The Electric Vehicle Revolution is Imminent

Addressing Demand through Energy Efficiency

Adding EV charging units can be a fairly simple process, depending on the complexity of the conduit installation to run the power cabling from the electrical room to the charging stations.
Adding EV charging units can be a fairly simple process, depending on the complexity of the conduit installation to run the power cabling from the electrical room to the charging stations.

According to RMI, the most cost-effective way to address the increased energy demands presented by the EV revolution is by improving the energy efficiency of buildings. Compared to constructing new-generation infrastructure—even from renewable resources—retrofitting existing buildings represents the lowest-cost option for meeting future energy needs.

“We believe that the current global building retrofit rate, estimated at 1 percent per year, can be increased dramatically based on existing, cost-effective, and widely available energy efficiency technologies in combination with supportive policy and emerging business and financial models,” the authors of the RMI report suggest. “Additionally, these retrofits can be used as a means to install smart charging EV infrastructure to ensure future grid stability and renewable energy penetration.”

Analysis by RMI shows during the next few decades, buildings in the U.S. can cut energy use by as much as 38 percent using existing and emerging technologies. The good news for facility executives is many of these solutions do not require invasive construction. For example, LED lighting, variable frequency drives, low-E glass coatings, smart building controls and retrocomissioning are all viable, cost-effective options to help meet future energy demands.

Although the current regulatory environment doesn’t require existing structures be retrofitted with actual EV chargers, equipping buildings now with the infrastructure to accommodate them is a wise decision—and in some cases is what’s required by new codes.

“As you’re doing a retrofit, building in the capacity to be able to meet the need is a smart thing to do, and it’s the most cost-effective time to do it,” Wessel says. “It’s why New York imposed this originally and other states are adopting it. They’re typically not mandating that you install chargers but mandating that you install the internal infrastructure in your parking structure to allow that to happen. At the same time, you should be looking at your lighting and your ventilation systems because that’s where the real energy savings are in a parking structure.”

Counting the Costs

“The biggest challenge with EVs is obviously that the infrastructure isn’t built out yet,” Egerter notes. “Building owners are going to have to think about how to put those in and how to upgrade their electrical infrastructure and how to pay for it.” Adding EV charging units can be a fairly simple process, depending on the complexity of the conduit installation to run the power cabling from the electrical room to the charging stations. Not all charging units are created equal, however.

There are three different types of EV charging stations—levels 1, 2 and 3 (or DC Fast Charging)—each with different performance characteristics and pricing, according to the non-profit advocacy group Plug In America, Los Angeles:

  • LEVEL 1: “Level 1 charging is the technical jargon for plugging your car into an ordinary household outlet,” writes Tom Saxton, chief science officer for Plug In America, in a recent blog. As the least-expensive option that only requires the installation of a standard household outlet (assuming no additional wiring is needed), Level 1 provides EVs with roughly 4.5 miles of range per hour of charging, or about 22 hours for a full charge.
  • LEVEL 2: Level 2 charging units are a bit more expensive but provide faster charging speeds. Averaging about $2,000 per unit, Level 2 chargers supply 240 volts (similar to an electric dryer or oven) and allow for a wide range of charging speeds, all the way up to 19.2 kilowatts (kW), or about 70 miles of range per hour of charging, according to Saxton.
  • LEVEL 3/DC FAST CHARGING: “At the other end of the spectrum is DC Fast Charging, the fastest type of charging currently available,” Saxton says. “It provides up to 40 miles of range for every 10 minutes of charging. These stations are expensive—up to $100,000—and require more power than your house.”

In addition to the price of the chargers and installation, the costs of electrical use must also be taken into consideration. According to BOMA/GLA’s Sustainability Committee, the maximum power delivered for a standard Level 2 charging unit is 7kW per hour (240V at 30Amps). With the average cost of electricity in the U.S. at $0.12/kWh, the maximum cost to a building will be $0.84 per hour of use.

To offset these costs, commercial properties typically assess fees for charging services that vary depending on the objectives of the property, according to BOMA/ GLA. Currently, price categories for EV charging range from free/no cost to $1 and $2 per hour. Additionally, some landlords charge a flat monthly fee for tenants whose employees use the charging services.

How does a building owner decide which type of charger to install? Wessel recommends taking an incremental approach to demand if uncertain where to start. “You can scale up over time. You can lay out 20 Level 1 chargers [initially] and then as demand grows or people’s interests change, you can scale them up to Level 2 if that’s what you want and that’s what your tenants want,” he says.


About the Author

Robert Nieminen
Robert Nieminen is a freelance writer; the former editor of Interiors & Sources magazine; and retrofit’s editor at large, specializing in interiors. Under his direction, Interiors & Sources was the recipient of several publishing awards, as well as a pioneer of sustainability reporting.

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