Electric Vehicle Charging for Businesses
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Smart business owners around the country are installing electric car charging in their parking lots. A few electric vehicle (EV) parking spots out front make for good brand marketing—an innovative cost-effective way to attract customers and show that your business is tech-savvy and green. But how do you ensure that electric car owners will be happy with every visit to your charging spot?
Here are the guidelines for earning the devotion of electric car drivers, who represent a desirable demographic of smart and affluent consumers. Market research repeatedly shows that electric car buyers commonly make more than $100,000 a year, own their homes, and are more educated than the average American—in other words, good loyal customers.
Let’s start with the most important rule of thumb:
The most desirable EV customers can be satisfied with the least expensive and simplest charging setup. In other words, start simple and cheap—and build from there.
This is what it looks like when you apply that rule to the three major considerations for offering business-based EV charging:
- Level of Power: Start with a single 120-volt outlet and a single 240-volt outlet, before investing in costly charging equipment.
- Payment or No Payment: The amount of energy used to charge an EV almost never requires a fancy payment system.
- Networking: For most small businesses, having a networked charging station is not necessary.
Now, let’s examine each of these considerations in greater detail, with this chart as a handy visual aide.
Level of Power: Dictated by Dwell Time
Ask yourself these questions: How long does your typical customer spend at your establishment? How long do you want them to spend? There’s a big difference between locations where EV drivers stay for most of the day—or even a few days—compared to spots where electric car owners might dwell for less than an hour. Do you have a large parking lot with excess space or do you need high turnover?
The cheapest and easiest type of charging is a Level 1 120-volt outlet. That’s right: a regular 120-volt outlet is extremely valuable to many plug-in car owners. Drivers can plug in their own cord set, which allows for three or four miles of range to be added in an hour. These devices come standard with all EVs and most owners carry them. If you are an owner of a hotel, bed & breakfast, condo facility, or airport parking lot, where cars are commonly parked for 10 to 12 hours (and sometimes for days), this is perfect for you. It’s cheap, easy, and will make your EV customers happy.
The low cost and ease of use of a Level 1 outlet counterbalances any perceived shortcomings in charging speed. A couple of things to keep in mind:
- These trickle-charge outlets should be situated in less prominent locations on your lot because cars will be plugged in for long periods of time.
- Household outlets usually come with two outlets. Instead, use hardware that has a single outlet, each on its own 20-amp circuit. If you add a second outlet, put it on a separate circuit. This will prevent tripping the circuit breaker.
- Every electric car comes with its own cord set: a cord with a three-prong 120-volt plug on one side and a J1772 plug (the standard EV plug) on the other side that connects to the car. So, the equipment cost and maintenance burden is on the driver, not you. That’s okay.
- This doesn’t offer the highest level of convenience since the owner has to pull out their own equipment, but on the positive side, you are only giving away electricity to customers who really want it. Think of it more like a coupon than an outright price cut on merchandise.
A Level 2 charging station—a 240-volt station supplied with at least 30 amps—is a good choice for malls, tourist destinations, and most bars and restaurants, where patrons might spend a couple hours or more. These locations are well suited to Level 2 charging, which usually can add 20 to 25 miles of range in an hour.
Our recommended simple-and-cheap strategy means that instead of buying an expensive piece of charging equipment, simply install a NEMA 14-50R 240-volt outlet next to that 120-volt outlet. NEMA stands for “National Electrical Manufacturers Association,” and any licensed electrician will immediately know what a NEMA 14-50R is. Installing one of these outlets will cost only about $200 to $300 (including electrician fees), instead of the $500 to $1,000 to install a slicker-looking, bigger charging station.
Consider that every single Tesla owner—the most desirable of EV customers for your business—is supplied and carries a cord set and adapter to plug into a NEMA 14-50R outlet. In addition, many of the more dedicated owners of other EVs like the Nissan LEAF—the most popular EV on the road—have upgraded their cord sets (via EVSEupgrade.com) to allow use of a NEMA 14-50R outlet. AeroVironment sells the TurboCord, a portable charging cord that provides similar functionality.
Once these owners see that you have a NEMA 14-50R outlet, they are likely to become repeat customers, and drive up fully prepared to use the electricity you are supplying. That is especially true if access to the outlet comes for free—which will be easier for you to offer after spending less on the installation.
