Making the Case for Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Stations
What comes first — a critical mass of electric vehicles (EVs) or a national, coast-to-coast network of charging stations? Perhaps there isn’t a choice to be made. The market for charging stations appears to be growing simultaneously, along with the increased popularity and number of EVs being driven on American roadways. Of course, like many burgeoning movements in America, where you are located geographically is often a factor. It’s no different when finding the enhanced charging infrastructure that’s required in addressing basic charging needs for EVs. Then, there is the discussion about offering the same convenience to EV owners that’s already available at-present to anyone owning a traditional fuel vehicle. Currently, the total number of EVs on the road in the U.S. stands at just below 500,000. In 2014, EVs were a mere drop in the bucket among new vehicles sold — making up less than one percent of new vehicle sales that year. But there is evidence that demand for EVs is growing, as well as options and opportunities to keep them fully charged, all across the country. If you are an operator of a quick lube or other repair facility, your focus has been on the internal combustion engine, fueled by petroleum. However, like all successful business owners burning with entrepreneurial savvy, you stay abreast of the trends in your industry. You recognize the days when the major car companies ignored electric cars are over. You may have even considered installing an EV charging station, especially if your shop is located in one our major population centers or one of the many mid-sized cities dotting the map of the U.S. Organizations like the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition — a 501c3 nonprofit that serves as a coordinating point for clean, alternative fueling options for vehicles, including EVs — have been promoting increasing the number of EVs on the road. This is part of a larger effort to advance American energy independence through incentives, research and technology-based solutions. Efforts like these bode well for forward-thinking owners wanting to get in on the front-end of the demand curve. While the environment and energy independence matter to the coalition, there is also an economic component to their work, as pointed out by their executive director, Mark Bentley. “Our experience with not only EVs, but all alt-fuel vehicles, is green matters,” Bentley explained. “Being green isn’t the only environmental benefit; it’s also the money people keep based on savings from EVs. Also, there is a component of jobs associated with building an alt-fuel infrastructure, as well as the energy independence fostered by lessening our reliance on foreign oil.” What’s interesting about the work of the coalition — based in Birmingham, Alabama — is they work to dispel the myth in some circles that EVs are just an option for wealthy environmental advocates, clustered in the Northeast or on the West Coast. Bentley indicated in Alabama, all EV sales — plug-in hybrid and battery electric — have grown nearly 14 percent since 2013. Among pure-battery electrics, like Tesla, as well as Nissan’s Leaf models, the increase is significant — more than 55 percent. “Gas prices are beginning to inch up again, as they always do” Bentley said. “Drivers all across the state are finding out they can save money, while helping to keep our air cleaner. This is a win-win scenario that will continue to drive the growth of EVs, in my opinion.” According to Phillip Wiedmeyer, the coalition’s CEO and president, choice is a key factor in promoting EVs. “In order for car manufacturers to meet Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards by 2025 (which requires doubling the overall fleet average in current fuel efficiency, from 27.5 miles per gallon to the mandated 54.5 miles per gallon in less than 10 years), they’ll have to greatly expand their current offering of plug-in technology,” Wiedmeyer said. “Currently, there are 16 models available to consumers, and over the next three years, that number will expand, with the addition of 19 more new EV models. This is due, in my opinion, to having maxed out everything that can be done via the internal combustion engine in enhancing fuel efficiency standards.” Nationally, environmental groups like the Sierra Club have launched various initiatives, all with the express purpose of getting more EVs on the road. They could be characterized as bullish on EVs, as demonstrated by aggressive efforts to promote an exponential demand spike in the number of EVs on the road in a decade. The target being set at 10 million by 2025, which they’ve determined is the necessary amount of EVs in the total vehicle mix, to avoid the worst effects of climate change. “What we’re trying to do is highlight a few things we think make EVs attractive to anyone in the market for a new vehicle,” said Gina Coplon-Newfield, director of Sierra Club’s Electric Vehicles Initiative. Coplon-Newfield quickly ticked off the three elements about EVs she believes make them viable for anyone considering a new or used vehicle: • They’re fun to drive • They’re great for the environment • They fit most vehicle owners’ lifestyles A major focus of her organization is the environment. Consequently, that’s a primary driver of why the Sierra Club supports growing the number of EVs on the road. “EVs lower greenhouse gas emissions, as well as reduce the amount of health-related pollutants; this is even factoring in emissions from power plants,” Coplon-Newfield said. She added that the utility industry nationwide also needs to incorporate EVs into their incentive programs, while considering grid efficiency and load management options, like offering lower rates for off-peak EV charging. She’d also like to see them begin installing charging stations. In Alabama that is already happening, according to Alabama Power Company’s Electric Transportation Program manager, Cedric Daniels. “Our company offers residential users discounts between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., the prime time for EV users to be charging their vehicles at home for the next day’s commute to work,” said Daniels, who also serves on the board for the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition. So, could a vehicle charging station be an option for you as a business owner? Certainly being in a major population center helps, or being located near a freeway or interstate exit, or clustered among several other businesses like restaurants and retail shops. Perhaps, start with a single charging station and then, if demand warrants it, add additional units. When queried about what a business owner should consider when opting to install a charging station, Jonah Teeter-Balin, director of Product Marketing for AeroVironment, Inc., a manufacturer of EV charging stations, mentioned these three items: • How far will your charging station be from the power source? • What kind of parking situation will you have? • How long will the EVs be charging? “For example, if you’re a business just off the freeway, the premium on charging is getting a sufficient charge in the shortest amount of time,” Teeter-Balin said. AeroVironment offer three levels of chargers. Their Level One chargers are designed to run off a standard 120-volt outlet; these are ideal for home charging at night. For commercial installation, their Level Two chargers are the best option, as they run off a 240-volt power supply and deliver a charge three to five times faster. This is likely to be the best option for an auto shop, especially if the customer is dropping off their vehicle for a few hours. “Level Two is our ‘sweet spot’ for charging options,” Teeter-Balin said. “These chargers deliver 12-25 mile ranges per hour of charging time.” Teeter-Balin said AeroVironment’s commercial customers are finding installing charging stations delivers value, offering ways to differentiate their business from the competition and, of course, bringing in brand-new customers. Echoing that refrain, the Sierra Club’s Coplon-Newfield emphasized there is a business case to be made for installing an EV charging station. “EV charging stations are just one more way for an owner to attract new customers, not to mention cultivate loyalty,” Coplon-Newfield said. Operators should do their homework in determining how much additional business a charging station might deliver. Other businesses are finding charging stations help attract new customers eager to patronize businesses supporting the transition to electric mobility. EV owners are no different than any other vehicle owner. They all require service and routine maintenance on their vehicles. Why not provide this at your shop?