the car and pushes it to the grid. The EV battery becomes an energy storage device for buildings!
Nissan, in March 2020, demonstrated the ability to pull power from a Nissan Leaf EV to restore energy to a convenience store suffering a power outage. A similar system using workplace charging could help an employer avoid expensive demand fees for short periods of high power needs.
This capability might be a couple of years away, but it portends the widespread creation of workplace microgrids. That’s the ability of local entities to manage their own energy resources and loads. Definable boundaries can be set to strengthen the microgrid’s reliability, lower costs, and even completely “island” itself during grid outages.
The EV future one workplace charger at a time
While a two-way EV charging could be a game-changer, we don’t have to wait for those systems to benefit from workplace charging.
The list of immediate benefits to employers, utilities, and drivers can be exercised today. Green cred, employee retention, the fostering of EV adoption, and better management of power demand starts as soon as an employer installs its first EV charging station.
And consider this: every single EV represents the elimination of tailpipe emissions and a step-change decrease in transportation-related greenhouse gases. A single glance at a workplace parking with electric cars charging is a visceral sign of the shift to cleaner air and bluer skies.