How to set up a public electric vehicle charging station, the fast charging edition
As electric vehicle use spreads, demand for more—and faster—charging stations will grow too.
So far, when businesses have looked at installing electric vehicle charging, most have opted to go for slower, Level 2 charging which provides most vehicles with about 20 miles of charge in an hour. (A little more for Tesla destination chargers.) As the number of electric vehicles grows, however, and as their range/battery capacity increases, there's a high likelihood that drivers will have more demand for faster charging options too. It's one thing, after all, to sit around for an hour or so to "fill up" your 80-mile Nissan Leaf. It's quite another if you need to replenish 200+/300+ miles of range in your Tesla or Chevy Bolt.
So what does it take to install a DC fast charging station that's open to the public? We got on the phone with Chris Bowyer, Director of Building Operations at The Alliance Center in the Lower Downtown (LoDo) neighborhood of Denver, to find out. The Alliance Center—which offers LEED Platinum certified office space to 50 mission driven organizations—recently took the plunge and installed a ChargePoint Express 200 50kw charging station in its parking lot, which it made available to the general public.
As Chris explained, however, the original plan was actually to go with a slower, Level 2 station:
"As an innovator in the sustainability industry, we wanted to capitalize on the growth in electric vehicle use and provide a resource for tenants, visitors and the community around us. Given that most users were likely to be tenants who spend their whole day here, our original plan was to install some slower, Level 2 charging stations that tenants' employees could use to fill up while they work. When we applied for a Charge Ahead Colorado grant managed by the Regional Air Quality Council and funded by the Colorado Department of Transportation to help pay for it, however, we didn't get the Level 2 funding. But they strongly encouraged us to go for Level 3."
When the unit was installed, it was the first Level 3 charging station in LoDo. That has since changed, as REI also installed two DC fast chargers, as well as two Level 2 charging stations, about 1.5 miles away. Nevertheless, Chris sees the addition of the charging station as an important piece of infrastructure—not just for tenants and guests of the building, but for the surrounding community too:
"As soon as we started exploring the possibility of adding charging stations, we were adamant that it should be for everyone. I don’t care if you live in Grand Junction and just want to plug in to get what you need to get home. Come by, charge up, and pop in and say hello while you are at it."
The total cost of purchase and installation came in at around $50,000, says Chris, with $16,000 of that coming from the Department of Transportation grant. But The Alliance Center saw this as an important investment in staying ahead of the sustainability game. Crucially, because The Alliance Center wanted the unit to be highly visible to people who might not otherwise know about or visit their offices, the organization decided to go with a networked charging station from ChargePoint. That means it appears on the ChargePoint app, can be monitored and diagnosed for any downtime or faults, and also communicates whether it is currently available or in use by another driver.
This networked option also allows The Alliance Center to charge for use—a feature that just about covers the cost of electricity, and also incentivizes drivers to move on once they have charged as much as they need to. The cost, currently, is $8.50 for a two hour session, with a $1 discount for tenants of the building. The Alliance Center also pays ChargePoint both an annual operational fee and a small percentage of each charging session, but Chris says that the fees are relatively nominal compared to overall project cost.
In terms of where to locate the unit on the property, Chris explains that it really wasn't as much of a headache as you might think:
"We had to make sure we were near to one of our main electrical rooms, as this reduced the need for trenching and wiring—which can add significant cost and hassle—and we also had to coordinate with our utility to ensure that demand for charging didn't overpower the transformers for that particular block. Realistically, though, that was only about a 15 minute conversation on the phone, and a few emails back and forth."
So far, the station has seen steady use—with about 20 charging sessions in the first month since installation. As Chris points out, however, and as I have noted in my own posts about range and range anxiety, a charging station like this serves an important utility even when it's not in use:
"Confidence is a major piece to it. Even if most EV drivers charge at home most of the time, we need to have charging stations available so folks know they can get home if they get caught in a pinch. If there isn’t network availability, adoption will not continue. Truthfully, stations like this might be a giant paperweight in 20 years time—range will just be so big that it won’t be needed. But it's important that they are here now so that folks feel secure in opting for an EV."
That's a point I would strongly agree with, and I would say that, by adding charging stations in convenient locations, it also makes it possible for folks to buy electric vehicles with only as much range as they realistically need—a critical component of making sure that electric vehicles deliver fully on their environmental potential.
It's early days to say whether or not the station has directly influenced any tenants' or neighbors' decision to buy an electric vehicle (some evidence does suggest workplace charging significantly boosts sales), but existing drivers are certainly happy. Madeline Bachner, Program Director at The Cottonwood Institute, puts it this way:
"I am excited about the rapidly improving EV industry and its growing popularity. It feels good to know that my workspace and employer are on board with this important trend and support it by investing in a charging station. I love my EV and knowing that the infrastructure for charging it is growing so rapidly makes me feel even better about my decision to drive one and the forward progress of EVs and alternative fuel transportation! The Alliance Center also has amazing support for secure bike storage and access to public transit, which I use on a regular basis as well."
Ultimately, says Chris, the entire experience has been positive for The Alliance Center, and the organization may even add more stations if and when demand grows. He strongly recommends that other organizations take the plunge, too, whether that's Level 2, DC Fast Charging, or even simply an outlet in the wall:
"I would encourage EV stations wherever people can do it. It’s going to increase adoption of EVs, which reduces greenhouse gases, which is our highest priority as an organization. Wherever we can continue that adoption, we are going to do so."