EV Charging Stations: Office buildings Will Need Them, and Soon

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By MIKE LAWLESS AND ZACH CARTER

One byproduct of the coming exponential growth of electric vehicles will be a growing demand for charging stations away from EV owners’ homes. Workplace parking lots and public parking garages will be ideal locations for these stations but building owners may find their infrastructure inadequate to support them.

The City of St Louis has already passed an ordinance that doubles the electrical load and design requirements for the electrical service for parking garages. This ordinance is a minimum that may not meet the expectations for visitors as the number of EVs and demand for charging stations continue to grow.

Accommodating charging stations will become a long-term need in the architecture, engineering and construction industry, and it will be critical for electrical infrastructure to be designed with the agility to respond to changes in technology. The infrastructure must allow for faster charging – increased capacity on the building system – and a greater quantity of charging locations. There also will certainly be an appeal from EV owners for the sustainable creation of the energy for their fuel, such as solar. Therefore, owners should evaluate their infrastructure for EV and solar simultaneously. Industry standards to make buildings EV-ready and solar-ready are easily accessible and simple to implement.

Electrical reliability (i.e., EV owners expect to see their battery bar grow) will become a consideration for the power supplies to these EV charging stations. This will lead to consideration of redundant electrical feeds, emergency generation and, more importantly, pairing charging stations with solar and energy storage. Such measures will ensure power always is available so that EV drivers can get the charge they may need to make the trip home.

At the electrical utility level, integrating fast charging of electric cars will add to the demand on an already taxed electrical grid. Initially, this additional power may have to be provided by non-sustainable sources such as gas-powered and coal-powered plants – dirtier sources of power that will offset some of the environmental benefit of electric cars. This will not be the case in the future, however, as decarbonization of the grid continues to take hold. In addition, we will adapt how and when we charge vehicles as well as how we utilize the megawatt hour of battery power that exists in electric vehicles.

Building owners are already currently considering new strategies to accommodate the return of tenants and employees to the workplace as COVID-19 vaccinations increase and restrictions ease. In addition to providing for current and future health and safety requirements, owners who truly want to prepare for the “office of the future” should include charging stations as part of their overall strategy. The growing surge in EVs will lead to an ever-growing demand for charging stations, however, so multiple car charging stations will be necessary. Having multiple EV drivers vying for a limited number of charging stations is not a viable situation, so providing a building capable of accommodating numerous EVs will be an amenity the workforce will welcome with open arms.

The future holds many opportunities as the vehicle fleet is electrified. Imagine charging electric vehicles during the day from renewable sources and then using a portion of that energy to supplement home energy use in the morning and evenings. Moving renewable energy to time periods when photovoltaic (solar) power is not available to meet demand makes the grid more efficient and renewable.

The technology already exists for a bidirectional (two-way) charger for home use. This would allow homeowners to charge and discharge so the EV battery can be used to power their homes. This same technology could expand to commercial applications. An electrical vehicle parking garage, for example, could be a renewable power storage source/sink that supports maximum efficiency for a portfolio of buildings. It could simultaneously provide a source of revenue for the owner, satisfy a need of EV-driving employees and be an added amenity for attracting new tenants – a particular advantage over competitors who fail to provide charging stations.

Energy storage – whether in the form of electric vehicle batteries or building-scale energy storage – will be part of the solution for optimizing renewable energy usage and should be considered when designing charging stations. Doing so will not only support the vehicles of the future but also positively impact the environment as a whole – something 50-year-old electrical technology and design cannot accomplish.

Mike Lawless, PE, FPE, LEED AP, is director of innovation at IMEG Corp. He can be reached at Michael.J.Lawless@imegcorp.com.

Zach Carter, PE, LEED AP BD+C, is a senior electrical engineer working out of IMEG’s St. Louis office, and can be reached at Zachary.W.Carter@imegcorp.com.

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