You’ve no doubt noticed the huge nationwide push to transition to electric vehicles. With major vehicle manufacturers pledging to phase out gas vehicles in the next 10-20 years, rising fuel prices already have demand for EVs so high that vehicle manufacturers can’t keep up. The US is currently revving into high gear to roll out the charging infrastructure necessary to power this EV future: Congress’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocated $7.5 billion for a national network of charging stations, and state and local governments are passing green initiatives and updating building codes to require more EV chargers at new and existing structures.
Huge revenue opportunities are also driving the installation of chargers at retail, hospitality, workplace, and other commercial buildings. Clearly, EV chargers will play a big part in building going forward.
However, there are a lot of different chargers out there, and before you start installing them, there’s one important thing to keep in mind: not all chargers are created equal. In fact, many of them are unreliable or just plain inconvenient—so much so that one in five EV drivers switch back to a gas vehicle.
You don’t want to commit 10-25% of a building’s parking spaces to faulty chargers that are going to make the owners and you look bad. Here are some important considerations when choosing EV chargers:
You might’ve heard that cellular providers are discontinuing their 3G service to make way for 5G. Unfortunately for EV drivers, a lot of current chargers require 3G to function and so are now or soon will be unusable.
While newer chargers won’t have this problem, it is important that going forward, we invest only in charging stations that are future-proof with LTE connectivity that won’t become obsolete.
3G isn’t the only technological barrier facing EV drivers. The majority of the chargers on the market use licensed software, meaning the hardware is not made by the same company that makes the software. This causes all kinds of reliability issues, from broken credit card swipers to stations that tell drivers they are available when they are actually already in use—or inoperable.
To make chargers reliable and versatile enough to be worth the cost of investing in them, they need to have integrated hardware and software that can give accurate real-time status updates. The charger company needs to know the moment a station goes down and have a responsive maintenance structure to get it up and running quickly. A recent study found that nearly 28% of San Francisco Bay Area chargers were inoperable. Imagine a gas station during rush hour with over a quarter of the pumps not working.
The software on chargers should also have an open API that can seamlessly integrate with apps like Google Maps and PlugShare, allowing users to easily find available stations—and drawing customers to the businesses at which they’re located. The cloud software that owners use to operate their chargers should also be tailored to their particular needs, whether they run a hotel or a parking garage. This software also needs to communicate with the utility companies to regulate grid strain.
Most charging stations force users to go through a laborious process that includes signing up for a membership, giving personal information, and maintaining a topped-up balance. They probably also require downloading an app, and in some cases, even waiting for a key fob to arrive in the mail. The irony is that since most of these chargers use the same licensed software with a different label on it, you actually need to have several copies of essentially the same app on your phone so you’re prepared for whatever brand charger is nearby. There are, however, chargers that are as simple as scanning a QR code to activate and bring up a variety of touchless payment options.
Lately, the question of ADA Accessibility with EV chargers has been rightfully getting more attention. Many charging stations are in the form of pedestals, which can be bulky and not all that easy to place—especially when retrofitting existing structures. Charger screens might be too high or cords too short for those in wheelchairs to access. However, QR codes can be placed on the charger handle for easier access and non-pedestal stations can be installed on various surfaces and at customizable heights.
This point also ties into greater aesthetic and design considerations around integrating chargers into existing locations as well as rethinking new building designs to accommodate them. Some chargers can even be customized with vinyl wraps to match the property or brand.
FUTURE OF BUILDING
As cities and states across the US adopt their own Green New Deals and set ambitious goals for going carbon neutral in the coming decades, they’re also investing heavily in EV charging infrastructure to help reach those targets. Incentives for businesses as well as updates to building codes that require increased EV charging capabilities are going to continue to make charging stations an increasingly important part of designing, building and retrofitting commercial buildings. That’s on top of the revenue opportunity charging stations represent for businesses and the competitive advantage they provide in places like apartment complexes.
It’s important not only for contractors’ reputations but for a more energy efficient world that we invest in charging stations that are easy to use and install and can reliably power our EV future.
About the Author:
Hooman Shahidi is the co-founder and president of EVPassport, the first infrastructure engagement platform using electric vehicle charging hardware and API-driven software to dynamically personalize the charging experience for business owners and operators while providing the most frictionless charging experience for drivers. Hooman is widely considered an innovator and evangelist in the EV and EV charging industry, helping to pioneer the first truly interoperable, EV charging network.
Modern Contractor Solutions, August 2022
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