We talked about how important it is to future-proof your properties, but one future-proofing strategy we didn’t mention that is important to get on board with sooner rather than later is charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs).
Commercial Property Executive reports that Preston Roper, general manager for North America at Boston-based Enel X e-Mobility, noted that 361,064 EVs were sold in the US in 2018 alone. With more than 100 battery-powered electric car models expected to be available by next year, it’s obvious that number is only going to grow exponentially.
Citing Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts, Enel X reported that by 2022, EVs and internal combustion models are expected to be comparable in cost. The Department of Energy estimates that charging stations number more than 250,000 nationwide. Enel X has more than 40,000 charging stations globally and plans to spend $248 million by 2021, with a goal of installing 455,000 EV chargers.
For those who don’t know (and let’s be honest, being such a new area most don’t), charging stations fall into three basic categories. Level 3 charging, also known as DC Fast Charging (DCFC), is used for public charging or fleet use and provides an 80 percent charge in less than 30 minutes. Level 3 stations are the most expensive to operate of the three categories—$15,000 to $40,000 per unit annually.
Level 2 charging uses a 240-volt AC plug in homes and workplaces, adding about 25 miles of range per hour charged, according to Chargepoint.com. Annual operating costs typically run from $800 to $6,500 per unit.
Level 1 charging, the most basic alternative, uses a standard household 120-volt AC plug, and provides vehicles very limited additional range, even after the vehicle is charged overnight. This is obviously the least popular of the three.
A variety of potential benefits for operators and customers alike offset the costs: reduced vacancy rates, increased foot traffic, and identifying the property as a local EV charging “node.”
Lois Vitt Sale is an EV owner at Wight & Co., a Darien, Ill.-based design and construction firm. She owns an all-electric, 238-mile range Chevy Bolt which gives her both a professional and personal interest in charging.
“The landscape is changing from my perspective in the need for charging stations,” said Sale, the firm’s chief sustainability officer. “For a long time, the only long-range vehicles were Teslas. Because the ranges have been extended [on other makes], there is not as much need for charging. I can now go all over the Chicago area in the Bolt without charging.”
Level 3 charging “is a game changer,” Sale said. “I’ve yet to have a client say to me, ‘Put in a Level 3 charging station for me.’ There is a first cost to it, but in the order of magnitude it’s not insanely costly.” Not installing Level 3 chargers could be a missed opportunity, Sale added.
In addition to future proofing, fast charging just might give owners and operators of retail buildings a leg up in garnering additional business, she continues. “If you get drivers to stop for half an hour, you have an opportunity to sell them a cup of coffee or to get them to buy something,” she said. “Pairing Level 3 chargers with interesting experiences for 30 minutes, that’s a cool thing. Get going and build some Level 3 chargers.”
FAST CHARGING AND THE FUTURE
The fastest charge you can get now is 30 minutes, but how fast could it ultimately get? “What you want to get to is the same fill-up speed, five minutes, as gasoline,” said Stephen Voller, CEO and founder of ZapGo, an Oxford, England-based company working to develop a new generation of batteries beyond lithium. Increasing the chargers to 1 megawatt, meaning 1,000 kilowatts, can fill a vehicle up in five minutes, he said. That’s the good news.
Of course, with any good news comes some bad news. An average house uses 30 kilowatts of electricity a day. “This would be 30 times that,” Voller said. “If everyone on an apartment block switches to these fast-charging chargers, and they leave for work and come home at approximately the same time, it’s a massive problem for the grid.”
But ZapGo has developed storage batteries that can be installed beneath commercial buildings and recharged when the cost of electricity declines at night. EV owners could charge their vehicles from these underground batteries, rather than from the grid, and save everyone a lot more money in the long run. “The special property of these batteries is they don’t catch fire, and obviously you can’t use lithium ion batteries in these settings, because they can catch fire,” Voller said.
And he believes that EV growth can be compared to mobile phone technology. Twenty years ago, mobile phones “were brick phones,” Voller said. “Tesla is the equivalent to a brick phone today. What we’re going to see this year and next are major announcements from the major vehicle brands . . . that will allow them to hold on to their traditional customer base and not see it go to Tesla. The stage after that is when we move to the vehicle equivalent of today’s smart phones.”