Consider adding a dependable but affordable charging station, like a Clipper Creek HCS-40P or a GE WattStation, only when you receive clear feedback from EV drivers that they want a more sophisticated station, with the J1772 plug already provided. Equipment from Clipper Creek, GE, and other manufacturers can be ordered or easily configured to plug into your existing NEMA 14-50R outlet. So installation, at that stage, will be attaching the equipment to the wall and plugging it in.
If your business becomes very popular among EV drivers—or you live in a high-traffic EV hotspot—you can easily scale up with one or more 14-50R units, with the charging station already attached or not, depending on feedback from real EV drivers—rather than salesmen persuading you to buy something that you and your customers might not need.
Like the 120-volt outlet, the NEMA 14-50R outlet has lots of advantages to the business owner. It’s the cheapest 240-volt charging option that serves the highest-end customers. In fact, many Tesla owners would rather charge at a 14-50R outlet than a station with a J1772 plug for the simple fact that the 14-50R outlet provides more power. Most J1772 stations only provide 6.6 kilowatts (kW), whereas the 14-50R goes up to 10 kW. Again, your business saves money by letting customers use their own equipment. This is a great option for businesses—such as a general store, weekend destination, or restaurant—serving EV owners with expected dwell times of about one to four hours.
High-end restaurants, luxury hotels, and other exclusive destinations—locations wanting to specifically attract Tesla drivers, and provide them with extra convenience—can consider installing a Tesla charging station that can charge a Tesla at up to 20 kW. (Besides, it looks amazing.) The Tesla charging station is less expensive than you might think: $1,200 as of August 2014.
Direct Current Quick Chargers (DCQC) also called Fast Chargers, and Superchargers
Owners of grocery and convenient stores along major highways, where motorists only pop in for a pit stop, are good candidates for DC charging that can add 50-75 miles of range in 20 to 30 minutes. DCQCs capable of supplying 50-135 kilowatts of electricity are the most expensive of the three kinds of charging stations. Commonly, installing a networked Quick Charger costs between $600 to $1,800 per foot from the nearest utility transformer. In other words, a Quick Charger installed 20 feet from a power line will set you back as much as $20,000 to $30,000. DCQC equipment itself costs about $10,000 to $40,000 before installation.
Given this price, only install a Quick Charger if you are very confident that you’ll have a steady stream of EV drivers taking pit stops—or you have a high degree of confidence that you can lure those drivers to your roadside restaurant or store. Also, before taking on this task, consider these options:
- Reach out to Tesla Motors to see if they might be willing to make your address a location of one its Superchargers.
- Contact Nissan, which recently unveiled its “No Charge to Charge” program. Nissan might consider putting a Quick Charger at your location.
- The eVgo network, run by NRG, might consider installing one of its Freedom Stations, complete with Quick Charging, at or near your business.
- Call your utility company to see if incentives are available to encourage businesses like yours to offer Quick Charging (or Level 2 charging).
- Contact BMW to see if they are making progress with their low-cost $6,000 Quick Charger, as promised.
- Explore local incentives, like ones available in cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Austin, as well as in states such as California, Oregon, and Georgia. (These incentives apply to Level 2 charging, as well as Quick Chargers)
Payment or No Payment
More than half of today’s public charging stations are free—for good reason. Electricity is cheap. “Free” can be a magic word for attracting customers, and it’s unlikely to add much to your energy bill. At the same time, avoiding the need for networked equipment, and a service to provide the back-end technology, reduces your installation cost (and lowers the expectations of customers who are less likely to complain because they aren’t paying anything). Also, EV drivers won’t need membership cards or have to swipe credit cards.
Here’s the downside to free charging: EV drivers might camp out for long periods of time. In other cases, drivers who have no intention of visiting your business might park in your lot simply for free juice.
You can avoid this problem in various ways, either by charging a very small hourly fee, which dramatically increases after, say, four hours, or offering the first few hours completely free, after which the rate increases. These approaches encourage owners to clear the way for other cars after receiving a decent amount of electric fuel.
These problems don’t exist for any business that is already behind a “paygate.” Hotels that reserve parking only for patrons don’t need a payment system directly on charging stations. A per-session or by-the-hour fee can be tacked onto the guest’s bill—just like items taken from the room’s minibar.
It’s even better for hotels and restaurants offering valet service. Train your valets to ask customers if they would like to charge while visiting, as a delightful free service—or for a nominal fee of, say, five bucks. Parking garages, campgrounds, and trailer parks can request the fee upon entry. In all these situations, a simple but reliable non-networked charger, from a manufacturer such as Clipper Creek, will provide excellent service.
