With some analysts predicting that EV sales will jump 70% in 2021, an influx of new drivers are hitting the road and looking for places to charge their vehicles. With EV adoption and the governmental regulations guiding them changing almost faster than we can keep up, implementing charging technology in new parking facilities is a constantly evolving challenge.
How It Gained Traction
A few years ago, very few cities across the US mandated EV charging requirements for parking. Palo Alto, home of Tesla in the heart of Silicon Valley, was an early adopter of EV requirements, requiring 5 percent of all parking spaces in new non-residential projects to have charging stations, with an additional 20 percent wired with the necessary infrastructure to install them later. However, in just a few years, major cities such as San Jose, Oakland, Los Angeles, and San Francisco have begun requiring EV chargers for 10 to 20 percent of new parking, with infrastructure for a future capacity of 50 to 100 percent.
EV technology and policy has evolved as well. California became the first state to pass legislation that mandates all new vehicles to be zero emissions by 2035. This will likely be a game changer for vehicle manufacturers that need to address this significantly-growing market. Earlier this year, Ford announced the first all-electric truck to their lineup, starting with the 2022 model year.
An EV Diagnostic
As more EVs hit the road, designers and planners are seeking out ways to support them with adequate infrastructure, which poses a number of challenges.
Electrical infrastructure: Adding significant amounts of EV charging infrastructure often increases the project’s electrical system up to a higher voltage, adding to the cost of the transformers and switchgear equipment. This in turn requires additional room onsite and in the buildings for larger electrical rooms. In cities where this infrastructure is mandated, this can create a financial burden on projects, or even make them cost prohibitive.
The other challenge of adding EV in a parking structure is the conduits and raceways they require. Parking decks are typically not designed to incorporate extensive conduits embedded in the slabs. Therefore, EV spaces in elevated parking decks require unsightly exposed conduit, or adding thickened slabs or curbs to enclose the conduit within the slabs.
Accessibility: Accessibility and EV parking has not been addressed on a national level. The ADA Standards for Accessible Design is the federal document that governs accessible design, however, it has not been updated to incorporate requirements for EV parking, leaving it up to each state to address the issue of EV charging and accessibility. Few have done so, which raises questions among building owners and designers on how to determine the right approach. In states such as California, where EV accessibility requirements have been prescribed, the higher rate of EV ADA spaces required compared to non-EV parking can make it difficult for to incorporate all of the stringent measures in a project.
Efficiency – Office buildings and long-term parking facilities where vehicles are parked for hours a day face an efficiency problem: vehicles that are finished charging are now taking up a charging station they no longer need. Many of these locations are looking at solutions from valet programs to technology in order to better manage power and charging loads to get the most out of each charger.
The Road Ahead
Electric vehicle charging technology is evolving rapidly to address challenges and provide more efficient ways to manage power. DC fast chargers, which can charge a vehicle in approximately 30 minutes, are becoming more prevalent. Load and power management systems can be implemented that throttle power consumption to chargers based on overall building demands. Dual chargers also help by providing 50% power when two vehicles are charging. This type of technology can help mitigate increased electrical requirements.
Electric vehicle charging station companies have also developed mobile charging units as a way to address some of the issues of adding EV charging capacity in new and existing buildings. These units are charged in centralized locations, and deployed to vehicles on demand. Both load management and mobile charging are good fits for the longer-term parking facilities mentioned above, such as offices and residences, where vehicles are parked for longer than they need to be charged.
Going one step further, robotic chargers are under development which will remove the necessary man-power from the equation. Robotic chargers, both stationary and mobile, could automatically unplug themselves and move between multiple vehicles, allowing more vehicles to be charged with fewer stations. Induction charging technology is also under development, which still has challenges with decreased power efficiency compared to plug-in chargers.
Despite the dramatic increase in EV drivers, electric vehicles still only account for less than 4 percent of all new car sales. However, our continued pursuit for cleaner energy and reduced emissions all but guarantees the trend will not only continue, but do so at an exponential rate. Therefore, it is vital that we continue to seek answers to these infrastructure challenges and prepare for our electric future.