Consider these suggested rules for charging fees:
- Charging any amount of money for a Level 1 120-volt charging spot is unfair, and will send the wrong message to your customers.
- We strongly suggest offering the first hour for free. It’s simply not worth it for EV drivers to pay for a single hour of juice.
- If you are in a high-traffic EV area, and don’t want customers to stay a minute longer than necessary, then set up a payment system using a networked charging station—like the SemaConnect ChargePro or GE WattStation—to handle the payment processing. If that’s your situation, you might consider Quick Charging as a power level.
Networked or Non-Networked
If you are able to offer charging for free, or via a human-based offline system, there’s no reason to add networking capability to your charging. Again, we recommend two simple outlets: a common 120-volt outlet, and a NEMA 14-50R. No WiFi required.
There are exceptions. Some of the organizations running incentive programs require data dumps via the Internet. That’s the quid pro quo for receiving a cheap or free station. In this case, we suggest a networked station from SemaConnect or GE, both trustworthy, well-recognized brands that offer simple and elegant stations.
Once you get past the planning stage, and you get closer to installing some form of EV access, you should think about where to locate the outlets or charging stations. You’ll want your EV charging spots to be prominent and easy to find, with clear signage. But avoid the temptation to place charging stations in the most desirable locations near the entrance to your business. You don’t want the thankless job of policing gas cars that accidentally block those coveted spots and prevent EV owners who need to charge from gaining access. And when the EV spots are not in use, drivers of gas cars won’t question you about why your best spots are underutilized.
A good rule is to place charging spots halfway between the best and worst parking spots on the lot. These halfway locations are still convenient, but will not require expensive trenching and conduits to bring electricity to the far reaches of your parking lot.
Regardless, you’ll want to position charging pedestals equipped with two or more ports in between parking spots, so you can strategically serve more than one car at a time. This will spread the cost of installation among as many cars as possible. Also, think ahead about where future stations might go, in order to avoid having to dig new trenches or bring new supplies of electricity to areas when electric cars gain in popularity.
Make sure that the popular EV station-finding sites and apps, like PlugShare, have a listing for your location, with clear directions.
Use this decision tree to help your business establish a plan to offer EV charging.
You Installed Charging. Now What?
You followed our advice, and kept it simple. Now EV drivers are starting to show up at your door. How do you make sure that the traffic of electric car owners continues to grow? Here are a few suggestions:
- Regardless of where you put your charging stations, and the price you set for the electricity, you should make every effort to keep EV charging spots safe, well lit, and clean. This means adequate signage, so drivers can find the exact parking spot, and good lighting to make charging easy even at night.
- Personnel should periodically check the spot to make sure cords are properly wound up so nobody trips (or drives) over them.
- Make sure that PlugShare, the most popular EV station finder, has an accurate profile of your stations. Read the user comments every week or so to make sure your location is getting positive reviews—or to address any problems drivers might be experiencing.
- Conduct outreach to the local chapter of the Electric Auto Association or other EV associations. Let them know that your business is EV-friendly.
- Contact all local car dealerships selling EVs and plug-in hybrids, and encourage them to let new drivers know how cool you are for offering electric car charging.
- Consider hosting a special event for EV owners that highlights your best product or service offerings. For example, wineries have held “Plug and Pinot” events. Get creative with fun events, specials, and discounts. And then get ready to hear about (and talk about) how important it is for our country to rid its addiction to oil.
- In the past few years, a culture of EV etiquette has emerged. Some of the basic rules of charging courtesy include: charge in public only when necessary, never unplug anybody else’s car, and leave a note to ask that your car be charged when the current user is finished. Posting these rules, or offering these guidelines in printed form or on websites, is one more way you can show EV drivers that you understand the world of electric cars, and are doing your part to make the ownership experience as enjoyable as possible. See our guide to EV etiquette.
- The last thing to do is to convert your corporate fleet to EVs, and put your logo on the sides of your battery-powered cars and trucks.
Follow all of our guidelines, and you’ll ensure that EV drivers love your business and keep coming back, not only for a charge but to spend their money and spread the word to fellow electric car owners that your business is awesome. We’re still in the early days of electric cars. In the future, EVs will charge faster and their battery packs will be larger. Start with a simple approach now, and you’ll be prepared for a future in which EVs dominate, and gas-powered cars go the way of the horse and buggy.
New to EVs? Start here
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